Alumni Story: Ruchi Patel

Alumni Story: Ruchi Patel

Interviewers were fascinated to hear about something different, on top of that I learned more and got my hands dirtier than peers at corporate internships. Companies recognize this, and they will always be interested in an unconventional path.

8 Lessons in 8 Weeks: Takeaways From My Summer in the Windy City

Ruchi, with Alex and Brian from Coder Inc., along with our other Summer 2017 Chicago fellows who interned with Coder Inc.

Ruchi, with Alex and Brian from Coder Inc., along with our other Summer 2017 Chicago fellows who interned with Coder Inc.

This blog post was written by Ruchi Patel, one of our Summer 2017 Chicago fellows.

After my sophomore year at the Pennsylvania State University, I was looking for an opportunity to get some work experience and advance my professional development. I came across Sage Corps and decided to apply, taking a leap of faith to have an extremely unconventional internship experience, and it ended up being one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I spent the summer with an amazing company, Coder Inc., based in Chicago. As an engineering student, I found myself straying far away from traditional tasks and dove deep into web/application development, venture development, sales and marketing, Blockchain technology, and everything in between. Upon returning to Penn State after the most amazing experience with Sage Corps, I sat down to reflect on the summer and realized that I had taken away so much more than I had thought. I have grown to be a better learner, employee, and human being. Fully aware of how cliché that sounds, I will attempt to explain the key lessons I’ve learned through my Sage Corps experience in this short recollection.

1.     Your degree doesn’t define you.

The biggest misconception that several college students (myself included) fall for is that a degree is like a signed contract to a specific field. Let me clear that up right now — nothing I did this summer was in any way related to the engineering curriculum I study at school — and this was by choice. In the startup world, roles are less strictly defined than in other professional environments, and every person wears as many or as few hats as they want. You will have the freedom to explore new interests. It’s up to you to demonstrate interest and capability to take on projects and tasks that may deviate from your current knowledge. And this will, more often than not, result in a LOT of learning and growth. Restricting yourself to the limitations of one degree field will not only hinder your learning, but may even prevent you from discovering new passions and interests and things you might be really great at. Make yourself as uncomfortable as possible, as you never know what amazing opportunities exist past the traditional field of vision you may trap yourself in. The worst that can happen is that you find out you don’t enjoy something — and even that is an extremely valuable thing to know.

2.     Take advantage of every event and opportunity — no exceptions.

Sage Corps will open more doors for you than you can keep track of, and they won’t always be highlighted and underlined. Seek out the opportunities to meet the amazing people that make up the startup community of your city. Go to every event that Sage Corps provides the opportunity to attend, and ask for more recommendations. Each event is carefully picked because Sage Corps HQ believes that we can benefit from them as students, young professionals and people. You will learn a great deal just from attending, and you'll get bonus points for talking to people (more about that later). The city you’re in probably has a reasonably established startup community, and the events that occur within that community are usually attended by important people with important stories. It’s a great way to get involved in “startup life” outside of your work, and there is always something really cool to see and be a part of. Even if you’re inclined to grab dinner with friends instead of going to that networking event HQ told you about, don’t. I guarantee that good friends will appreciate you grasping learning opportunities— and will maybe even join you.

3.     Remember everyone you meet.

In the entrepreneurship community, everybody wants to help you get to where you want to be. As students, we are like blank slates. Our thinking isn’t yet confined by industry “norms,” and we typically don’t like to follow rules. We have our whole lives ahead of us to experience as much as we want to, and the people you meet will recognize that and will want to help you take advantage of that. You will have the opportunity to go to more networking events than students normally do, so make sure that you actually NETWORK. Shake hands, get a business card, and make a connection. Make a commitment to send a quick note to anyone you’re interested in continuing a conversation with, and connect with people on LinkedIn. Even if you don’t want to harness connections you make for professional reasons, smart people can serve as invaluable mentors throughout your college experience and the rest of your life.

4.     …and you can learn something from everyone.

Tell them everything about you and listen to everything about them. You never know what distant connection you two share, and that may be the starting point of a mutually fruitful relationship. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you; the amount of knowledge you can accumulate from talking to intelligent, experienced people is greater than any textbook you will ever read. I speak not only for Chicago but for anyone in the entrepreneurial community anywhere when I say that nobody got to where they are without the help of people around them, and they will therefore very likely be willing to share as much as they can with you. I’ve met founders who readily disclosed typically confidential information because they believed there was something to learn from the failures they encountered. One thing you will quickly realize is that transparency and humility are very common traits of people in these communities. There will be an answer to every question you have, so ask away. Just be sure to listen and remember everything.

