Startup Internships: Reflections from our business school students

Many students pursue an MBA to tap into the range of opportunities available across myriad industries and job functions. While some students start the MBA with specific entrepreneurship goals in mind, a growing number of firms – almost to a cliché – cite “entrepreneurial drive” as a key characteristic they look for in candidates.

“I always tell students – no matter your career goals, entrepreneurship experience (whether at a startup, VC fund or in your own venture) offers the opportunity to gain insight into all sides of a business. It allows students to see what it’s like to be a CEO of a company early in their careers and fosters a big-picture view that can be applied to any business – no matter how big the company or department,” says David Morris, Head of Technology & Media Careers at London Business School.   

Business school is an ideal time to explore, and LBS students contribute to fast-growing startups in many capacities – as founders, marketers, strategists and beyond. Working at a startup is an ideal way to put what you’re learning in business school into practice and has many benefits. David sees that students have a real impact on startups during their time at LBS and more often than not, these experiences shape students’ career trajectories in ways they never previously thought about (so he is told from countless students and alums!).

Many students think about startup roles in tech, but there are plenty of opportunities outside of tech as well! Let’s hear from some of our students about their startup internship experiences that took place over the past few months and what were their key learnings.

Understanding how startups are run

Madeleine Spence MBA2021 spent five months with Little Tummy, an innovative, organic baby food challenger brand.

My Little Tummy internship has opened my eyes to entrepreneurship and how it can be a perfect career path to balance your work and life. Carrying out a 5-month internship provided me with a great insight into how startups are run and how to keep that new product momentum growing. Watching one of Little Tummy’s co-founders pitch to VCs with a baby on the knee was a real breath of fresh air. I’ve spent some time with Lowri Tan, Little Tummy’s CEO, to learn more about how she juggles it all. These are her key tips:

  • Start your day with exercise!
  • Keep your team involved in what your company stands for. Allow people to execute their own ideas and be autonomous so everyone is kept in the loop and respected.
  • Make sure you prioritise between strategic vision and day-to-day tasks. Set your goals for the day and try to stick to that.

In addition, I asked Lowri about the best and worst part of being a CEO. She said “At Little Tummy, and within entrepreneurship in general, it’s that autonomy to make decisions happen literally overnight that I love, very different to the pace of the corporate world where there are checks and balances to go through! It also feels like a huge personal goal and challenge has been fulfilled and I get a huge amount of satisfaction from that. The worst part is resources: fundraising and cash are always on our minds and this means the demand pressures on our time are huge!”.

I’ve spent much of my career so far at large CPG retailers, so really enjoyed being on the other side of the aisle.

Developing a wide range of skills

Sabre Konidaris MiM2020 worked with Fighter Shots in strategy and sales. Fighter Shots is a ginger-based juice shots startup founded by Anna Szymanowska MBA2018 and LBS Incubator alumnae.

When I arrived in London from Melbourne, Australia for my Masters in Management degree at London Business School, I was determined to make the most of the opportunity and get involved in the vibrant startup community here. I thought that joining a fast-growing startup alongside my studies would be an enriching experience.

While reading, networking, taking courses and attending seminars at London Business School about new venture development were very informative foundations, there is nothing quite like contributing first-hand to a new business’ growth.

My time at Fighter Shots was a pleasure because the founders were very constructive in giving feedback and included me in strategic decisions, even when times were uncertain and stakes were high. It was extremely rewarding to work with founders who were transparent about business developments and valued my input. For example, I created the investor deck for Fighter Shot’s recent crowdfunding campaign. This involved undertaking a competitor and industry analysis, financial forecasting and more, which helped us reach our maximum funding amount!

Of course, there were less glamorous tasks often done with urgency, such as manually processing orders after a brief glitch with the automatic ordering software. However, these occasions were no less valuable to my learning. Indeed, they define the realities of growing a successful business and reflected to me that prioritisation, diligence, and adaptability are essential to moving forward.

