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Creative Sparks

Interns can do more than stuff envelopes. The key to releasing their potential is recognizing them as an important part of your team.

For John Ellett, 51, having interns on staff at his Austin, Texas, marketing firm is a no-brainer. "Our interns are valuable because they bring a fresh and youthful perspective to many of our clients," explains Ellett, co-founder of $20 million nFusion, launched in 2001. Tapping into the innovative approach of young interns is a smart business strategy, and one that more and more savvy entrepreneurs are employing.

A far cry from programs in which interns do little more than brew coffee, nFusion's program is a prime example of harnessing the creative power of young minds. Interns at nFusion are treated as employees, with hourly pay and meaningful work that inspires them to excel and contribute to the organization.

Interns at nFusion have done everything from increasing participation for a golf event to launching marketing campaigns. Last year, for instance, one intern conceptualized a viral marketing campaign for the release of the Kiss Kiss Bang Bang DVD by Warner Home Video. The campaign revolved around a contest in which entrants filmed themselves performing various scenes from the movie. The grand prize? A trip to Hollywood to meet a casting agent, plus hotel accommodations and spending cash. The benefit to Warner Home Video? A ton of buzz, with lots of user-generated content on the contest website doing all the work for them.

According to Jim Stroup, a San Diego management consultant and author of Managing Leadership, inspired ideas like these ought to be at the heart of any good internship program: "Interns are a useful asset to unleash on exploratory and innovative projects."

Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance writer in Southern California specializing in small business and education.

Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.

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This article was originally published in the April 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Creative Sparks.

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