The Best MBA Internships at Startups and Small Companies in 2021

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High-quality summer internships for MBA students are no longer exclusively offered by large companies, as was the case not too long ago. An increasing number of startups and small firms today provide exceptional learning and networking opportunities over the summer.

MBA students who prefer internships at smaller firms have a lot of company. Today’s students have different expectations from the business students of previous generations. Before, most MBA students actively sought internships and jobs with larger employers, but these days, many of them seek smaller companies where they can rapidly make a difference over ten to twelve weeks.

Due to their size and high-growth trajectory, startups often welcome hands-on involvement and greater creative thinking than larger employers, which typically already have set processes in place. That said, the different expectations of students pose challenges for both interns and employers.

As this Harvard Business School article explains, most smaller firms—and startups in particular—lack the human resources staff required to carry out the recruiting and onboarding functions that good internship programs require. This may be one reason why finding the best MBA internship opportunities at a startup or small company takes time, effort, and perseverance. Large MBA employers like Google and Goldman Sachs have vast resources they can deploy to promote and recruit for their internship programs, but a typical early-stage Silicon Valley startup probably is not so fortunate.

Tips for Finding the Best MBA Internship at a Startup or Small Firm

Most business schools offer placement and career services, which receive direct requisitions from small companies and startups—especially those where alumni might work. Outside of this, how might MBA students find the best internships at such firms?

Research University Internship Reports

One technique might involve searching for reports from previous interns. Generally, only students who have had good internship experiences are willing to share their stories with a school’s public relations team, so it is likely that these testimonials will draw attention to the best internship programs—especially if the accounts appear on the websites of the top business schools.

For example, Harvard Business School provides several internship reports, some of which include video clips. Other examples appear on websites belonging to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.

Make Site-Specific Google Searches

Finding a high-quality internship with a Google search can seem challenging. In our experience, query strings like “MBA internships at small firms” were not particularly fruitful.

Students can find better results by switching to site-specific searches using keywords related to internships. Here is an example of a site-specific search that only returns results from the Harvard Business School about internships:

Specifically searching the recruiting department at HBS focuses the results further:

While “internship” is a great search keyword, there are many other options. Keywords like “interns,” “startups,” “small companies,” and “small firms” can yield positive results in site-specific searches.

Verify the Size of Companies

It is generally easy to spot internships at smaller firms simply because the company names are not immediately recognizable. However, there are many mid- and large-sized companies that do not have brand recognition. Fortunately, there are quick and easy ways to verify a company’s size.

On LinkedIn, students can search for the company, click on the “About” category and at the bottom find an estimated number of employees. The screen also displays how many LinkedIn members work at the company. This member count can often provide a more precise estimate of a company’s size than the employee count range, especially for rapidly-growing startups. Added bonus: it will also show you if you have any connections working there.

Read Blogs

MBA admission consultants sometimes publish MBA intern testimonials and stories. For example, Clear Admit posted a story about three Stanford MBA students’ internships at small employers on its blog last year.

Search Online Career and Salary Databases

Another way to learn about good internship programs might be to search the databases of employment rating sites like TransparentCareer and Glassdoor. These databases will not always turn up the best internships per se, but they can identify internship jobs at small companies members rated as the best places to work.

For example, a search for MBA internships we performed among companies with up to 200 employees and four-star ratings at Glassdoor turned up almost 500 job openings. And as reported by Business Insider, Glassdoor also publishes an annual list of the 25 best small companies to work for in the United States, so it might seem worthwhile to look for internship jobs at some of these firms.

Without further ado, here are some examples of the best summer internships for MBA students at startups and small companies.

At-Bay

  • Location: Mountain View, CA
  • Intern: Giovanni Fassio, Harvard Business School
  • Pay: None

This early-stage cybersecurity insurance startup put Fassio to work as its first MBA intern, initially developing new marketing collateral. However, that first project did not last long, so the CEO—a Harvard Business School alumnus—empowered Fassio to experiment.

“I was able to design an online marketing strategy and create acquisition funnel metrics to test different campaigns and selling pitches to brokers. I was also able to work closely with the product team to review our front-end design and customer experience,” Fassio says. Fassio won a Rock Summer Fellowship, which provided substantial financial support so that he could work for a venture at such an early stage.

Earnest

  • Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Interns: Madhu Yalamarthi, Camila Key Saruhashi, and Gideon Silverman, Stanford Graduate School of Business; Charles Su, University of Cambridge; Ashish Rathi, Yale School of Management; Cathy Hsu, University of Chicago Booth School of Business; Sabina Robinov and Saagar Kulkarni, Harvard Business School; Eva Wei and Megan Terraforte, Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania
  • Pay: $32 to $37 an hour (Glassdoor 2021)

No longer a startup, this small fintech company was recently acquired by Navient, but Earnest’s well-publicized MBA internship program continues. This Poets & Quants article, “McKinsey? Goldman? Forget It. More MBAs Opt To Spend Summer At Startups,” profiles six of the firm’s interns who worked in various departments, including marketing, capital markets, partnership development, and risk assessment. The most recent interns appear to have worked primarily in program management.