My favourite research piece to inform the strategy was discussions with founders from award-winning food and beverage startups. For example, I set up a call with co-founder Joyce de Haas from Double Dutch, a premium mixers and tonics business in which Heineken recently acquired a minority stake. Our chat uncovered the critical steps they took in executing their go-to-market strategy and helped us devise a high-level implementation plan of our own next steps.

I developed a variety of skills from a vast range of activities, from creating a video and graphic advertisements to acquire investors and customers, attending investor meetings, and developing actionable marketing strategies, to approaching business buyers (on LinkedIn and in-person), running a physical pop-up stall, and learning how to use sales and marketing platforms such as Shopify, Mailchimp, Amazon, and Mintsoft.

Having spoken directly with investors and supported the crowdfunding campaign I have also learned more about the investor mentality and how this translates to strategic decisions when raising funds. If I were to start my own business (especially in the food and beverage sector) I would now feel much more confident and capable of my own ability to implement and overcome challenges.

New career opportunity

Nina Brener-Hellmund MBA2019 started her fashion business, Cult Mia, while at LBS and her MBA internships had a large impact on her career trajectory.

According to Nina, “The idea for Cult Mia came to me during one of my MBA internships at Moda Operandi, the US version of Net-a-Porter. I was working in the e-commerce team and thinking about how to improve the user experience and optimise their app and website. I’d always been interested in fashion and absolutely loved the internship, but never really thought it was where I’d carve out a career. I noticed that Moda Operandi’s top designers were up-and-coming names, not the big names you might expect – and this got me thinking about affordable fashion from different parts of the world.”

Further, Nina said “My first Cult Mia employee was one of LBS’s MiM2019 students who asked for an internship after hearing my pitch at Launchpad. I almost always have an LBS MBA student working with me, the most recent of whom had six years’ experience at Goldman Sachs in Tokyo and has just finished working on an operations project. Another of my first hires was an MBA2020 PR expert who came in and set up our communications strategy. If it wasn’t for the LBS community, I would never be able to afford talent with this level of experience, so the School’s network really has been central to the success of my business.”

Making a real impact

Gina Maffucci MBA2021 spent the summer with Bottleshot Cold Brew Coffee helping the company grow its digital marketing and brand strategy.

Students are aware that the internship role is for a limited period hence they are keen to learn fast and make an impact during their time there. As Gina states: “I loved working with the team at Bottleshot. Not only was I able to have a real impact by bringing my past experience to the company, but I also had the chance to learn about entrepreneurship and be really close to the product in a way I hadn’t previously been able to in my corporate career – from learning more about the supply chain and production process to understanding what it takes to start and run your own business. Co-founder Annie Mitchell and Head of Business Development Emily Rubin are true professionals who are also just really good people. I’m excited to continue watching Bottleshot grow in the coming years!”

Students can get the most out of their internships by taking a holistic and proactive view of what they can bring to the startup they’re working with and what they want to learn that’s outside the box of their previous career achievements. While a corporate internship role would give you the experience in a particular field you want to pursue, interning at a startup gives you the opportunity to wear many hats and try out different roles expanding your horizons in a risk-free way. And who knows? If the founders see you as a good fit, providing value to the business and they can hire, you could join the team from the beginning and help build the startup… a very rewarding experience.

“I love watching students discover that their impact has no limit while at LBS and I’m excited to watch these startups continue to grow in the coming years,” says David.

There are many ways to intern, start and get involved in startups while at LBS – from the Summer Start-up Experience Programme and LBS Launchpad to the Incubator Programme. Incoming students can benefit before they start their programme from the Summer Start-up Experience where they can work on a voluntary basis for 6 weeks with startups that have applied to the LBS Incubator programme. In addition, some of the Incubator startups are looking for interns throughout the Incubator programme duration so there is always an opportunity for interested students to work with them.

Read further about how to land your dream job in tech with step-by-step advice given by LBS alum Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen, a VC and General Partner at Balderton Capital.

Read more on Anna’s story here.