In the business world, startups are a phenomenon on the edge of mainstream. No one can predict their behavior: how long they will last, how they will transform, what products and leaders will spring from this creative nebula where ideas are born, etc. Startups come in a myriad of sizes, industries, and business models. Many of today’s breakthroughs in health, science, technology, human rights, and sustainability come from them. In these smaller environments, team members develop leadership and wield more autonomy. Each action has a much bigger effect than it would in a huge corporation. As such, startup internships are a fresh alternative to interning at a larger company.
What's so great about internships at startups?
Yes, startups are risky: they can’t promise employees that their jobs will still exist in five years. Some run out of funding. Others are absorbed by larger, mainstream companies or can’t handle the team pressure and collapse from within. According to a study by Static Brain, over 50% of U.S. startups fail within the first five years, and over 70% within the first ten years.
However, for both unpaid or paid internships, the volatile nature of startups can be to your advantage. Here are three reasons why.
Startups are focused on the immediate. They’re interested in building a highly-capable team right now. You won’t run into some of the common entry barriers of corporate internships like a certain number of years of leadership or field experience. Larger corporations are hesitant to invest in interns that will leave upon graduation. With a startup, if you have the skills, talent, and drive to provide value right now, you are team material.
2. Startup internships offer ample opportunity to develop your craft, creativity, and leadership skills.
In a startup internship, you can pursue an interest you haven’t yet had the chance to chase. You'll be working on causes you are passionate about like sustainability, education, and cultural awareness.
You will learn to perform new and diverse tasks. Perhaps you’re a computer programming major. Suddenly you find yourself running a marketing campaign for a sustainability firm. You'll research and develop the skills needed for each new task, diversifying your CV in the process.
Your Own Ideas
Here you also have more freedom to propose ideas. Startups are somewhat revolutionary as they tend to be horizontally structured instead of vertically.
CEO Robert Reffkin says of the strenuous startup environment that there is no room for bosses, only leaders. Bosses are about hierarchy and predefined scripts, while leaders allow more autonomy to tap into passions and motivations.
Therefore, at such an internship in a startup, you are much more likely to have a boss who encourages you to take your idea and craft a well-thought-out plan for them.
Self-Leadership & Real Results
This autonomy cultivates self-discipline, which then translates into self-leadership.
You can become the leader of your own personal role in the company. This is because you can assess what you can contribute as an individual to the startup.
Best of all? You will be able to show a portfolio of concrete accomplishments rather than just names on a CV, says co-founder of Intern Betas, Brandon Fong.
Which brings us to our next point:
3. Startup internships give you the opportunity to ace something.
Startups are small and therefore your actions are more measurable and traceable. This means you can be a more effective addition to the team.
A startup is essentially one big cause-and-effect laboratory.
If you are a computer programming major suddenly in charge of the marketing department at a startup, you'll learn by doing: research, trial, and error.
Work with the product.
In addition, you work closely with the company's product or service. Rebecca Urbelis, who finished a product management course at General Assembly in 2015 says, “At a large company, I would’ve been pigeonholed into strictly low-level project management work. But at a startup, you get a lot of experience making the real changes to a product and learning from them–being able to say, yeah, I helped tweak our algorithm to better serve our users’ needs”.
Is an internship at a startup for you?
Are you self-sufficient, looking to hone new skills, and want to create a measurable impact in short amounts of time? If so, an internship at a startup may be an eye-opening opportunity. The skills, discipline, and leadership experience gained in startup internships often outweighs that any traditional company internships can offer. The veneer of a perfect working environment is stripped away, exposing the raw, working guts of a business on its way to making an impact. Who knows, the experience might even light an entrepreneurial fire in you for the future!