Polymath Fellowship program: The experience and opportunities2020-08-07 | Luisa Bolivar
In our current process to recruit the best talents for our Service Design Fellowship, we often get questions about the overall experience, the most relevant characteristics of our culture and why is it different from other entrepreneurial experiences. To give our future fellows a realistic idea of what is like to join our team, we talked to one of our original fellows, Katharina Sommerkamp, who joined the Venture Design & Acceleration Fellowship in Mexico City.
Kat, as we like to call her, quickly developed a successful career within Polymath. Shortly after joining the team, she had the opportunity to lead diverse challenges, from working on a corporate project with one of the biggest financial groups in Latin America to supporting the talent acquisition team to develop a new experimentation tool designed to recruit C-level profiles.
Her experience at Polymath is a reflection of the multiple opportunities professionals have at our company. Our entrepreneurial core and robust venture portfolio provides a rich experience for people seeking exposure to entrepreneurship while having the support, structure, and methodologies of an experienced group.
Tell us about your personal and professional background before Polymath.
I’m originally from the Canary Islands, a small archipelago a few miles off the West African coast that is part of Spain. I grew up in an idyllic environment: close to the beach and mountains, with postcard-level weather all year-round and a politically safe and stable outlook.
I studied International Management, graduating in the heart of a recession (2008). Wanting to understand the triggers, depth, and consequences of the country’s financial crisis, I completed a Master in Finance. This kicked off my career in the financial industry: first, raising investment for commodity projects and managing risk exposure in countries like Cuba, Egypt, and Azerbaijan; later, project managing investor days and some of the largest IPOs in recent history.
I always believed that, as a career, one had to choose to either go the analytical or the creative route. I had chosen the analytical one – but always felt there was something missing. After 5 years, I went back to school to complete my MBA, which is when I first learned about innovation strategy. Upon graduation, I had found my passion: to generate impact through innovation.
After graduation, I briefly explored the corporate arm of venture building at E.ON, and soon after, landed at Polymath Ventures in Mexico.
Why a Fellowship with Polymath? What were you looking at that time and why you felt this could be a match with your expectations?
I had been following Polymath Ventures since graduating from my MBA. I felt a strong alignment with their vision and values and was impressed with the impact they were generating in LATAM. Having spent some time working in Cuba and Uruguay early in my career, I was also keen on returning to learn more about the region.
When the Venture Design & Acceleration Fellowship in Mexico City was published, I knew it was a great option for me. From a personal standpoint, a 4-month fellowship would give me enough flexibility to understand whether Mexico City was a place I wanted to live in long-term, without committing from the start. And from a professional one, I would have the chance to learn about innovation and venture building methodologies by doing, validating whether this was the path I wanted to take. The fellowship was like a prototype of a life I wanted to explore.
How was your overall experience?
Let’s just say: the prototype validated my hypotheses! My fellowship quickly turned into a full-time position (even before my time at Polymath hit the 4-months mark).
The fellowship was a steep learning curve for me – not only at a technical level (as I learned about rapid prototyping and human-centered design) but also at a personal one. I came from an environment in which questions and change were discouraged and perks came in the form of jet rides and hotel suites, to one where questions are expected, change is celebrated and perks come in the form of meaning and tangible impact in people’s lives. During this time, I didn’t only grow professionally, but personally, too.
What’s your biggest learning of this Fellowship experience?
As I think back on my fellowship experience, there’s one moment that always comes back to my mind. During my first week, after warm introductions to the team and a deep dive into the project, I was tasked to build quick prototypes to test a hypothesis. I had about an hour before we would gather together again with our deliveries ready to use.
I struggled, big time! If you are going to show something to a user, wasn’t it supposed to look great? I was almost paralyzed by the thought of doing something that wasn’t good enough, so I braved myself to go ask for help. Not only did I get my questions answered and my fears busted, but I also gained new friends and allies – beyond the workspace.
What I take from this experience is the importance and impact of showing your vulnerabilities and asking for help. This tiny decision helped me break through a mental barrier, learn and grow more, faster, and build amazing friendships with the rest of my team.
Entering the entrepreneurial world with an experienced player
At Polymath each team member has the opportunity to build their path. We provide the landscape, tools, and support for you to experiment and discover the right track for you. Kat, as we call her, joined as a fellow but quickly grew within the org, allowing her to lead strategic projects for the company. Her outstanding performance along with her strong analytical skills led her to transition from business design to led talent acquisition, where she redefined the team and vision to pursue bigger and bolder business goals.
Our new fellowship program oriented towards Service Designers is an amazing opportunity for candidates interested in joining the entrepreneurial path while having a group, such as Polymath Ventures, at the backbone of the organization. In this experience, you will work with our seasoned business designers and regional corporate partners to build the next generation of companies.
It’s a unique opportunity for you to bring your experience and unique point of view to help us rethink how we build innovation in Latin America. Are you excited? Apply here.