Give 'Em the Sack

A Perfect Match

What: An intern placement service
Who: Jason Engen of Corporate Interns Inc.
Where: St. Paul, Minnesota
When: Started in 1998

When Jason Engen was an undergraduate student at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, he and his friends knew the challenges students faced in finding worthwhile internships. So for one of his business classes, Engen wrote a business plan detailing a concept for an internship placement service--one that would interview and screen students and match them with local companies that needed interns. "We hit a nerve in terms of the marketplace and focused 100 percent of our efforts on students," says Engen, 27. "We started a week after we graduated, and it took off."

Still, it wasn't easy to peddle the service to local firms in the beginning. For one thing, it was a challenge to uncover how different companies structured their internship programs and how Engen and his partners could sell their service to these firms. "I don't think we were approaching companies the right way," says Engen. But as he began to spend more time learning about the companies' needs, he felt more confident in selling his service. "[It's] win-win," he explains. "The student gets the experience, and the company gets eager talent."

The real success came in carving out a niche--Corporate Interns Inc. specializes in placing interns only--so the company doesn't compete directly with large staffing firms. "Specialization is important," says Engen. "You have to stay focused on that niche." Especially when that specialization propels you to $2 million in yearly sales.

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This article was originally published in the July 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Give 'Em the Sack.

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