In the second installment of our Batten Venture Internship Program blog series, we feature Rachel Leitner (Class of 2020), who found a unique way to combine two of her greatest passions — health care and New Zealand. Rachel’s passion is evident — her involvement with MedWool, an innovative bandage alternative, began even before her summer internship, putting in 10–15 hours per week during Quarters 3 and 4 to begin getting to know the company.

The Batten Venture Internship Program (BVIP) offers students the opportunity to pursue internships with venture capital firms, startups or closely held enterprises. Entrepreneurial students who hope to start their own venture gain valuable formal experience through BVIP, which offers a matching salary stipend to encourage this one-of-a-kind internship exploration. Learn more about Darden’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Rachel shared highlights of her hands-on summer — from visiting back country sheep stations to championing the Wool+Aid product launch, she was involved every step of the way.

Hi, I’m Rachel Leitner! I’m originally from New York, but spent three years in San Francisco before coming to Darden. So far, I’ve led a varied career, spanning both finance and health care industries. I’ve checked off some of the traditional MBA career boxes through working at a hedge fund and as a consultant, and really wanted to test the entrepreneurial waters by doing a BVIP for my summer internship. I’ve been journaling inventions and business ideas since elementary school, and have always had the itch to start my own company or work on a startup. I came into Darden very interested in venture capital, and know that having operating experience is key to being successful in VC. Given these goals and prior experience, participating in BVIP was ideal.

I was first introduced to MedWool back in February 2019 and my “summer” internship started right then, putting in 10–15 hours per week during Q3 and Q4 before going full-time in June. If you could ask me to paint a picture of my perfect company, it would be something that combines health care and New Zealand — two of my greatest passions. MedWool bridges both of these. The company is based in Tekapo (South Island of NZ), and is bringing the world’s first Merino sheep wool bandages to market. The bandages are naturally antimicrobial and biodegradeable, bringing much needed change to the plastic filled healthcare industry. Additionally, the material is naturally renewable (sheep are shorn twice per year) and the end product is as soft as a cashmere sweater.

The opportunity to work with MedWool fell out of the sky on the exact day I had turned down another offer without a backup plan, and it was just too good to pass up.

The summer was a roller coaster! Fun yet exhausting, creative and frustrating, dramatic but exciting. I spent the summer between New Zealand with the founder, and San Francisco where I was able to leverage Darden’s strong network to get advice about launching MedWool. Given that it was just me and the founder, I expected to get very hands on with the company and found myself immediately applying almost everything I learned in the core curriculum to daily startup life. Operations and supply chain management took up almost 50 percent of my time along with marketing, PR, sales, graphics, inventory and accounting. One of the best aspects about my summer was that there was something new every single day.

A huge personal learning that came out of the summer was the realization of how self-motivated founders and people involved in early stage startups have to be. There is no hand-holding, no rules. You get what you put in, and you have to keep putting in a lot. I worked nights and weekends with very little downtime leading up to the product launch.

One of my favorite moments of my internship was getting to visit the actual sheep farms in New Zealand. I spent two full days with our farms ATVing in the back country sheep stations, learning about the sheep and wool industry. I even learned to shear sheep! It was important to know my product extremely well, and that meant from the very beginning of the supply chain, all the way through. Another favorite moment was when we successfully launched our product in 11 New Zealand stores at the end of July. We sold out of over 300 boxes of bandages in just 37 hours!

I would definitely recommend First Years consider doing a BVIP if at all interested in starting a company or working in a role that invests in startups. Being able to test out startup life for a few months is monumental in knowing if that career choice is right. We have the summer internship to experiment with ideas — why not go for something unique and try entrepreneurship?!

-Rachel Leitner, Class of 2020

First “Board Meeting”: Lucas and I chatting strategy in our office — a tin sheep shearing shed 5,000 ft above sea level in Tekapo, New Zealand.