5.     Your work will speak for itself, and your humility will take you further than the college seal on your degree.

Be open to criticism, but own your work. It’s yours, be proud of it, and put in everything you have to make sure you are doing your best work. It won’t go unnoticed. People always pay attention to sincere, hard work — so seek tasks that you’re interested in and give them your all. The best thing about working at a startup is that you will be able to see your project through from start to finish. I got to work on important projects and even present my work directly to clients. If there is an “extra mile” potential in what you’re working on, go the extra mile! Doing good work without begging for praise or recognition is the best way to get people to respect and appreciate you. Everybody is paying attention, especially in a work environment like a startup. One thing I am certain about is that your work will speak for itself, so let it. If you want to do more but don’t know how, ask questions, learn and deliver. You won’t get a gold star, but you will get all the right attention— and that will pay off.

6.     Don’t be afraid to ask for help (sorry for being so predictable).

This one is the most commonly given, and under-used, pieces of professional advice I’ve ever heard. Hear me out. Being right all the time and knowing everything isn’t a thing. There will be times when you run into problems that you don’t know how to get out of. Doing stuff, messing up, and doing them again is a surefire way to learn a lot more than playing it safe the entire time. Your superiors know that you’re there to learn as much as you can, and sitting on something you don’t know how to do for too long will result in sub-standard results, a lack of learning, and a lot of wasted time. Ask for help more than you think you need to.

On a related note, don’t be afraid to speak up if you want to try working on something else. It’s like getting a bad haircut. It’s better to speak up and (maybe) make the hairdresser and yourself feel uncomfortable for 30 seconds rather than live with a haircut you’re not happy with. Knowing what you don’t like is as important as knowing what you do like; it helps to shape your interests and hone your strengths.

7.     Thinking outside the box is easier than you think it is.

Creativity, imagination and innovation are some of the greatest and most valued professional strengths I’ve witnessed throughout my experiences. No, you don’t have to be “born with it” or be Thomas Edison to think outside of the box. If you have an idea that sounds crazy, it probably is, but it also has the potential to be really good. Taking risks is directly proportional to creativity, and both involve taking a road less traveled. In a small company, chances are that whatever is picking your brain is uncharted territory (to some extent) to the rest of your team, too. Brainstorm, speak your ideas and forget (most of) the rules; it will probably leave you in a better spot. And sometimes it won’t. Sometimes your/your team’s ideas won’t work, and that’s okay. Translating “failure” into “learning opportunity” is hard, but it's the most valuable thing you can do both for yourself and the rest of your team, and that will DEFINITELY leave you in a better spot.

8.     Bring everything you have to the table, and believe that it is valued.

Don’t hide behind a laptop screen for the duration of your experience. Be social and play an active role in your startup—it’s the only way to give your work a personality. Make your opinions known and realize that there is a reason you are where you are, and it’s because your startup believes that you had something that they could benefit from. Prove it. Be yourself. Keep reminding yourself that you are where you are to learn and grow. Take advantage of that. Be confident, be deliberate. If you know that you are valuable and important to your startup, you will be more likely to be treated as such. Engage in meaningful conversations, don’t be afraid to voice your opinion, and trust that the learning process will always point you in the right direction.

Immerse yourself completely in this experience in and out of the office, get your hands dirty, mess up, and learn as much as you can. I found a new, exciting career path from my Sage Corps experience that I’m so excited to pursue, I have a ton of great stories and reflections from my time in Chicago, and I’ve made some incredible connections as well. There’s a lot to take away from your experiences, but only if you let yourself take it all in!

Ready to put Ruchi's lessons to the test?

University Spotlight: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill may be the oldest public university in America (it was chartered in 1789), but that doesn’t stop it from keeping up with the times. It’s well known that UNC is a strong, competitive research institution that provides its students with a well-rounded liberal arts education.

So, you can imagine how excited we were to accept a Tar Heel as a summer 2017 fellow!

Keep reading to find out more about his summer fellowship.

Saif Mehyar

Saif spent his summer in Chicago as an intern for Booksy, a free appointment scheduling application for users looking to find beauty and health services. At Booksy, Saif was primarily responsible for managing the company’s brand ambassador program and using analytics platforms like Google Analytics to optimize sales and pricing strategies.

Saif is a rising senior at UNC majoring in Business and minoring in Psychology.

