How to Turn an Internship into Entrepreneurship
Editor’s Note: College ‘Treps is a weekly column in which college and graduate school-based entrepreneurs tackle the topic of entrepreneurship on their campus. Follow this column on Twitter using the hashtag #CollegeTreps.
College can teach you so much. But for some entrepreneurial types, working at a startup can be a real education.
Faced with something of a crisis of confidence during my sophomore year of college, I did what few of my fellow classmates would even remotely consider: I withdrew from school and took a job at a startup. Call me crazy, but I was struggling to understand the point of school when it seemed there was a much more exciting world beyond the boundaries of our landlocked campus.
I took a position as a technical trainee and account manager at a small mobile-display startup in Boston. From the beginning, this internship fueled my interest in entrepreneurship. But here are four specific lessons I learned:
1. You’ll always be young. You’ll always feel a little inexperienced and unsure. Tack on the risk of working at a startup and you're bound to get nervous at times. Would I even have a job for the full four-month internship? I’ll always remember what my father said to me the day I accepted the position: “You’re only 19 years old. What’s the worst that can happen?”
2. Embrace the work. I was given tasks I had no idea how to do and was left to figure it out on my own. It's not that my bosses wanted to watch me squirm. They just knew that I had the tools necessary to figure it out. Plus, the only other employees on staff besides myself were the two co-founders, so they were pretty busy. That autonomy and trust is what really helped me grow as an employee, a thinker and a leader.
3. Take whatever responsibilities you can get. There is no downside to this. At the very least, you will learn from the experience. Within a month I was on client calls, walking them through the user experience, answering questions and developing my own FAQ guide for the accounts I owned. I was attending events, sales meetings, running employee interviews and product roadmap meetings.
4. Remember to have fun. The startup's co-founders taught me that no one can get by without the occasional margarita night.
When I left to return to school, I was a completely different person. If society did not demand a degree, I would have stayed. I knew by then what it was like to be a part of something big. I knew what it meant to have a very small piece of an exponentially growing pie. And I knew that was a feeling I would never want to fade away.
Three months later, I started my own company: a fast-casual, sustainable salad and wrap restaurant about three miles from campus. It’s a little different from media analytics, but I'm still learning!
How has working at a startup helped you to launch and grow your business? Share your tips in the comments section below.
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Sarah is a recent graduate of Washington University in St. Louis where she studied systems engineering and entrepreneurship. During her junior year she opened Green Bean, an eco-healthy salad restaurant. She is now in the midst of launching her second business, a line of performance-focused men's business socks: Unfettered Socks. She was a finalist in the Entrepreneurs' Organization's Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in 2012. Find more about her on her website.