This week, a group of four University of Chicago MBA students from the Booth School of Business are spending the week embedded with Louisville startup Interapt. So embedded, in fact, that they’re staying at Interapt CEO Ankur Gopal’s parents’ house.
The four students decided to create their own program, which they’re calling Chicago Road Ventures. They’re visiting three cities that are not necessarily known as hot startup cities but have vibrant startup cultures. They’re road-tripping and embedding themselves with a startup in each city and living and breathing the startup life, pro bono. It’s a program they hope to integrate into the Booth School experience in the future. Basically this trip, they’re guinea pigs testing it out.
The students are: Chris Boulos, from Chicago; Simon Weinstein, from Stuttgart, Germany; Emma Rotenberg, from Larchmont, N.Y.; and Kevin Lam, from Los Angeles. They each have one year left in the MBA program. At the Booth School, MBAs perform traditional summer internships with large finance or other traditional businesses. After that, the school gives students a chunk of time to pursue a different interest.
Louisville is the last stop for Chicago Road Ventures. They went to St. Louis first and worked at Made For Freedom, a for-profit social impact business that helps women who are survivors of human trafficking. In New Orleans, they worked at Zliens, an Internet platform that helps contractors get paid.
CRV chose Interapt because Gopal is part of the Booth School network. According to Weinstein, the group was impressed when they interviewed Gopal because when they asked about his goal for Interapt was, he said, “To create tech jobs in Louisville.”
The selection process was intense, Rotenberg said, and it took “two or three calls to select a company.” And the communication didn’t end there; the team has been in contact and conversation with Interapt since they were selected. By the time CRV arrived in Louisville, Gopal felt like a friend.
The companies had to be “mission-driven” and in a city “where there was not an MBA overrun,” said Weinstein.
CRV hoped the team could work with the Interapt staff to help them solve problems both in the company and with the community, knock out obstacles to growth, and “accomplish things that they just don’t have time for,” said Rotenberg.
For Interapt, that means working on the sales and marketing for a healthcare compliance product so it can scale.
“Most MBA students go on to big finance” at UChicago, Weinstein said. “They would love to do something mission-driven, but they can’t afford to.” But Entrepreneurship is the school’s largest concentration (MBA students must concentrate in a particular field.).
They asked their UChicago peers if they would be interested in participating in a program like Chicago Road Ventures and 70 people responded “yes” in two days. They even helped the team crowdfund for the trip.
The end goal is to get this program into other schools, but they’ll start with the next class at Booth. The four will help advise and coach, but they won’t do the important leg work for next year’s teams. “It’s about the teams finding their way,” said Weinstein.
What do they think of Louisville? Weinstein said the “people are incredible — very welcoming.” He said the city feels “very alive and dynamic” and that companies like Interapt have done a good job at translating the culture of Silicon Valley for the city.