Nextgen Growth Partners

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Intern: Juan Canizares, University of Michigan Ross School of Business

For this private equity firm, Canizares managed a group of four valuation analysts while working on the acquisition of two different businesses. He also led the deal sourcing process by identifying potential industry niches within and firms within those niches that fit Nextgen’s investment thesis. “The best part of the experience, however, is managing the team of analysts and seeing how they have progressed in their understanding of business concepts,” says Canizares.

Wonderschool

  • Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Intern: Katherine Solomon, Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business
  • Pay: $3,000 a month

Wonderschool currently offers a business development internship that shows students how startups function. Interns will develop currently available strategic opportunities along with new directions to grow the firm’s business. The internship also provides experience with outreach to community leaders and other constituents. Intrigued by stealthy startup mystery?

“We currently can’t disclose the full nature of the role but… you will have the opportunity to test new service delivery models, be creative, and have a large impact,” states Wonderschool’s internship description. Solomon says she worked one-on-one with the CEO, chief marketing officer, and other leaders at the startup.

CommonBond

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Intern: Kathleen McGuirk, Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management

This fintech startup focused on financing higher education assigned McGuirk fairly senior projects, such as leading weekly product meetings and delivering a presentation before the whole company. In a post for the company’s blog, she offered this advice about adaptability in a startup:

At a startup, you’ll be able to take on management projects and responsibilities that you wouldn’t receive at a larger company, but you also may not have a more junior employee to help you with more tedious assignments. The ability to pitch in at all levels is one of the hallmarks of what makes someone right for a startup environment, versus a big company environment. So if you’re considering applying for a startup MBA internship, make sure you’re comfortable working across levels. It will be the norm at a startup, not the exception.

Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund

  • Location: Redwood City, CA
  • Intern: Sarah Rahman, Stanford Graduate School of Business
  • Pay: None

Private sector support enables this venture philanthropy organization to fund innovative social impact projects. The Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund nonprofit put Rahman to work on feasibility studies for ventures SV2 was considering for funding. She assessed the financial viability, target audiences, and applications of proposed ventures. Stanford’s Social Management Immersion Fellowship provided financial support to Rahman during her internship with this nonprofit.

Castlight Health

  • Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Intern: Jenna Romeo, Dartmouth College, Tuck School of Business

The firm develops a health benefit app for consumers. Romeo’s product marketing internship involved working on the firm’s marketing collateral as well as with the sales team on communicating new app features. She also delivered customer presentations, led a user webinar and trained teams. She said, “I truly felt like I was part of the company. It was hard for me to leave.”

Lenati

  • Location: Seattle, WA
  • Intern: Jeff Rechler, University of Washington, Foster School of Business

Rechler’s exceptional experience interning at this boutique marketing consulting firm led to his accepting a job with the company after graduating. He said that he “joined a team developing a sales enablement strategy for a global software company… I did everything from mobile UX testing to stakeholder interviews to customer journey mapping. It was a great opportunity to roll up my sleeves and not only draw from prior corporate and consulting experience, but also apply frameworks from the MBA program.”

Impossible Foods

  • Location: Redwood City, CA
  • Intern: Blair Crichton, Dartmouth College, Tuck School of Business

This startup, founded by a Stanford professor, makes a new kind of veggie burger. Crichton says, “I chose Impossible Burgers over a couple of other options because the impact they have is massive, their growth story is really exciting, and they have some very high profile investors.” He worked with the firm’s strategy and business development group researching possible international markets and generating sales leads.

Inspiring Capital

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Interns: Simonil Rustomji, University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business; Anjali Patel, Dartmouth College, Tuck School of Business

Inspiring Capital’s Social Impact MBA Fellowship assigns MBA interns to work on projects with socially responsible client firms or nonprofits. Rustomji told Michigan Ross News, “I saw this internship as one where I could leverage my strengths while simultaneously pushing myself outside my comfort zone to learn new skills, and that seemed like the ideal way to spend my MBA summer. I’m happy to report that I was right!”

Betterment

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Intern: Robert Greer, Dartmouth College, Tuck School of Business

Greer led a Betterment project to automate a banking partner’s check-writing. “I got to lead a small team, manage a vendor relationship, learn about engineering systems, and design process flows,” says Greer in his essay, “Why Your MBA Internship is Best Spent at a Tech Startup.”

Douglas Mark
Douglas Mark
Writer

While a partner in a San Francisco marketing and design firm, for over 20 years Douglas Mark wrote online and print content for the world’s biggest brands, including United Airlines, Union Bank, Ziff Davis, Sebastiani, and AT&T. Since his first magazine article appeared in MacUser in 1995, he’s also written on finance and graduate business education in addition to mobile online devices, apps, and technology. Doug graduated in the top 1 percent of his class with a business administration degree from the University of Illinois and studied computer science at Stanford University.

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