Hisaoka Fellow Interns at a Startup that Helps Make Higher Education Affordable

This summer, several Smith MBA students have been interning at startups through the Hisaoka Fellowship program. Hisaoka fellows are awarded a $5,000 scholarship if they are able to secure a summer internship with venture capital or angel-funded startups and early stage companies. The Dingman Center interviewed each fellow about their experience.

Ashish Agarwal – MPower Financing

Tell us about MPOWER Financing. What is the company’s mission and core MPowerFinancingcompetencies?

MPOWER’s mission is to remove financial barriers to higher education in the U.S. To accomplish this mission, MPOWER works with investors and universities to lend to high-potential students who are left out by traditional banks. In addition to providing students with access to the financial resources necessary to attend and complete college, MPOWER builds students’ credit histories, provides them with personal finance education, and offers gateway financial products to prepare them for life after college.

Tell us about your responsibilities thus far at MPOWER Financing?

My responsibilities at MPOWER included:

  • Understanding MPOWER’s product inside and out
  • Managing key operations processes and critically thinking about opportunities for improvements
  • Drawing insights based on our data sets to promote efficiency and influence decisions for the MPOWER team

What projects are you most looking forward to working on with MPOWER Financing?

I am really looking forward to understanding more details about MPOWER’s innovative lending model. Instead of following the traditional model of just looking at credit scores for making lending decisions, MPOWER bases its lending decision on applicant’s future earning potential.

Why did you want an internship with MPOWER Financing?

I could immediately relate to the financial inclusion objective of MPOWER. As an international student, I faced enormous challenges getting a student loan for my education in the United States. MPOWER, with its innovative lending model, is enabling thousands of international and domestic students like me (who are left out of the traditional banking system) to realize their education dreams.

Plus, I knew that I would be able to make a real contribution to MPOWER’s operations based on my past experience of working in a startup environment in India.

What do you hope to gain from a summer spent at MPOWER Financing?

My three learning objectives at MPOWER Financing were:

  • Gain exposure to the startup environment in the DC area
  • Apply concepts that I learned during my 1st year of MBA to solve real world business problems
  • Create a development plan for my second year of school by identifying areas of strength and avenues for improvement

Have you had any cool startup/networking experiences since you’ve been at MPOWER Financing?

Because I joined MPOWER when they were in midst of raising funds in their A round, I got good exposure to how funds are raised by startups in the U.S. I also got a chance to watch some of the best startups in DC/ Baltimore area make their investment pitch during various investor events.

What has been the biggest adjustment?

Transitioning from a school environment to a work environment is always challenging. I had to adjust to the fast, Pareto principle (80-20 rule) based decision making environment of a startup compared with the relatively slow, perfect decision seeking environment of business school. Having a Smith MBA alumni among the leadership team at MPOWER really helped me in making this transition.

Another challenge was applying theoretical concepts that I learned in class to solve real practical business problems. Here, Smith’s pedagogy of combining theoretical concepts with actual practical examples really helped.


HisaokaAgarwalAshish Agarwal has 7 years’ experience working in the startup environment in India with various roles in Analytics and Strategy. His work has helped him earn Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from Project Management Institute (PMI), Six Sigma Green Belt Credential from American Society for Quality (ASQ) and Online Marketing Certified Professional (OMCP) credentials with specialization in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Web Analytics. At Smith, Ashish is a dual degree MBA and MS in Information Systems student, with a concentration in business analytics. He is also the founding president of Smith’s Graduate Data Analytics Club. In addition to his professional experience, Ashish is an active practitioner of Vedic mathematics, an ancient Indian way of solving math problems. His other interests include cooking, backpacking and teaching.

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