UNC interns experience virtual startup summer
Why Innovators Care
A creative collaboration among UNC-Chapel Hill innovation and entrepreneurship programs connected student talent to startup companies looking to solve complex problems.
Like many other student opportunities, internships are being reimagined at UNC-Chapel Hill in the midst of COVID-19. With the pandemic disrupting and eliminating many traditional internship experiences this summer, the leaders of several of the innovation and entrepreneurship programs at the University teamed up this spring to launch a new type of internship program – one that could still provide students with quality, hands-on learning opportunities, while allowing for collaboration in a virtual environment.
Using the same innovative mindset that they instill in their students, program leaders from Innovate Carolina, the Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship and The Entrepreneurship Center at Kenan-Flagler Business School (KFBS) pulled together – and then partnered with District C – to create a virtual, summer consulting internship pilot program.
The Entrepreneurial Consulting Internship Program is designed to provide students with a hands-on learning experience, connecting them with startups and business partners to solve complex problems within a condensed timeframe. The launch of the program is an example of teamwork itself, with the four program partners working in concert to develop the program in less than 45 days.
Through an interdisciplinary approach, the partners worked to tap into the strengths of two of the largest entrepreneurship education programs on campus – the Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship and The Entrepreneurship Center.
“Right now, it’s a critical situation with many students losing their internships. We developed this program to support the students,” says Sheryl Waddell, director of the Innovate Carolina Global Network. “we had to think differently about what was needed for the students by coming together and collaborating on something we didn’t expect we’d be doing.”
To successfully complete the undergraduate experience, many degrees, such as the Shuford Minor in Entrepreneurship, requires completion of a summer internship. For many students, losing an internship at this point in their educational experience had the potential to be very detrimental to their ability to graduate on time.
Modern work model for students and startups
The internship program provides the infrastructure needed for the students to work with companies to help solve specific problems outlined by the ventures – all through online communication and collaboration. The students benefit from real-world experiences that will prep them for their post-graduation professions. And the companies get a boost from the fresh thinking and hard work that students bring to business issues that the companies want to crack.
A total of 40 students were selected for this summer’s internship program: 30 from the Shuford Program and 10 from the Kenan Flagler business school.
“This novel internship program allows students the opportunity to participate in an enriching summer internship experience,” says Susie Greene, UNC-Chapel Hill Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Professor of the Practice with the Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship. “We are bringing together a diverse group of smart, talented students to help tackle and solve real challenges facing their partner companies. The students will build real-world skills, and at the same, cultivate relationships, both with the companies and their peers, through being part of this experience.”
Support the Entrepreneurship Consulting Intern Program
The internship program is administered by District C, a Triangle-based organization whose trained coaches specialize in preparing the next generation of students for modern work – guiding them on how to collaborate as a part of diverse teams that solve complex problems. The program, which kicked off in mid-May and will run eight weeks, is built around four-person student teams, each of which includes one Kenan Flagler business student and three Shuford Entrepreneurship Minor students. The Shuford students minor in entrepreneurship, but major in a wide variety of academic disciplines. Each student team will dedicate 20 hours per week to provide deliverables that meet the needs of their companies.
“Each student applied for the internship by conveying why they wanted to participate in the program and the experiences they wanted to build upon,” says Anne Jones, co-founder of District C, which is operating the program as a connection point between students, companies and coaches. “The students understand that having an experience that’s a little new is hugely valuable.”
The inaugural class of students come from a wide array of majors and minors, including advertising and communications, business administration, economics, film studies, interdisciplinary studies, philosophy, political science, public health and sports administration.
“This internship will benefit students with a rich set of experiences and skills for their toolbox, including consulting, critical thinking and problem solving,” adds Greene.
Deep bench of coaches and companies
Student teams are focused on scopes of work framed by the program and companies and meet regularly with their startup business partners. Along the way, the students also receive guidance from experienced professionals and District C-certified coaches. The four coaches advising, mentoring and providing support to the teams include:
Founder of Sonaya Consulting, which advises women founders through the growth of their businesses
educator and former chief programs officer at Pursuit, a New York City-based nonprofit
A biotech, biology and consulting teacher at Research Triangle High School
UNC alumnus and founder of McDaniel Consulting, a boutique small business and early-stage consulting firm
“As coaches, we’ll provide guidance to the teams as they look to manage a complex problem,” says Jones. “We’ll push the students to think as a team and answer questions such as ‘How do I read cues from the business? How do I get a sense if it’s going well or not going well?’ It’s about adding value.”
The participating companies span a range of diverse industries, from sports administration to fashion to technology. The ten companies include:
• ArenaCX applies market principles and gamification to drive meaningful customer-service results for organizations
• Chatham County Food Hub is addressing the needs of West Chatham County, working to imagine the creation of a community food hub that promotes economic stability in the region through safe intersections between producers, food service industry workers, restaurants, schools and food-insecure families.
• Courtroom5 provides a step-by-step legal toolbox needed for handling a civil
• Freshspire offers technology that powers local food sourcing operations for grocery stores, restaurants and distributors.
• LCI Tech provides full-circle remediation services for organizations enabling full digital equity for those with disabilities.
• The Loading Dock offers a modern co-working space where freelancers, entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders and professionals become better together.
•Plena Modum is a coaching education platform designed to help coaches and practitioners in sport guide athletes to peak performance using a holistic training methodology grounded in network science.
• Substantial Magazine is a premier minority magazine headquartered in Greenville, NC that aims to break through the regional, multicultural market.
• Symbology is an ethical fashion label that uses artisan textiles made by women around the world.
• Trilliant deploys a broad set of smart grid initiatives, such as advanced metering, distribution automation, demand response and distributed energy resources.
Learning for the long term
Coming out of this pilot program, UNC-Chapel Hill program leaders will examine how the companies, students and coaches gained value – through their experiences and the business outcomes that were realized. Looking ahead, the program will seek to form relationships with additional companies so that the program can continue to serve as a great learning experience for students and a pipeline for cultivating future talent.
“Each of our UNC partner programs is bringing the best of what they have to offer to this internship program,” says Vickie Gibbs, executive director of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s Entrepreneurship Center. “By working together, we’re creating a really rich and cohesive experience for students. This type of program – built through the strengths of multiple innovation and entrepreneurship units – is a model for teaching, guiding and leading students in creative ways that we believe will provide a framework that Carolina and other universities can put into practice for their own aspiring entrepreneurs in the future.”