By Carl Labanz
As a startup, you likely find engaging students is a challenge. Unlike established companies, which can offer cyclical internship programs and recruit four to six months in advance, you may be focused on what you need tomorrow. Larger companies may have static needs. Our needs as startups and small businesses vary by timing.
At CincyTech, we have sought to resolve that challenge. Since early 2019, we have been building a student engagement approach that offers students an opportunity to grow professionally with startup companies.
Prior to 2019, our yearly engagement was 2-3 summer interns. This last year, over 30 students have worked with us outside the classroom and many more in class. This was no accident. We were intentional in our approach.
In short, we’re building the career accelerant for students who are interested in the startup and innovation economy.
Students do meaningful work
As a seed stage investor in technology and human health focused startups, regional talent is vital to us at CincyTech. And students are incredibly talented, highly motivated, and do meaningful work.
With that at top of mind, we began to integrate students into our own processes while at the same time exposing them to high growth startup companies.
We started pulling students into projects as small as five hours of market research to ongoing work like creating and managing the CincyTech Instagram (@cincy_tech). Turning our work into projects has led to 10x more student involvement than we had just a year before.
Our work is independent of the traditional internship semester. It starts and stops abruptly and often in the middle of a semester. Engaging students on projects accommodates that reality.
Just this year 2020, we’ve had 43 unique projects with 26 different students using Parker Dewey, a platform connecting companies to students eager to complete short-term, paid, professional assignments. Most of our projects pay between $200-300 to the student. Routinely, we hire a student within a week of posting.
Projects expand company bandwidth
Many of our portfolio companies find student project work valuable. They include Abre, Peerro, Cordata, Clarigent Health, IncludeHealth, and Genetesis. From CEOs of these companies we continue to hear feedback like, “she was awesome,” “she is remarkably capable,” “[we are] enjoying having her contributions and presence.”
Project work expands a startup’s bandwidth by outsourcing the small, need to be done, but low priority work, while building a direct relationship with future talent.
For students, projects expand a resume that reflects completing a portfolio of projects rather than just a single internship experience. Projects across several companies help students build more relationships with professionals. Different projects allow students to explore work that they might not normally expose themselves to. They’re short, low commitment, but with potential for high impact.
Yet, project work isn’t the only way we’ve engaged with students. We also support professors seeking startups to participate in course projects.
For the fall 2019 semester, for the first time, we had four companies from our portfolio participate in UC Lindner’s freshman business strategy class. Incoming freshmen are now exposed to some of the challenges around startup strategy. This fall, we have four more portfolio companies participating: Hive Networks, Abre, Amify, and Enable Injections. We are also active participants in other courses including capstones and shorter sprint projects.
We are continuing to expand our engagement to attract more students and to help our portfolio companies turn their work into projects.
NEXT: Building a student pipeline.
Carl Labanz is a venture analyst at CincyTech and is responsible for our student engagement initiatives.