Developing Startup Leaders

Posted: September 29, 2013 by Jessica Reading in Culture, Ecosystem, HIgher Education, Leadership, People, Startup

jessica reading miamiThis summer, college students interned in our region’s startups and entrepreneurial companies.  Recently I met with several of them as they reflected on their experiences.  Or more accurately, raved about their summer:

  • “There’s nothing like going to work in the morning knowing it will be nothing less than an adventure”
  • “I learned how entrepreneurship can manifest in so many ways”
  • “My supervisor taught me to embrace being outside my comfort zone, and never doubt myself”
  • “I couldn’t replace what I gained this summer with any life experience”

These reflections are the wish list of what any educator wants every student to say after completing a course and often only result from the most empowering of teachers.  This summer, our region’s startups educated our students, teaching ‘real-world’.

Whether the lesson came from a supervisor, co-worker, or founder, startup companies provided the right environment to empower interns to learn and deliver results.  It wasn’t just the environment that led to making an impact, but also a few common characteristics of the host company culture, supervisor, or team members.

Any employer could apply the following characteristics to empower their student interns to have a tangible impact in the workplace:

1)   TrustTrust is earned and takes a long time to build.  By providing bits of trust at a time to interns from the onset, the intern feels a sense of accountability and ownership over their work.  They get the chance to prove that they can be trusted.  It’s also a quick way to learn about the intern — if they’re ready for more or if they want to stay on the sidelines. Once trust is established, the sky’s the limit — interns can begin taking on bigger, harder, and crazier projects in a shorter amount of time.

2)   Failure. F’s don’t always happen in school, but failure happens all the time working in an entrepreneurial company.  Learning how to recover from not making the sale, meeting timeline expectations, or pivoting, are critical in the entrepreneurial world.  By bringing interns into the ‘failure’ process, they can learn to accept it and move quickly to making improvements on the next big thing.

3)   Communication. Even if it’s just a 10 minute check-in, or 30 minutes a week, providing a consistent touch point with an intern allows a specific time to ask questions, raise concerns, or share any relevant news important to the intern’s work.  Without this, like so much of the fast-pace of the company, the intern’s work, motivation, and understanding of the company may just get lost in the shuffle.

4)   Feedback.  In school, students become accustomed to receiving a grade for something.  In the workplace, we seem to only receive feedback when something is either really amazing or really awful, but what about how to improve? Some of the most productive interns have increased their value to the company because a supervisor took a small amount of time to provide advice on a blog, a presentation, a sales pitch, etc.  In this environment, a little bit goes a really long way.

Thanks to the supervisors, founders, and team members of the region’s great entrepreneurial companies – you have provided students with the opportunity to learn, grow and build our region’s success.

If you’re a student who wants to make a difference or a company who wants to make strides, take note of what’s going on in the region. These companies know how to foster growth that lead to meaningful impact. Don’t we all want that for the region?

  1. Great article, Jessica. Super good info for any company (not just startups) to understand about working with interns.

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