Saif and some of his fellow Chicago cohort at 1871 Chicago, a co-working space hosting major startup incubators and accelerators.

Saif and some of his fellow Chicago cohort at 1871 Chicago, a co-working space hosting major startup incubators and accelerators.

Why did you decide to participate in Sage Corps?

"I joined the entrepreneurship club at UNC, and after listening to entrepreneurs and professionals who have done great things by starting their own companies (especially ones built around solving social issues), I decided that I wanted to know what it would be like to work at a young, dynamic startup that was helping solve a significant problem. I also knew that previous Sage Corps fellows had a great time interning in their respective cities and attested to the quality of their internship experiences."

How has this experience helped you get closer to achieving your post-graduation/ career goals?

"Sage Corps promised me an intensive internship mixed with weekly events that would help hone my professional skills. I am happy to say that I got both of those things and I definitely have had a number of projects that I can talk about during interviews for graduate school or first-year positions. I can also say that I had a ton of responsibility working at a startup, an environment much different than that of a traditional internship. That is undoubtedly something I can capitalize on in my career going forward."

Name one of the biggest challenges you’ve successfully overcome this summer.

"I think the biggest challenge for me this summer was learning to take risks (as cheeeesy as that sounds). I consider myself to be a very ‘safe’ person (no pun intended) and I’m usually drawn to tasks that are familiar to me or that I’ve done before. This summer, I decided that I wanted to challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone and I think I’ve accomplished that— not only in the tasks I’ve been doing at work— but also by reaching out to professionals in the Chicago area and developing new connections."

What is the most valuable lesson/ most valuable skill you’ve learned or strengthened during your internship?

"The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is the importance of listening actively and gleaning knowledge from people who have more experience than you."

Saif is considering several paths post-graduation, including pursuing a Master’s degree, moving back to the Middle East, or pursuing marketing or data science opportunities in the States. 

We’re so proud of Saif and all of the amazing work he accomplished this summer. We’re excited to see what the future holds for this Sage Corps Alumnus!

Interning abroad provides valuable experience that employers love to see. Join the less than 1% of college students gaining international work experience today.

University Spotlight: Northwestern University


Whether they’re enjoying Dillo day, cheering on Chicago's Big Ten Team, or spending time on the Lakefill, the Wildcats are living the good life in Evanston.

But, what about their experiences off-campus? When they’re not in Evanston, where in the world are the Wildcats and what are they doing?

Keep reading to find out about three Northwestern students and their adventures this summer as Sage Corps fellows.

 Griffin Bourjaily

Griffin is living in Chicago this summer and working as an intern at Coder, a venture development services startup. He is currently working with one of Coder's main clients, a mobile platform that assists veterans with the transition into civilian life, and is creating a suite of investor materials for the founder and a pricing package for the company. He is also developing marketing and expansion strategies for Coder to improve the company's sales initiatives. Griffin is a rising senior majoring in Economics and minoring in Business.

Name one of your biggest wins of the summer.

"Finishing a financial model for the veteran services client that took us two weeks to find the data to back up our claims."

What is the most valuable lesson/ most valuable skill you’ve learned or strengthened during your internship?

"I would say my technical skills related to strategic thinking."

How has this experience helped you get closer to achieving your post-graduation/ career goals?

"I think Sage Corps not only looks great on a resume, but also gives students an opportunity to learn about a whole new industry that they wouldn't normally have access to. Without Sage Corps, I don't know if I would've been able to break into the tech startup industry unless I decided to create my own startup down the road. However, I am now more prepared for that path and know the ins and outs of the tech industry."

What's the most fun/ coolest thing you've done with your cohort so far this summer?

"I would say the Startup Grind event powered by Google Entrepreneurs. We helped decide what startup would receive funding which is really cool to be in that position."

Griffin plans to pursue a career in management consulting upon graduation.

Ezequiel Linares

Zeke is currently in Buenos Aires working as an investment research analyst intern at Wayra, Telefonica’s startup accelerator and venture capital fund that focuses on seed investments. Zeke has a variety of responsibilities at Wayra but is currently working on analyzing the company’s portfolio companies and finding feasible fundraising opportunities for the group’s entrepreneurs. He uses Wayra’s consolidated database of Latin American Venture Capital funds and Angels to match compatible entrepreneurs and investors.

Zeke is a rising junior majoring in Industrial Engineering, minoring in Business Institutions, and pursuing a certificate in Entrepreneurship.

Why did you decide to participate in Sage Corps?

