Monday, July 19, 2010

Let Interns Be Your Startup Competitive Edge

By Mark Babbitt

We’re all familiar in some way with the concept of “interns” in business. Quite possibly your perception is the young adult working dutifully in the company mailroom. Or, perhaps the hectic “get me coffee” and “make me copies” chores associated with climbing the corporate ladder.

That stereotype may be changing.

Due in large part to the current economy and an ultra-competitive job market, a Gen-Y entrepreneurial tsunami is already upon us. A recent Gallup poll shows that 7 out of 10 high school students aspire to own their own businesses. And today, more than 2,000 colleges and universities offer entrepreneurship courses – up from the just 70 schools that Boomers and Gen-X had to choose from in 1970.

Many entrepreneurial-minded students, graduates, and career-changers understand how important an internship is to their career path. More and more, they choose to intern at a dynamic small company or startup. Their goal is to gain career-critical experience while satisfying the predisposition to “create” in a small-team environment – something they can’t obtain interning for IBM or General Motors. For a startup or small business executive serving as mentor, the proverbial “win-win” is created as they benefit from an injection of essential bandwidth, youthful energy, and technical expertise.

The intense desire of Gen-Y talent to make an immediate difference is a compelling reason why an intern with entrepreneurial aspirations would choose to intern at a startup over a Fortune 1000 company. You’ll find that your company – no matter how small or early stage you may be – can benefit greatly from hiring an intern – and has plenty to offer the intern in return.

  1. Confidence vs. Questions. In a small team environment an intern enjoys a unique opportunity to significantly impact the direction of a project (or even the company itself) while having more opportunities to submit their input and suggest new ideas. At a startup, an intern will gain the confidence needed to decide the direction of their future, as opposed to questioning their career-related decisions after an internship spent running errands and performing menial tasks.

  2. Experience vs. Escape. An intern at a startup learns more about running a business than they’ll ever learn in a classroom or from a cubicle in a huge corporate department. Rather than watching the clock (in that “I can’t wait to get out of here” way) interning at a startup is a great opportunity to experience the challenge associated with being a responsible team member.

  3. Creativity vs. Chores. Successful startups survive and prosper through their ability to constantly create and adapt to stay ahead of the game. Startup companies foster a creative spirit. Rather than negotiating bureaucracy with a corporate to-do list, an enthusiastic intern at a startup will help you by learning to make quick decisions, and doing more with less.

  4. Responsibility vs. Rut. Like you, an intern will wear multiple hats at a startup – amazing training at ground level for a young professional. As opposed to performing repetitive tasks in a single department at a large corporation, your intern will be working side-by-side with your executive team – the people who had the ambition and passion to strike out on their own. You can delegate essential tasks and projects to your intern, allowing you more time to focus on running your business.

  5. Satisfaction vs. Stress. Startups are typically project oriented, and the intern is expected (and expects!) to pull their weight. At a small company, there will be blocks of time where the intern doesn’t have someone to guide them through every step of the assignment, challenging them to take initiative. This combination of circumstances leads to a highly satisfying level of contribution, and a huge win for you through an energetic source of creative ideas. Perhaps your intern might be given the freedom to design and implement an entire strategy for your company (social networking, for example).

An intern program at your small business instills enthusiasm, creativity and youthful thinking. In return, the intern benefits immensely from the experiential education. Intern candidates intentionally seek out companies like yours for career-relevant experience and mentorship.

Has your startup taken the initiative to find a motivated intern yet?


Today’s guest blog is presented by the founder of YouTern, Mark Babbitt. His company is dedicated to matching the best young talent to leading companies through internships. He has worked for large corporations as well as Internet startups, and speaks from years of experience in human resources. Check out his site, and contact him directly at




  1. You are not kidding. I hosted 2 interns through the Milwaukee Earn & Learn Program, where the city paid them a salary to intarn for me and those young ladies were a very important part of the teeam. They carried out severa tasks and mini projects the reat of us did not have time to allot to.

  2. My concern about using interns as part of a startup has always been the same. Most startups are cash strapped - interns often make the commitment to become interns because they hope it could lead to a full time offer. The may actually become a critical part of the team - but my concern is those startup founders who see interns as a cheap alternative to employees they can't actually afford right now. They are brought on as cheap or free resources to fill a gap and the founders have no intention of ever offering them a paid full time role.

    Interns need to use their emotional intelligence - the challenge is desperate times create desperate situations - recent graduates may grab at the intern straw with a less then scrupulous company. So - internships can be great experience when they're not just seen as cheap short term and expendable labor.

    Emotional intelligence will be critical when making the decision to invest a chunk of your life as an intern at any company.

    Good luck!


  3. University spin-outs are probably in the best position to make use of interns, since many could follow technology from the lab into the startup's environment. Some could wind up as early employees or even founders! :)

  4. I agree with the anonymous post. Interns are a great resource because they are "hungry" and energetic. Sure they lack years of experience you'd find in a full-time hire, but the interns I have had performed great with projects I assigned to them. They work really hard, in part because they don't feel entitled... they want to "learn and earn" their internship. I always encourage the entrepreneurs in my network to hire interns.

  5. this is so true and very enlightening.
    I am an intern with a start up and here is our blog on wether one is ready and can work with a start up?!