We are currently witnessing a shift in the job market away from the more traditional MBA path, which is crumbling as I type, towards traditionally riskier start-ups, social ventures, and entrepreneurial careers with social and environmental impact goals. Each year, business school students at MIT’s Sloan School of Management embark on a “Tech Trek,” visiting companies of interest in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Seattle, and Boston to make connections, get career ideas and generally explore. This year’s San Francisco and Silicon Valley trek was quite popular, attracting 100 of about 150 Trekkers total with over 40 company visits. Seven of these Trekkers visited us at Social Venture Technology Group (SVT). SVT has been in business since 2001, but this is the first time we have been contacted for this particular visit.
Typical MBA job opportunities have been slashed with the decline of the banking giants, near hiring freezes at the big consulting firms, and job losses at Fortune 500 firms. For example, Google and Yahoo are usually annual stops on the Sloan Tech Trek, however this year they declined to participate. For the Trekkers, this created an opportunity to visit more start-ups and small firms.
The economic downturn “has placed some budget constraints on many of the companies we originally intended to visit, but it has also allowed us to look at a different set of companies,” said Pedro Santos, a Sloan student on the San Francisco and Silicon Valley Trek. “I think that startups will be hiring a significant number of talented individuals who would have been taken by larger corporations, which means that the infusion of energy and talent from MBAs could really lead to a significant amount of value going into the startups.” Another Trekker, Rajiv Bhatia added: “I believe this is one of the best times for the startup company model to thrive. Large corporations typically cut their budgets and go into ‚Äòsurvival mode’ during times of economic crisis.”
The students visited us in our San Francisco office, which was under construction at the time (and could only have added to that start-up feel). These MBA candidates had elected the Entrepreneurship and Innovation track at Sloan, which has grown to 70 students in its third year of existence. Within this track, interest in social entrepreneurship has blossomed as well. The group had an impressive degree of understanding for what SVT does (“measure, manage and communicate social and environmental impact”), which often takes some time to explain. The students’ backgrounds were fairly traditional – weighted towards investment banking, consulting, and large companies. Less than half of the group mentioned experience in social or environmental fields, such as CSR and microfinance. But the Trekkers were genuinely interested in our work at SVT, citing an interest in pursuing related career goals.
I myself made the switch from business management consulting to social and environmental impact consulting less than a year ago. This was before things got really nasty in the economy, and my choice had nothing to do with the absence of other options. Instead, I was looking to get into a line of work where I could feel good about the outcomes, have more of an impact personally, and continue to learn at a fast pace, but with more flexibility in my daily life. I suspect these MBA’s are seeking more rewarding work just like I was, hence their proactive approach to learning more about SVT and other social ventures (Kiva and Microplace were among their other stops).
Perhaps this is a positive outcome of the downturn: the bright minds of my generation are turning away from banking, consulting, and marketing toward social entrepreneurship and environmental innovation, where we need them most. As Amanda Symonds, a Trekker who visited us at SVT noted, “there is a lot of talent that would otherwise have pursued traditional career paths now looking to join small, entrepreneurial businesses, or to start their own businesses. Some of the greatest companies like Apple and Google were formed during a recession, and MIT Sloan students are hard-working, driven people looking to be part of the next big thing.”