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All Hands-on Deck: Some Lessons I Learned Interning with Benson Hill
Guest Blogger: Margaux Ballet, Graduating Class of 2019 at John Burroughs School
What does it take to simultaneously drive scientific innovation and business success? That’s what I was hoping to learn during my one-month internship with Benson Hill Biosystems. As a soon-to-be graduate of John Burroughs School, a St. Louis area high school, I have had the opportunity to study biology, chemistry, economics and computer programming in the classroom, but I haven’t had the chance to explore the application of those disciplines in the real world. I knew from my research that Benson Hill was working to use cutting-edge science to solve major food and agriculture challenges, but I didn’t have a real grasp of what that required. Meeting and working with the employees of this company, people from diverse backgrounds and all different fields of study, I began to understand what it takes to navigate this kind of success.
My first new discovery was that, while not necessarily required, having a background in science is extremely valuable in a science-based startup, even if your role is focused on sales or marketing. Almost every person I met had a degree in some field of science, often times, but not always, paired with a Master’s in Business Administration. The benefit of having a background in science quickly became apparent to me when participating in meetings about communications, marketing and even legal contract negotiations. To be successful in these roles, it is both necessary and important to understand the science behind the technology. In a startup company, it is often an “all hands-on deck” atmosphere and everyone needs to be fluent in the languages of science and business to be effective.
As Benson Hill charts its course for success, it became clear to me that teamwork was the wind in its sails. In every project or meeting I joined, there were people present from multiple facets of the company. For instance, when focusing on how to explain Benson Hill’s technology to consumers, the company convened employees focused on the life sciences, data science, communications and business development. This diverse group worked through a storyboard session that would be turned into a consumer-facing video. The ownership, purpose and enthusiasm were shared by everyone in the room, and each person was focused on the best product outcome.
Ancient sailors relied on the stars to find their way on a long journey. For a modern startup business, core values are the North Star. The Benson Hill employees I met had a passion for their work and clearly demonstrated the company’s core values: Be Bold, Be Inspired, Be Real. I could see that every single person I met was excited about their work and had a sense of ownership in the company’s success. Thanks, Benson Hill, for this insightful experience, for allowing me to learn, explore, and discover, and for the chance to join your journey for a short while.