Interns help Whatcom County entrepreneurs with current projects, future workforce

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 21, 2014 

One of the most overlooked resources available to new start-up entrepreneurs are the local colleges and universities. Many new start-up entrepreneurs know that student internships are available but don't think as an individual just getting started with a business idea that they are ready for an intern. In some cases that is true, but entrepreneurs should be thinking about how and when to utilize interns or students for future projects, especially those that focus on technology and interaction with younger generations. Every entrepreneur, whether they are the new kid on the block or a seasoned veteran, needs to be using social media to connect with customers. The best way to do that is with the generation where three-quarters of their population is connected to various social media.

Fortunately for entrepreneurs, local colleges and universities are full of bright minds open to learning and actively seeking experience in the real world. Accessing the students is not the biggest challenge, because the colleges and universities have internship or outreach coordinators to help businesses find students who can serve those needs. The real challenge is in making the relationship between student and entrepreneur work as a win-win situation for all.

From a start-up entrepreneur's perspective, the biggest benefit is having a student come in, do lots of work without monetary compensation. However, it is important that an entrepreneur recognize that heaping all the tasks they don't want to do onto an intern won't accomplish what they or the student needs, and ultimately leads to a bad experience for both the entrepreneur and the intern. If done right, there are many benefits a start-up entrepreneur will have in working with students or other interns.

IT'S NOT ABOUT FREE LABOR

As a start-up entrepreneur, the ability to have someone there who can do the menial tasks is important, as it frees them up to do the work that no one else can do. However, students need to get something out of the tasks heaped onto them. Spending time with an intern or student prior to starting the work and identifying the things that have to be done, versus things they are wanting to learn will help both parties have a positive experience.

CONNECTING TO A YOUNGER GENERATION

At some point in time every entrepreneur is going to need to hire someone. The younger generation that makes up the pool of interns is the future workforce that will be hired. Building an internship program early allows an entrepreneur to understand the working environment younger generations are looking for, as well as building a business strategy that integrates the tools they use, such as social media, that will ultimately advance their business.

ACCESS TO HIGHER LEARNING

Most student interns are not only eager to learn, but also are willing to share the resources they have available to them. In the early stages of a new business, having students work on research projects to access databases and other resources can save a start-up business money. Entrepreneurs gain access to valuable resources they may not be able to afford and the student furthers their real world experience and skill set, while providing valuable information to the entrepreneur and having a meaningful impact on the course of the business.

BEYOND THE INTERN

Utilizing available programs at colleges and universities should not be limited to using interns, but for inventors with product ideas, the development process could be furthered as in-class student projects. For entrepreneurs creating non-profit ventures service learning programs offer opportunities for students to meet their volunteering hours as well as integrate with the community and give your business exposure.

Entrepreneurs need to spend time exploring the potential opportunities that student interns or student projects provide to their businesses. Whether it's a single project within a new business, help with just getting things done or accessing resources, entrepreneurs and their business will experience many benefits under a good internship program. Additionally, an entrepreneur that takes the time early on to build a long term strategy that will incorporate using these kinds of programs will see those benefits multiply over time with a well-prepared workforce.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lara Merriam-Smith is the program manager for NW Innovation Resource Center, a Bellingham-based organization that supports economic opportunities through entrepreneurial innovation in NW Washington. They help inventors looking to take products to market and connect new start-up businesses with resources to help them grow. For more information go to nwirc.com.

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