Startup internships

Preparing students for the innovation economy

Internships represent the pinnacle of experiential learning. Well-crafted internships allow college students to test their career goals and employers to consider candidates as potential long-term hires.
Northeast Ohio has experimented in recent years with the specialized nature of internships in entrepreneurial companies. These experiments have demonstrated that the startup internship is a very different animal. Many unpredictable scenarios arise in the startup world that on the one hand, create challenges in managing such internship programs, yet on the other, offer exciting opportunities for problem solving and learning.
Real-world experience
Students are able to see firsthand the ups and downs of what happens in a startup on a daily basis and be part of that ever-shifting, fast-paced environment. This intense experience may convince them that starting a venture (or working for one) is the right career path. But it might be just as valuable to determine that a startup atmosphere does not fit their personal chemistry and goals.
Valuable learning experiences are generated as students grapple with the emotional ups and downs of the bumpy road startups navigate and the vagaries that are often part and parcel of a new venture. To meet these demands, startup interns benefit from the oversight of a mentor who can offer guidance and enrich learning.
Not only do the interns need coaching, but the fledgling businesses usually need assistance in building a program that serves the needs of the company and offers a meaningful career-building program for the intern. Creating a social network of interns in similar startup environments can strengthen the experience in significant ways.
Summer on the Cuyahoga is one organization that has coordinated summer internships in entrepreneurial companies.
One of their recent interns at an educational software company commented on her experience, sharing that “as a returning intern, I had a pretty good idea of what the summer would be like. I didn’t expect to learn as many new skills and to experience this much professional freedom. My internship allowed me to experiment with different forms of marketing and my supervisor did an amazing job exposing me to different software that is pertinent to a career in marketing. I’ve learned so much and gained more confidence this summer, and I feel more prepared to enter into the … workforce after graduation.”
The employer at this same company commented that the “intern who worked on my marketing team was an amazing addition to the company and made a significant impact on reaching our goals. She was a hard worker, a quick learner and an exceptional writer. She helped to improve our social media presence by managing and updating our social media account. She also created and published valuable content for our blog and website. She produced great work, showed enthusiasm and demonstrated maturity during her tenure.”

The vibrancy created by our region’s startup community is key to attracting and keeping talented students in our region. Clearly, a carefully conceived match process is a critical element of success to ensure intern and employer expectations are well aligned and everyone shares in a mutually beneficial experience.

Deborah D. Hoover is president and CEO of The Burton D. Morgan Foundation