by Gary Samson
Starting Off at a Startup
You're no doubt familiar with the expression, "You'll know it when you see it." That's the principle behind a new course introduced by the Whittemore School of Business and Economics last September. Developed by professors Ross Gittell and Jeffrey Sohl, the course is designed to put students inside startup businesses so they can see for themselves how an entrepreneurial enterprise really works.
Fifteen Whittemore School seniors spent one day a week last semester at one of 10 high-tech startup companies in the Seacoast area. The students observed entrepreneurs in action, getting insight into subjects such as the high-tech economy, new-product and market development, the role of startup equity capital, networking and innovative leadership. The professors monitored the students' progress, and class time included coaching and discussion.
One reason for the course is industry interest in Whittemore student interns, says Gittell, associate professor and chair of the management department. Sohl, professor of decision science, adds, "We felt there was a need not just for an internship, but to produce a labor supply that can work in this high-growth culture. And we wanted to wrap it into an academic focus."
Senior Heather Townsend says her unpaid internship at Flywire, a five-year-old e-services firm in Portsmouth, N.H., has been eye opening. "It's been great. I didn't realize how fast-paced startup companies are. It's less formal and more productive than I expected. You have to be extremely flexible--you'll be doing one task and a new priority will jump up."
Scott Campbell '90, director of marketing and public relations at Flywire, sponsored three interns this fall. He's glad to help students round out their education, but it's not a one-sided arrangement, he says. "We get support staff, new perspectives and fresh eyes." Townsend and classmates Laura Reagan and Stephanie Springer have suggested a number of good ideas as well, he adds.
Townsend says the internship has helped her to learn the "ins and outs" of a small startup company. "I'm especially interested in learning about marketing and public relations," she says. "This helps me to figure out what I want to do."
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