Nadja Benes, Master's in Economics '15
The path from an economics master's to a branding agency
“It was the great relationships with my professors that made my experience so unique."
Master in Economics (now MS in Applied Economics) alumna Nadja Benes loves working in fast-paced, high-pressure environments. In other words, she’s tailor-made for the startup industry. It’s no wonder that she chose to pursue grad school in the Bay Area.
“I wanted to work in startups, and since San Francisco is the best location to do that, I felt like USF would be a great place to pursue my graduate studies,” she said. “Its central location allowed me to build connections in the startup scene while I was in the program. I really enjoyed that.”
After graduating, these connections helped her land a job in the tech scene right away. First as a customer success manager with Onfleet, a startup focused on improving local delivery, then as a product analyst with Tilt, a crowdfunding platform that notably helped send the Jamaican bobsled team to the Sochi Olympics.
At Onfleet and Tilt, Nadja’s roles were primarily analytical and quantitative. But she soon found herself craving more creative positions — positions where she could not only analyze data, but brainstorm ideas and develop strategies. It might not seem like economics and creativity have much in common, but Nadja says for some jobs, they’re inextricable.
In order to be creative in business, it’s often necessary to have a deep and thorough understanding of a market — of a company’s competitors, their strategy, etc. Economics has given me the necessary skills to understand market dynamics so that I can make creative decisions informed by that thorough knowledge.
These skills helped her land a gig as a brand strategist for the digital design and branding agency hy.am Studios. In this role, she’s helped develop marketing strategies for some pretty big clients, like the mobile dating app Bumble. She said her economics background comes in handy whenever she does user research.
“My master’s in economics has particularly served me in the analytical parts of the job — market and competitive analyses, defining target customers, and creating personas that drive strategy and creative direction. My experience with data analysis and the quantitative skills I obtained throughout the program definitely helped me with this.”
Freedom and support
One of Nadja’s most beneficial experiences in the program was working on a master’s thesis about early-stage capital investments in the U.S. and Europe. In fact, it was the highlight of her degree.
"What I found most enriching about my experience at USF was the freedom and support I had when researching and writing my master’s thesis,” she said. “The economics department was a wonderful resource. I learned about new research methods and experienced great research support."
Her thesis allowed her to really dive deep into the venture-capitalist industry, which has been incredibly helpful in her career, giving her a solid understanding of the financing environment for startups.
Another highlight of the program was her internship abroad in Paris for the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, a forum of countries committed to economic progress and world trade. There, she got to experience the political side of economics, working on policy alongside high-ranking politicians.
Her internship also gave her insight into how international organizations work, which was invaluable when she transitioned to her role at hy.am because she spent her first few months in Berlin, working on Bumble’s German market launch.
Nadja is appreciative to her professors for allowing her to intern abroad and for all their flexibility and support.
“It was the great relationships with my professors that made my USF experience so unique,” she said. “There was a strong sense of belonging.”