“When you ride the elevator up to the 20th floor, take the stairs up to the 21st, and walk down the slightly creepy hallway with the low ceiling, you may raise an eyebrow. Then you get into the office. The office has this awesome open floor plan that nearly breathes creativity into the space.” This was accounting intern Vanessa Cotman’s first impression of Flashstarts’ “Penthouse Suite” on the top floor of the Keith Building. As interns, that was the first experience we had at FlashStarts. Here are the 3 things you need to know about FlashStarts’ internship program.
1. It’s Different
The Flashstarts Internship Program began when Charles Stack, Jennifer Neundorfer and Jodi Marchewitz began looking for 10 interns to help 10 teams start their company throughout FlashStarts’ 12-week accelerator program. However, they changed the number of interns once they saw the potential and value of the applicants.
“At the last minute, we expanded the number of interns in the summer program from 10 to 20 because the quality of the applications were so high,” Charles Stack explained. “For nearly all of the teams, interns were a crucial ingredient in their success.” The interns came from a variety of majors, colleges and hometowns. While many of the interns were from the Cleveland area, some were from other states and other countries.
The internship program offered meaningful experience and pay. “We have a unique compensation program that involves twice a summer bonuses that can account for up to 50% of the interns pay,” said Charles. These bonuses are on top of regular compensation to give extra incentives and rewards for hard work.
The pay structure was not the only unique feature of the FlashStarts’ Program. It’s not every day that you see a giant beanbag chair in an office and a cutout of Rick Blaine from Casablanca ‘greeting you’ at the door.
“I was pleasantly surprised to see how laid back, fun, creative, and productive the work environment is,” Grace Moenich, the PR and writing intern, recalled. “It’s a really collaborative atmosphere–I’ve never worked at a place where ideas are always flowing like they are here.”
Marketing intern Julie Moroney said, “From day one, I knew this wasn’t going to be the typical internship. For starters, my immediate boss Richard Rodman, the entrepreneur I was assigned to work for, is a senior at OU. Where else would a 20-year-old intern work for a 21-year-old student entrepreneur?”
Also, everything in FlashStarts is on wheels–from the chairs to the desks to whiteboards. Everyone has to stay on their toes. Just like the companies, the interns must be ready and willing to pivot and change direction at any moment.
2. Interns Gain Real Experience
At FlashStarts there isn’t a “Coffee Intern” or mountains of filler work to occupy the interns’ time.
“The work that I do means something,” said Deanna Langer, who worked as a marketing intern and intern coordinator. “It’s not like I’m doing tasks just to keep busy. I’ve been able to learn so much here that I couldn’t have learned in a marketing class.” Interns are assigned to the task of solving real problems with real solutions.
“The biggest thing that FlashStarts offers their interns compared to other job opportunities is responsibility,” Charles remarked. A classroom can only take students so far by learning concepts and facts. This program gives interns the experience of applying what they have already learned and then learning more.
“This is not the internship where you just staple papers and stuff envelopes,” said marketing intern Chris Hrovat. “All of the interns are fully involved with the startup they are working for. We’re not only able to, but are encouraged to use our creativity to generate new ideas.” Some of the interns were dedicated to specific teams through the course of the summer. Other interns shared their skills across multiple teams. A few interns provided services to FlashStarts itself. An internship program with such a high level of diversity, even within each position, is rare and extremely valuable.
“I like that I’m do something different everyday. There is a lot of opportunity for professional development here,” Ben Osowski, the business and finance intern said. “You have the freedom to make this internship what you want.”
The consensus from the interns was that the only certainty was uncertainty. Chris thought embracing uncertainty was one of the most beneficial tools he learned during his internship. “Business is unpredictable, especially with start-ups. You never know what opportunities or challenges are going to come your way, and you need to be open and receptive to that degree of uncertainty in order to truly be successful.”
Over the course of the 12-week program, Charles noted the progress made by the interns. “The biggest surprise was the individual growth that nearly all of the interns experienced over the short 90 day period. Once the interns got over the fact that the teams depended in no small part upon their contributions the interns universally rose to the challenge and provided the teams with significant value.”
As a result of this growth, many of the interns have gained additional employment. To be exact, 9 of the 20 Interns are still working for either the teams or FlashStarts. Stack added, “We look forward to bringing the interns back next summer either for another intern position or, for some of them, to come back as entrepreneurs.
3. Interns Made an Impact
Expectations that the interns would perform at a high level and provide significant value to their teams started on day one. The interns took this in stride and ran with it.
“It is absolutely incredible to play such a huge role in so many startups that have such great potential, just as an intern,” said Zac Vance, who spent the summer as a design intern and was hired by LegalFunnel as its lead designer and web developer. This program was not only helpful for interns; it was beneficial to the teams they contribute to.
“If I didn’t have these guys, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” AProofed CEO Mike Duniec said.
Rick Arlow of RegulatoryBinder.com said the internship program was “one of the differentiators about this accelerator compared to others. You have that close connection with interns, and I think that’s important early on for businesses. Getting in the mindset of managing and developing a team has been very valuable for me, since I’ve always been managing just myself. I’ve been lucky to have development and marketing interns that add tons of value!”
Interns also contributed market insight to the companies. For BOLD Guidance’s Nichelle McCall, the interns provided a better understanding of high school students, the primary users for her college application platform. “My product is very relevant to the interns we are working with,” the CEO said. “Their fresh eyes and perspectives have been phenomenal for our development; the work has been so helpful. They helped us make huge milestones in short periods of time. I [didn’t] want to see them go!”
BOLD Guidance along with other teams; have missed the presence of their interns. Charles noted, “Many of the teams went through intern withdrawal symptoms when our program concluded. That just goes to show that the interns and team members deeply benefited from working with each other.”
Because the intern program was so successful, FlashStarts will be targeting 20 interns again for next summer. Marketing Intern Arenne Flanders offered this advice to future FlashStars interns, “Challenge yourself! There is so much opportunity, so it’s important to push yourself to go out your comfort zone and make the most of the experience!”