In the capital of startups, thousands strategize to get their foot in the door.
And in a city where ambitious entrepreneurs spend day and night investing their lives in their businesses, there comes a great need for young, driven interns who are eager to help.
That need drove Lehigh to collaborate with the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center — a non-profit organization designed to educate young entrepreneurs— to create its first Startup Academy. The program sent 12 Lehigh students to San Francisco for summer internships.
Georgette Phillips, the dean of the College of Business and Economics, spearheaded the collaboration, which started in October when Phillips spoke with Nasdaq’s managing director and former Lehigh professor, Samantha Dewalt.
Both Phillips and Dewalt knew Lehigh could provide tangible help to startup companies.
“A big part of the growth of young entrepreneur companies is learning how to have interns,” Phillips said. “So, I said, ‘We have the interns, you have the need. Let’s see what we can do.’”
Phillips immediately got to work to create an inclusive program where students could intern at a startup in the Silicon Valley while earning credit for an entrepreneurship class at Nasdaq. After months of fundraising, the CBE was able to send its first cohort to experience the Startup Academy at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center.
Remi Ziff, ’20, first heard about the program in a course focused on women in technology. Dewalt was the professor of the class and encouraged Ziff to consider the program. She applied, and a few months later became one of five employees at Buzzboard, a startup data analytics company.
Being just one of five employees, Ziff quickly learned the challenges that come with growing a company’s roots in a city where thousands of startups are working to do the same.
“Every company is starting something new,” Ziff said. “Over 75 percent of them fail. It’s a little bit frustrating. My company had to change their entire business model and product while we were there to keep up.”
Stephanie Laugeni, ’20, was on the marketing team for Topia, a global mobility management company that consists of 225 employees. However, no matter how many people were working, there was always something to be done.
Laugeni said there were only five people on the marketing team and her boss was too busy to be answering every one of their questions. As a result, she learned to answer questions on her own, practicing problem solving and trial and error.
Those hands-on experiences were specifically derived from startup situations, which Phillips said allows students to grow in ways they could not at already-established firms.
“You are really learning-by-doing through this program,” Phillips said. “In the future, when your employer gives you a task, they aren’t going to show you how to do it. They’re hiring you because you’re smart and you’re going to figure it out.”
Phillips said there’s no place like San Francisco when it comes to the opportunities and resources for new entrepreneurs. While the typical entrepreneur has a go-getter mindset, the west coast helped to mellow out what can be a very competitive scene for the students.
“I grew up going to New York City a lot, but San Francisco is very unique because they are very laid back,” Laugeni said. “I’m used to a fast-paced, cutthroat environment, but my coworkers made sure to spend time with their dogs and make time for an office cocktail hour every once in a while.”
While each internship came with its own lessons and experiences, each intern saw their work pay off at the end of the summer when they presented on their startups at the Nasdaq Center.
“As part of their class, they all had to do presentations, and their companies came to support them,” Phillips said. “That’s when I knew that this worked.”