Why every college entrepreneur should take a corporate internship
This may not be the most popular opinion and feel free to disagree, but this is based on my personal experiences.
“Corporate sell-out” were the first words that I heard when I told my founder friends that I had decided to take an internship for the summer.
I founded Womentum, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit startup, the beginning of my sophomore year at Babson College so deciding what to do after classes ended that year wasn’t easy. I knew that I could spend a summer committed to scaling the organization by actively forming new partnerships and fundraising from foundations. But I also knew that I couldn’t say that I didn’t believe in corporate internships if I had never done one. So, the summer after my sophomore year, I decided to take my first corporate internship. Over that summer, I learned more about company structure and analytics than I ever had anywhere else. When the time came to decide what to do during my junior year summer, taking a corporate internship at a different company with a focus in marketing made sense. I felt that it was an area that I didn’t know a lot about and that the best way to learn was from people who did it the best. Looking back, I know these choices that pushed me to become a better entrepreneur.
Here are my reasons for why every college entrepreneur should take a corporate internship:
Learn from those who do it best
When I started Womentum, I had vision for the impact that I hoped to have. But I didn’t exactly know how to get there. There’s so many paths that a new startup can take and often times, I have lacked the experience and knowledge to reach where I needed to be. My decision to take summer internships allowed me to start learning from these corporations that have had years to figure out some of the core issues that are facing companies around the world. As an intern, you are able to reach out to people high up in organizations and pick their brains about the industry and work they do.
Learn how to take direction
I personally think that learning how to take direction from other people makes you a better leader. When I first started delegating, I would send vague notes to my other co-founders about what we needed to get done without any specifics. During my first internship, my boss was very clear with what she wanted from me and would send me emails outlining the key goals and tasks associated with my projects along with a due date. I found this method to be a much better way of delegating and was able to take on that practice to improve the way that I delegate as CEO of Womentum.
Over the past two years, I’ve appreciated the fact that my network is pretty diversified from my internships. You never know how someone you might be able to support the vision you have for your startup. Someone from my last internship reached out to me to connect me to a foundation that they knew someone at. It’s this diversity of network that allows you to keep yourself open to opportunities that you might not know about as well and understand alternative perspectives.
Understanding company structure
Running a start up isn’t easy — you’re constantly putting out fires and trying to figure out your next move. Sometimes you are so in the weeds that you forget to think about the long term vision and structure of your company; you’re caught up in the short term thinking rather than long-term structuring. During my corporate internships, it’s been useful to learn about the steering committee that monitor the success of various initiatives. I think about how for Womentum we might be consistently running various marketing campaigns to drive people to our website, but sometimes forget to check in on a regular basis to see how those campaigns go against the goals we want to acheive. Thinking about how to structure your work processes is critical to running a startup. Understanding how you want your teams to be set up is hard to suddenly learn if you haven’t experienced the things that work and don’t work when it comes to company structure.
Looking back at my three years at Babson, I’ve been able to dabble in both the startup and corporate scene. While I’m exploring opportunities in both spaces in the future, I will always be grateful for the experiences that I had with my summer internships.
Thanks for reading! I’d be happy to sit down and chat with anyone who is looking to learn more. Feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.