In our “What I Learned at…” series, MBAs discuss the tools and skills their business schools provided as they launched their careers.
Mili Mittal is a former mbaMission consultant and now the CEO and cofounder of mor.sl, a recipe recommendations platform designed to help busy professionals cook. mor.sl was recently featured in TechCrunch. Mili received her MBA and a Certificate in Entrepreneurship from the Haas School of Business at the University of California–Berkeley (UC Berkeley Haas) in 2010. In Part 4 of this four-part series, Mili describes the close relationships she formed with professors and mentors at Haas, and how they continue to support her today.
In my previous posts, I have mentioned a lot of professors whose classes were instrumental in teaching me about and enabling me to practice entrepreneurship fundamentals while in school. But I haven’t talked much about how much these professors influenced the direction of mor.sl and how incredibly important they’ve been and continue to be on our journey.
I don’t know about you, but when I was an undergrad, I never built really strong relationships with my professors. There was distance between the students and professors at my school, and only with a very few did I feel comfortable talking about anything but homework. At Berkeley, I had the opposite experience—perhaps because I was older and had a stronger sense of purpose and maturity, but perhaps because the professors there were interested in forming connections with their students.
At Haas, in part because of the small class size and mostly because of the professors’ dedication, I could drop into the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship almost any time I wanted and catch the ear of professors John Danner, Jerry Engel or David Charron. Professors like John offer to take you to lunch to chat about your start-up’s challenges and help you overcome them. Professor Sara Beckman encouraged students in her “Design and Systems Thinking for MBAs” class to talk with her outside the classroom about ways to help incorporate design thinking into the Haas curriculum. Professor Steve Blank took precious time to meet with students outside of class to discuss their unique start-up challenges, too. These professors weren’t just there to “drop knowledge;” they were there to invest in their students. Every interaction with my professors (well, most) felt like a discussion with a partner.
And professors aren’t the only ones who can turn into mentors. For example, Berkeley has an Executive in Residence Program. Through this program (and through my participation in the Berkeley Board Fellows Program), I met David Riemer, the former vice president of marketing at Yahoo! David became a mentor—advising me on my career path, my start-up strategy and more. He continues to do so to this day.
Together, these individuals have helped shape the direction of my path and of mor.sl, not because they had to, but because they wanted to. Will you need mentors when you’re in business school? If so, take the time to visit your target programs and meet with professors to see if they’ll be there for you the way my Haas professors have been there for me.