“Initially, I was tied between doing a domestic internship and wanting to study abroad this summer. I decided to participate in Sage Corps because it strikes a good balance between the two different experiences I was seeking. Outside of connecting me with an incredible internship opportunity, Sage Corps provided me a really cool cohort to explore Buenos Aires with and an engaged Country Manager who is always on call for any questions. More importantly, though, Juan, our Country Manager, has been able to set my cohort up with amazing professional opportunities to network with companies such as KMPG, Google, and an awesome co-working space called La Maquinita.”

What is the most valuable lesson/ most valuable skill you’ve learned or strengthened while abroad in your city?

“The most valuable lesson that I have learned while abroad in my city is that good stories are waiting to be made. Sometimes the best nights are the spontaneous ones that weren't planned earlier that day. So always be open minded to any activities and you'll be surprised at how fun they end up being.”

How has this experience helped you get closer to achieving your post-graduation/ career goals?

“This experience has helped me get closer to achieving my career goals because it has given me the ability to immerse myself in an entirely new situation and forced me to think quickly on my feet. I believe that regardless of the career path that I end up going down, the global perspective I will have developed by the end of my 8-week journey will prove useful in helping me think outside the box when confronted with any difficult problem-solving scenarios.”

 Name one of your biggest wins of the summer.

“One of my biggest wins of the summer thus far was attending an exclusive event hosted by Google for Entrepreneurs at AreaTres, which is a co-working space in Palermo Soho. There was delicious food, fantastic drinks, and live music. Not to mention an uncanny amount of networking. By the end of the night, I was able to connect with a couple of gentlemen who received an award at the most recent NASA Hackathon and am now currently in the works of sourcing them as an investment opportunity for Wayra."

Post-gradation, Zeke plans to enter the consulting field and work as a management consultant.

Zeke and his cohort enjoying the local culture in Buenos Aires.

Zeke and his cohort enjoying the local culture in Buenos Aires.

Ignacio de Osma

Like Griffin, Ignacio is currently interning at Coder Inc. in Chicago. Some of his responsibilities include developing the financial forecasts for one Coder's clients, working on Coder's cryptocurrencies initiatives, and working on a "venture challenge," in which he and a colleague were given an idea and had to prepare for a mock investor pitch. 

Ignacio is majoring in Economics and Mathematics and minoring in computer science.

Why did you decide to participate in Sage Corps?

I decided to participate in Sage Corps because it provided me the opportunity to learn from a completely new experience and hence gain new skills, and at the same time meet new and amazing people!

Name one of your biggest wins of the summer.

Although I have gained many skills, both technical and personal, I believe the biggest win was meeting the people I work with. I think the friendships I have established will last longer than anything else.

What is the most valuable lesson/ most valuable skill you’ve learned or strengthened during your internship?

I believe the most valuable lesson I learned during my internship was the ability to perform a decent outcome in an unknown situation.

What is the most valuable lesson/ most valuable skill you’ve learned or strengthened while in your city?

Although I reside in Illinois, I had the opportunity to know people from very different places. Therefore, I had the opportunity to gain insight into different cultures and ways of life.

Although Ignacio doesn't have any concrete post-graduation plans, he feels that his Sage Corps fellowship helped him gain skills that will be transferable to any of his future careers.

So, there you have it! As you can see, Zeke, Griffin, and Ignacio are making tangible, practical contributions to their startups this summer and building valuable professional skills. We’re excited to see where this journey takes them!

Interning abroad provides valuable experience that employers love to see. Join the less than 1% of college students gaining international work experience today.

Meet a Fellow: Tudor Dorobantu

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This blog post was written by Sarah Rudd, Sage Corps' summer marketing intern.

At Sage Corps, we strongly believe that interning with a tech startup can be an invaluable, life-changing experience. Nothing makes us happier than knowing that our fellows have meaningful, eye-opening experiences in the field of entrepreneurship. Take Tudor Dorobantu, for example. He’s a Romanian student studying at Boston University who came to Chicago to work with a startup, Sente, and was then sent to Istanbul to help train international startups for the company's summer “Internet of Things” program.

Sounds pretty cool, right? I sat down with Tudor to hear more about his experience.

About Sente

According to the company's Facebook page, Sente is “an 1871 Chicago based international accelerator for startups in Turkey, Nordics, Balkans and other emerging startup ecosystems.” It was founded in 2008 by Serhat Cicekoglu (CEO). Gerod Carfantan joined the company in July 2016, as the COO, and the company now has grown to six employees.

