Start (Up) Your Career!

startup-signYou have amazing energy and ideas. The students I meet with every day as a career counselor here at Penn are all interested in startups—setting something in motion. The project I have the privilege to see them starting is the enterprise of themselves and their own careers.

For those interested in managing their own careers and willing to take some risk, working for a startup can be an exciting plunge into a growing enterprise. The tasks may vary greatly, and one’s efforts may greatly influence the future of the organization. Startups can be found in every type of industry (tech, nonprofit, the arts, business, consumer goods, healthcare, and on and on), and they hire people for many roles (leadership, programming, marketing, business development, sales, design, HR, and more).

I asked some fabulous speakers (who have volunteered to speak at Penn) about their careers with startups. In order to offer you their advice, I asked them each: “If you could reach back in time, what advice would you give yourself as a college student regarding startup/career opportunities?”

So (drumroll please), take some advice from what might be your future:

“While I’m pretty fresh out of school, and I think I did a generally good job at this, I’d encourage myself, and any college student, to take even more risks, push the edge, challenge assumptions, break rules, and explore. It’s general advice I’d give to a student, but it applies specifically to pursuing a career in technology as an entrepreneur, because what we essentially do is explore, find opportunities, and fill them.”
Joe Cohen (Wharton)—Lore (formerly Coursekit)

“Often, people have told me they think startups are ‘too risky.’ For someone in school or just graduating from college, however, I really don’t think there is any risk in working for a startup. The upside is enormous—you’ll learn more broadly and get much more responsibility than you might at a big company—and if things don’t work out, as long as you’re talented and work hard, you’ll always be able to find something new to do. The job offer from Google will be there in three years or in five years, but your needs and desire for work / life balance may change as you grow older, so you might as well work at a startup while you’re young, hungry, and driven.”
Andrew Kortina—Venmo

“If you want to join a startup, the best time is when you are graduating. This is for a few reasons
•     You have the least to lose.
•     You’ll learn in dog years. A good year at a good startup is equivalent to seven at a BigCo from a learning experience.
•     You won’t lose your edge as one inevitably does by working at larger, slow-moving organizations.
And worst case, if things don’t work out at the startup, you can always get a job at BigCo as they are always looking for smart people—especially Penn grads.”
Anand Sanwal—CB Insights

“Optimize for ‘learning’ over every other consideration! The first few years after college are essentially a real world continuation of your education. They are formative years that lay the foundation for the next 30 years of your career. Your learnings should be focused on two things: 1) building a reasonably broad set of complimentary capacities that you will leverage over the long haul; and 2) exploring different types of roles and environments to help you discover your true passion.”
Ben Siscovick (College)—IA Ventures

“Don’t think that you have to do finance or consulting just because that’s the ‘natural’ path for Penn students. There are tons of opportunities in tech and startups, tons of companies that can use smart graduates like you, and I promise you that if you don’t do the ‘standard’ finance path, your work and life will be much more fulfilling than the alternative.”
Lee Yanco—AppNexus

Thank you to these speakers and their fellow panelists at some of our recent and future panels:
“NYC Tech Talent Draft”—September 19, 2012
“Navigating the Startup Career”—January 29, 2013
“NYC Tech Talent Draft”—February 21, 2013
and to those companies planning to attend our upcoming Start-Up Career Fair on February 21!

Day in the Life: Analyst with MentorTech

We’re gearing up for our Startup Fair on Thursday, February 21st. Over this semester we hosted numerous events on this path, to continue our exploration of startup careers, we’re excited to welcome Marshall Yang to @PennCareerDay.  On Tuesday, February 12th, Yang will share insights and advice about his career with the investment side of the startup industry. To learn more about Yang, read his bio below, and remember to follow him on the 12th!

marshallyangphotoMarshall Yang joined MentorTech in 2012 as an analyst, investing in startups with Penn connections. He was previously an analyst for Robin Hood Ventures, one of the largest early-stage investors in the Philadelphia region. Marshall helped the firm invest in software and internet companies, and built relationships with entrepreneurs and investors by sponsoring and co-hosting Philly Tech Meetup. Marshall is also a business development consultant for a Global 500 company, advising the corporation’s fintech and mobile innovations.

Prior to Robin Hood Ventures, Marshall interned at LB investments in Shanghai, the VC arm of LG Group, where he invested in e-commerce, mobile, and internet companies. He was also a consultant for NewSpring Capital, where he developed investment theses under the Affordable Care Act. Prior to his business career, Marshall interned at Merck as an automation engineer, where he developed in-house software-as-a-service streamlining the drug discovery process. Later he and his colleagues at Merck founded Lab Informant, a software company in the biotech space. Lab Informant was selected as a DreamIt Ventures Finalist.

Marshall has an M.S.E. in Bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania, where he did research and published in the field of computational simulation. He was also a winger in the Wharton Wildmen Hockey League, and won the 2011-12 Championship with his team, Mother Puckers. He blogs at

The End of an Internship with a Biotech Startup

by Maximilian Lamb, WH & SEAS ’14

Maximilian Lamb, WH & SEAS ’14

This summer, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work for a startup in San Francisco called Adamant Technologies. Adamant is a new company in the biotechnology space working on some very exciting medical diagnostic technology, and I was able to work closely with the CEO and founder, Samuel Khamis. It isn’t hard to look back and find many valuable lessons from those nine weeks.

