Dilyana Penchovska and Paul Schraven from the WHU Master of Entrepreneurship Class of 2019 completed their internships abroad in the heart of start-up hub Silicon Valley. Master in Entrepreneurship students have the opportunity to enhance their current knowledge base with an internship after the first two semesters. This allows them to develop new skills, expand their network, and experience innovative thinking in a real-life business environment.
Tell us briefly about your educational background so far:
Dilyana: I was born and raised in Bulgaria and after graduating from high school, I moved to Berlin and completed by Bachelor degree there. In my final semester, I began to develop an interest in entrepreneurship. I started working at a start-up and being in Berlin, I really found that I felt immersed in the start-up culture and loved surrounding myself with people who were very passionate about the topic, which is what also drew me to the Master in Entrepreneurship Program.
Paul: I originally come from Krefeld which is a small town near Düsseldorf. But I lived in Maastricht in the Netherlands for three years while I completed my Bachelor degree, excluding a semester abroad in South Korea. I went on to co-found my own start-up in Berlin, and then worked remotely in countries such as Bali and Portugal for a San Francisco based company. I honestly haven’t lived in Germany for the past seven or eight years because I have been traveling so much!
How did you find your internships?
I sent my CV to the WHU Career Center and had a very long and in-depth meeting with one of the staff there. It was an exceptionally positive experience for me, as she really took the time to talk to me, go through my CV, and give me advice. I looked at which courses I should do and which projects I should focus on so that I would have more value to a company. I collected a lot contacts during IdeaLab! (a student initiative/event focused on start-ups and innovation), and through the WHU network connected with people working in San Francisco. It was through this network that I finally found my internship.
As I already had strong connections within the start-up network, it was a mixture of both my own contacts and the WHU network for me. I initially received an offer from a company in Malaysia that I was interested in but I contacted the general manager of IdeaLab! at the time for some advice. I mentioned to him I was also keen to work in the USA, and he helped to connect me to a founder who he knew was looking for an intern at that time.
Where did you spend your internship during your time in Silicon Valley?
I interned with Badger Maps, a route planner app for sales reps, as part of the business development department but working specifically within marketing and PR. The company has a large number of interns and they really give you the possibility to develop as one, so you have the full freedom to explore other departments too. My goal was to fill some gaps in my knowledge for tasks I felt were important for a start-up. For example, I worked with HR to find out more about the application process, how they chose candidates, and evaluated CVs. I then spent some time with the legal department, and I did that for all aspects that I did not feel I knew enough about.
I was with Templarbit, a cybersecurity platform helping companies protect applications from online attacks. While I was there, I was able to get involved with a multitude of business functions. This was exactly what I had hoped for because I wanted to learn how to build my own company. I worked closely with the founder, meaning that I gained an insight into important decisions and accompanied him everywhere, including a cybersecurity convention in Las Vegas. I had the opportunity to experience his everyday work-life and worked on everything from leading my own web development projects as a product manager, to improving the marketing and sales strategy.
What was the most valuable aspect of the internship for you?
The mentoring of Badger Maps’ founder was invaluable. He really took his time to help me find the right projects to work on and gave me some great career advice. Two times a week we had ‘Badger Class’ where the founder of the company also talked to us about different business topics. We (the interns) learned about how the company worked, but he also offered advice if you were interested in starting your own company, such as how to put together legal framework or how to communicate with investors.
Learning from so many incredibly smart, motivated people, and exploring both Silicon Valley and the surrounding California region made the whole internship one of the happiest and most rewarding experiences I ever had.
One of the activities Templarbit does to promote the company is to record a regular podcast. While we were in San Francisco, we met other founders from the Y-Combinator network to interview them for the podcast. This not only gave me a chance to chat with them and find out what projects they were working on, but also allowed me to expand my own network.
We also had bi-weekly ‘Founder’s Sessions’ where the CEO and I would sit together for an hour or more. We would use this uninterrupted time to discuss his experiences of becoming a founder, about fundraising, or any other topics that were interesting to me. He was extremely supportive, so much so that I am going to write my thesis with the company on the use of behavioral analysis with machine learning in application security.
Why do you think completing an internship is so important?
Completing an internship is necessary to gain an insight into how a real-life company functions and what challenges you may face should you decide to pursue a career in that field. If you’re considering starting a company yourself then the type of internship you should have is one with a start-up, not with a bank or a consulting firm. Ideally, finding a company that is at an early stage and with great founders will give you the biggest insights into what it takes to build a company. Interning with a smaller company often means access to a wider range of responsibilities, allowing for a steep learning curve.
It’s humbling to have the opportunity to meet these incredibly smart people during the internship, to see what they’re working on, and experience how driven they are. In fact, the network in the start-up industry is so important because companies don’t hire someone simply because of their degree, but because they are able to perform independently as well. Of course, you still have to bring a sizeable amount of specific knowledge, like what we have acquired so far in the Master in Entrepreneurship Program. But more often than not, employers who have seen the value of your work during internships will promote you to the network and connect you to further jobs.