Sente helps provide incubation and business development services for startups. The company launches a series of programs for selected startups to help them become successful businesses. Sente is currently running its “Internet of Things” program, which is in its sixth week out of 12. In August it will launch its “LandInChicago” program, followed by its “New Mobility” program in September. Through its programming, the company has helped more than two hundred startups grow and develop.

A bit more about Tudor

Born and raised in Bucharest, Romania, Tudor is a rising senior at Boston University studying Finance and Information Systems with a minor in Computer Science. Tudor is the VP of Tutoring for the university’s Financial Modeling club, and he credits his involvement with this organization for providing him with helpful experience in financial modeling.

Tudor felt that an American internship would be beneficial to his career, and that’s when he found Sage Corps.

“I got an email from Sage Corps and was intrigued. I liked the idea of being paired with someone with experience in the field.”

He ultimately applied to the Sage Corps Summer 2017 program in Chicago and was placed as an analyst intern with Sente.

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From Chicago to Istanbul

Tudor joined Sente right as the team was leaving for Istanbul to kick off its “Internet of Things” program.

“[Sente] selected 11 companies, and the program kicked off in Istanbul. We gather the entrepreneurs from all over the world, but a lot are from Istanbul and throughout Europe. We had a few workshops for the companies, outlined the expectations of the six weeks, we started to coach them how to build a business plan and financial model, and we gave them a crash course on how to pitch their idea. After that me and my coworkers helped with refined deliverables, financial model and presentations and due diligence.”

Tudor also explained that his role in Istanbul was to help give real advice to real startups and help them build their businesses.

“I was there to aid the entrepreneurs with questions regarding the deliverables, and help them complete them. One bigger task was looking at comparable companies with public information to help value the companies we work with. It doesn’t have to be perfect but we look at the analogs as a baseline to help model the business itself with revenue and costs. I also helped with qualitative research, for example on the industry, using frameworks, a general outlying description of their market (business model - B2B or B2C, and revenue model (subscription, sell product once). Great professional experience in dealing with clients and resolving their problems with solutions you come up with. Monday through Friday from 8am to 6pm that was what I did, I counseled them. ”


From both his time in Istanbul and with Sente in general, Tudor has already been able to identify the benefits of working for a globalized startup. Prior to working with Sente, Tudor held a corporate internship with KPMG Romania, and he was able to notice an immediate difference in the responsibilities he was given and the room for potential growth in each position.

“Here I am needed. My superiors look at me and see how I perform and can see that I’m capable; I’m able to counsel the startups and advise them on issues regarding their business. In Istanbul I started coaching the entrepreneurs and one of them came to me and his business model didn’t fit for the US at all - he was Serbian. It was a flood warning program that I didn’t think would work in the US because we already have billion of dollars invested in our own warning programs. He needed help, and I came and talked to him and gave him some ideas like, “why don’t you put apply it to warning systems at colleges and universities?” At the end of the day, he said that I gave him confidence to continue on with his idea. I made an impact on a real person.”

Just as Tudor only had good things to say about his experience with Sente, Gerod, the company’s COO, had similar praise for Tudor. He said,

"We see as the connection point between startups, investors and institutions in different parts of the world. So, it’s important for us to have people on the team that can bring in a diverse experience and diverse cultural backgrounds. As an international student with life experience in both the US and Romania, Tudor is a great fit. He’s also been able to contribute immediately – as a startup ourselves and the fact we work with so many startups, it’s given him the ability to both contribute with his strong analytical skills and also learn quite a bit about a lot of different sides of the business, plus experience the energy of the City of Chicago. Overall I think it’s been a great experience for both Sente and for Tudor."

When I asked how his experience with Sente, specifically in Istanbul, may have affected his future career aspirations, Tudor said,

“I definitely want to work somewhere in the VC field - I know it’s very competitive - but depending on what types of skills and professional connections I build here, hopefully it will help me get there!”

He also said that is is now more interested in a future position that involves working with people.

“I was always a numbers guy, but working with people is definitely more interesting connecting with the entrepreneurs. In terms of professional skill development, it was really important for me to start developing skills related to client interactions. With a finance or consulting track, a lot of my work will involve client interactions, and you will need the ability to effectively and succinctly communicate your ideas. It’s all about communication.”

We are excited to have played a role in Tudor’s internship experience, and are excited to continue to help our fellows to reach a new level of professional growth, and a widened exposure to the globalized workplace.

Think you have what it takes?