Lesson #1: Skills for the Biotech Space
One of the first valuable insights that I took away from this experience is the type of skills needed in the biotech space. Obviously, strong technical knowledge is very beneficial. Some days, the CEO would need information on a particular type of manufacturing process or a specific material that he was thinking about using in a device; my fellow intern and I would have to comb through scientific literature to find this information. Insight number two is that research skills always come in handy. In addition to understanding the literature, it is also a skill in and of itself just to find the appropriate papers and information by knowing which resources to utilize. The last major “skill” that I used is simply being flexible. As an early stage startup, there were always many tasks that needed to be accomplished on the business and technology sides, and you have to be able to respond to unique situations.

Lesson #2: Context is Everything
Besides useful skills in the biotech industry, I learned multiple important lessons covering a wide range of topics, from starting a company to going to graduate school. One of the most important ones was to not listen to anyone’s advice. This gem was given to me by Naval Ravikant, the founder of AngelList, at an event where he was speaking to interns during my second week in San Francisco. In life, every situation comes down to context. Thus, it is extremely important to tailor that advice to a specific situation. Break down whatever piece of advice you are using and try and find the fundamental assumptions and beliefs behind that advice. If those assumptions and beliefs are valid, use them to your advantage, but make sure that you’re ultimately following the best path for your particular situation.

Lesson #3: Challenges with Starting a Company
In the age of the Internet, is seems like all you need to start a company is some coding knowledge and maybe a small amount of capital. However, a second lesson is that starting a startup is extremely difficult. This fact was brought to my attention by Mr. Ravikant during the same talk in which he delivered piece of advice #1, and the best way to experience the truth of it is to go work for a startup. There is so much more involved than just making a website, from deciding which people to hire to getting funding and even finding furniture for your office. It’s very rewarding to be able to build a company and pursue a vision, but be prepared to deal with a lot of challenges along the way.

Lesson #4: Graduate School

Another piece of advice that applies to the biotechnology industry is to be very, very good at a specific skill set. Sam and I discussed this at our last meeting as well. This piece of advice can be applied to a variety of situations, such as getting a job, but we were discussing it specifically in the context of grad school. If you can come into a lab with a valuable skill already developed, you’re much more likely to get accepted to the group. In terms of a career, it’s also much more valuable to have someone who is great at a skill that is very important and will provide immediate value to a company, rather than someone who is a jack of all trades who may need time and training to develop the necessary competences.

Final Lesson: Business vs. Tech Guy

Besides these lessons concerning life and startups in general, I also learned some lessons specifically pertaining to undergraduates interested in the biotechnology industry. The first lesson is to decide whether you want to be the business guy or the technology guy, because it can be very difficult to do both. If you want to be the technology expert, graduate school is usually in the cards; this entails a slew of advice, starting with making sure you like the team that you’ll be working with. If possible, try and arrange a visit that can act as a two-way interview. The team is looking at you and your specific skill set that should provide immediate value, but you’re also making sure that you will mesh with them. You also want to go to a lab where you can take a leadership role in order to gain experience and have the chance to develop your own projects.

If you want to be the business guy, the only piece of advice I have is to dive in and be passionate about the company you’re working for. Prior work experience, recommendations from previous employers, and contacts in addition to knowledge and a skill set seem to go a long way in the startup industry, and there’s only one way to gain these things.

Needless to say, I learned an incredible amount last summer, and I can’t thank everyone at Adamant Technologies as well as everyone else I interacted with in the Bay area enough for the experience. This summer has made me extremely excited and optimistic for the future, even though I’m only slightly closer to knowing what I want to do. I know that discovering where my passions lie will surely prove that the rewards aren’t in the destination, but rather in the journey.


A Different Kind of March Madness

by Patricia Rose, Director of Career Services

It’s the last week of March, and you still are not sure where you will be working after you graduate, or interning this summer if you are not yet in your final year.  Perhaps you have been busy with your academic pursuits, or other pursuits, and haven’t had time for a job or internship search.  Maybe you have been looking hard for work, or maybe not so hard, hoping that, as Mr. Micawber says in David Copperfield, “something will turn up.”

At this point, what is past is past.  You can’t assume anything will turn up, although sometimes things actually do.  Make a schedule starting today for job hunting.  Do something every day, even if only for half an hour.  For job hunting tips, see helpful resources on our web site:

This is the time to focus on organizations that do “just in time” hiring.  They are most likely to have positions now, and in the weeks ahead.  These tend to be employers who are smaller and only start looking when someone currently working resigns.

Another possible source of internships and permanent jobs: start-ups.  Many start-ups are growing and are actively hiring young talent.  Working for a start-up is an exciting proposition for many candidates: the employees tend to be young, and the office culture is frequently casual when it comes to dress.  But don’t be deceived. Start-ups are serious business.  It can be intense to make things up as you go along, the hours can be long, and the pay can be lower than in a larger organization.  But the rewards are many.  Check out our start-up resources at

Finally, don’t forget to stop by and talk to a career counselor.  He or she can provide helpful suggestions, so that you won’t be “madly” running in circles.  We can help you make a plan for the final (not four) seven weeks of the semester.  Good luck!