Experiential learning is a key differentiator at Foster. The ability to work in the field and apply business concepts and theory learned in the classroom is of utmost value to MBA students as they prepare to become future business leaders. The Foster MBA prides itself on its exceptional, personalized experiential learning opportunities, and the Foster Venture Fellows program is a prime example of applied learning in action.
Foster Venture Fellows
Founded by students in 2015, Foster Venture Fellows is a professional student organization that connects MBA talent with Seattle Venture Capital firms and startup incubators. First-year Venture Fellows get matched with a local Seattle VC firm or incubator and spend their winter and spring quarters working at the firm on Fridays and up to 10 hours during the week. Fellows receive practical venture and entrepreneurship experience and deliver valuable work for the venture partners. A Venture Fellow’s experience ranges based on the firm and the student’s own background and interests, as projects tend to be student pitched and driven. Past work includes internal fund performance reviews, market sizing and industry analysis, competitive landscape analysis, portfolio analysis, process improvement proposals, and financial projections.
The program is entirely student-run by second-year MBA students who went through the experience the previous year. The 2020 partners were Voyager Capital, Ignition Partners, M12, Pioneer Square Labs, Kernel Labs, and Lighter Capital.
Introduction to Foster Venture Fellows
When MBA students arrive on campus, they are inundated by information around clubs, classes, and activities to pursue. With only so many hours in the day, students must be deliberate about the choices they make when deciding where to dedicate their time.
One of my MBA priorities was to explore industries of interest through experiential learning. When comparing MBA programs online, I came across the Venture Fellows program as an opportunity to learn more about Venture Capital and Entrepreneurship. Eager to get involved, I started reaching out to the current fellows as well as alumni who had been involved in the program. Through this process, I learned that the lab/studio side of venture capital most intrigued me. Though the investment and valuation side of traditional VCs was intriguing, I was more interested in supporting founders and their companies. Before the MBA, I focused on helping my previous employer, a general contractor, scale to meet the exploding construction industry growth. I saw Venture Fellows as an opportunity to explore similar experiences in scaling a company, but in my target industry of tech.
The Venture Fellows Experience
The core of the Venture Fellows program is an informal internship that first-year students complete in their winter and spring quarters with one of the participating Venture Funds or Labs. Each student program participant gets matched with a firm based on their background and interest. Firms specialize in areas including machine learning, big data, fintech, and are in different phases or business cycles (such as fundraising or looking for companies to invest in). Students spend their Fridays from January until June working at the firm and sometimes an additional 10-12 hours a week working on projects at home.
Second-year students in the program administer and run the Venture Fellow program. Their responsibilities as second-year leaders involve securing firm partners, bringing on new firms if needed, and then recruiting, interviewing, and selecting the next class of Venture Fellows. Additionally, throughout the winter and spring, second-year students mentor the first-year Fellows.
Having the second-year students as a resource was incredibly valuable to me. I met with all of them throughout the first month or so of my fellowship to get advice on how to make the best of my time and get feedback on my ideas of where to add value. The experience is a little bit of a ‘create your own adventure’ as it is not a formal internship. It is ambiguous to say the least. You are often part of a small team and charged with finding ways to add value. It can be overwhelming and intimidating. The Venture Fellow community is a vital resource to make sure you are getting the most out of your time with the firm.
A Day in the Life at a Venture Capital Firm
Fellows prides itself on providing Foster MBAs with the opportunity to make an impact at firms while gaining meaningful experience. Each Venture Fellow experience differs, making the hands-on experiential learning a uniquely personal experience.
I was engaged in exit strategies as well as helping the fundraising team with their capital raise process. My participation in exit strategies primarily related to two portfolio companies that were in the acquisition search phase. I was tasked with examining different market verticals to identify potential acquirers as well as focusing the lens on respective acquirers’ corporate development teams. In terms of fundraising participation, I had the amazing opportunity to sit in on pitches to potential limited partners as well as perform research that was ultimately used in the pitch deck itself. (Will Rush – Class of 2021)
I worked with the investments, portfolio development, and marketing teams at M12. I was responsible for projects like investment memos, portfolio health assessment, marketing research and industry research reports.
(Saurabh Shinde – Class of 2021)
I spent much of my time working with an incubator’s early stage spinout startup. My focus was on marketing and growth efforts. I worked closely with the CEO and together we came up with my projects. I worked on customer acquisition strategies, value proposition evaluation, and email and social marketing. I re-wrote the top and bottom-of-funnel drip email campaign and iterated on it based on analytics throughout my fellowship, held customer interviews to identify product pain-points and even helped organize and market a first-of-its-kind podcast festival to raise money for COVID relief.
(Tara McNulty – Class of 2021)
Much of my work was akin to that of a Product Manager. I would explore product-market fit for an early stage idea to validate whether building out a prototype was worth the resources. The next day would involve identifying product pain points with customer interviews/focus groups, then working with engineering to iterate on said product. (Matt Anderson – Class of 2021)
An Experience That Stands the Test of Time
In the dynamic, idea-driven city of Seattle, the opportunity to work on the ground floor with firms seeking to find the ‘next big thing’ is unique. Foster MBAs are eager to leverage these experiences to increase their ability to make a meaningful impact through the Venture Fellows program.
My greatest learning was that one should always be curious and learn as much as they can from their time at the firm. In addition, one should never hesitate to bring forth new ideas and approaches to the work. In fact, firms look forward to hearing new perspectives that help them improve their investment and portfolio management strategy. As with any endeavor, there is always room for improvement. This year’s batch of Venture Fellows is trying to bring even more structure to the program and strengthen Foster’s ties with the startup community in the PNW. I hope to bring the program to a wider audience at Foster and help people learn more about this exciting space.
Programs like Foster Venture Fellows are rare among the top 20 business schools in the country. The opportunity to work in one of the top 10 startup ecosystems in the world and develop lifelong ties with the startup community here can be an invaluable addition to students seeking to test the waters or break into the world of venture capital. For additional information, be sure to check out the Venture Fellows website or reach out to any of Foster’s current Venture Fellows.