A millennial networking startup is taking MBAs head on - and throwing in brunch for good measure

  • MBAs are often seen as the next stage in career growth.
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  • Paulina Karpis, a former broker relationships manager at JPMorgan, told Business Insider she decided not to get an MBA - and she saw that many of her peers chose the same.
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  • She said the cost of taking two years off from the workforce (and incurring debt at the same time) outweighed the networking and managerial skill benefits.
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  • Karpis in now the cofounder of brunchwork, a startup that provides networking and learning spaces for millennials.
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  • In a conversation with Business Insider, she explains why brunchwork partnered with working-space provider Industrious to launch a new campus in New York City.
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  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

Ambitious professionals used to count on MBAs to help them develop the connections and skills needed to accelerate their careers. Amid an ongoing national conversation about the actual worth of these pricey programs, though, many are turning to alternatives that require less commitment - and that incur less debt.

Paulina Karpis is one such grad-school skeptic. She considered an MBA a few years ago while working her way up as a broker relationships manager at JPMorgan. However, she quickly saw a mismatch between the steep price tag and the value it offered, as well as the two years it would have taken to complete.

"An MBA would have slowed me down," Karpis told Business Insider, adding that it would've taken her out of the workforce for two years. "Based on how quickly the world is changing, by the time you come back, the role you left might not even exist."

Karpis now runs brunchwork, a New York-based startup that has hosted popular weekend networking events for the past four years. Business-savvy millennials meet with luminaries from across industries to learn from their experiences ( while eating a farm-to-table lunch and sipping mimosas, as the name implies). The company is now looking to expand its services by opening a weekend campus where members can get MBA-level opportunities at a fraction of the cost.

Starting October 19, brunchwork will offer the campus program at workplace-provider Industrious in Manhattan's Bryant Park. Karpis says members can expect Saturday and Sunday business classes, talks by business leaders like Peloton cofounder Graham Stanton, and social experiences like wine tastings and private music shows.

Karpis described it as taking the "core value" of the MBA and providing it for brunchwork's target audience in a way that fits neatly into their lives.

Among those values are networking and the development of managerial skills. Jeb Ory, a serial entrepreneur who has raised more than $6 million in investment capital, previously told Business Insider that "learning from others is how most successful people build their careers. It feels like everyone in business school is looking to trade careers, so you meet people who are coming from the areas you are interested in going into."

brunchwork's cofounder on learning opportunities outside of an MBA

But Karpis argues that outside the networking opportunities, the benefits of MBAs are few.

According to Karpis, MBA programs are backward-looking by nature. Students dissect company decisions retrospectively, and the case studies themselves may not be relevant after the decision was made.

She also points out that a lot of the business school curriculum, including courses in marketing, accounting, and finance, can easily be learned online. Intangible skills like communication and building influence in business, which Karpis calls "people-people skills," can't be learned in a classroom setting, she added. People need to practice, be in the same space and actually do the activity to learn the skill.

Currently, brunchwork reaches about 10,000 people a year across the nation, with about 10 events happening a month. Karpis said the average member is a millennial, and that more than half of them are professionals who want to be seen as leaders or managers within the top firms where they work.

Karpis expects their audience to grow three or four times over the next year with the launch of the campus, which is open to both brunchwork and Industrious.

"I personally view this first launch as a model that we can refine and expand across the country," Karpis said. "Our mission is career advancement through community, and I think that's a mission that will benefit national communities, not just the young professionals of New York."

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