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College Interns Can Be an Excellent Free or Low Cost Asset to Entrepreneurs

by: Geoff Ficke

The economy is in the dumps. We all know it. Now let’s put that reality behind us and prepare for the coming inevitable boom that will follow once we digest all of the abuses that the government has dumped on business.

I lecture quite often at colleges and universities. My subject always involves the dynamism of the marketplace and the need for entrepreneurs to continually boost the economy with exciting new products, ideas, services and new, divergent business concepts. This growth is the real generator of wealth, new companies, jobs, tax revenues, and consumer benefits that have made capitalism the greatest source of improved living conditions in history.

I am always excited after meeting a new group of students. They are full of possibility, energy and creative enthusiasm. They are incredibly entrepreneurial. In their drive to gain relevant business experience they are also an amazingly available and inexpensive resource for small businesses, start-up businesses and entrepreneurs to utilize in their enterprises.

I attended college in the 1960’s. In those ancient days we worked mundane part time jobs of all sorts in order to earn money for books, tuition and general living needs. My friends and I never heard the term “Internship”. We were just trying to make it through this semester, the future would have to take care of itself in due time.

Today, the student universe is different. Many colleges, such as the University of Cincinnati, offer a formalized study/work co-op/internship program. Other universities have placement offices that help students gain important work experience, and often course credits, by working in companies that parallel the students major. The serious student today almost always graduates with one or more professional internships for inclusion on their resume. This makes them much more interesting to prospective employers.

Entrepreneurs and small businesses often do not have monies to hire the full contingent of staff that they need. These cash strapped entities cannot afford the competitive salaries, benefits, taxes and work rule compliance that full-time employment requires, and yet they have real needs for tasks to be performed.

An excellent win-win for entrepreneurs and students is an internship relationship. In the current economic malaise paid internships have been drastically curtailed. The need, however, for students to gain resume enhancing experience has never been greater. They will work for little, and in some cases for close to nothing, in terms of compensation in order to gain real business experience.

We have had students approach Duquesa Marketing, our consumer product consulting firm, seeking guidance in obtaining internships. Likewise, we have many under-funded entrepreneurs approach us seeking assistance in uncovering market research, demographic study, sales prospecting, advertising concepts and many other disciplines. This is potentially a wonderful marriage of need meeting opportunity.

Smaller businesses or entrepreneurs should contact the Dean of the appropriate College at a local university. Inform the Dean’s office of their needs, the project that will be assigned the student and conditions of work or employment. The Dean will typically post such opportunities on the College bulletin board. Important! Ask the dean, or a referring Professor, if there is a possibility that the internship could be a source of course credit or grade enhancement for the student. This is an excellent motivator for the students to aggressively pursue the internship opportunity, and then when engaged, to perform their assigned duties in a most exemplary fashion. Remember, the student needs professional experience, and a strong performance reference from the internship.

For students that lack and need internship experience we occasionally suggest offering to work on a “Proof of Life” basis. “Proof of Life” means that the prospective intern offers to work in order to prove their value. Often this strategy is undertaken to gain work experience, resume enhancement, professional references and course/grade credit. Obviously everyone deserves to be paid for their work product. However, these are different times, and the long view may require a bit of personal guerilla marketing strategy.

Local universities are a wonderful resource. They are not utilized as frequently as they should be by small business and entrepreneurs. Take advantage of this amazing asset, after all, your tax dollars heavily subsidize their existence.