Internships for Emerging Entrepreneurs: A Gen Y Success Story

by / ⠀Startup Advice / March 29, 2011

gen y

With 50% of their ranks either unemployed, under-employed or having already abandoned the workforce – Gen Y clearly understands the importance of entrepreneurship. More specifically, they understand that a lifetime working for someone else just to pay the bills was their father’s generation’s goal… not theirs.

According to a new study by Buzz Marketing Group and the Young Entrepreneur Council, and reported by Donna Fenn, Gen Y isn’t just talking about entrepreneurism… they’re already building a plan for self-sufficiency. And in many cases, they have a head start:

  • 1 in 5 survey participants planned to quit their 9-to-5 job during 2011 – and start their own business
  • 33% of the 1,600+ surveyed had already begun a side business

The Buzz Marketing study also showed 89% of Gen Y believes entrepreneurship education is important given the recent economy and job market – but only 29% were offered entrepreneurship courses in school.

“Entrepreneurship wasn’t in my career plan when I started college, but became a necessity as the economy tanked,” says Chanelle Schneider, now a social media consultant and founder of Twitter’s #GenYChat. “Entrepreneurship taught me to be self-sufficient, which is now an essential skill.”

With such a chasm between the need for entrepreneurial knowledge and the lack of courses in entrepreneurism, many Millennials engage in experiential education – internships – to gain real world experience.

Mark Babbitt, Founder of YouTern – an online community that connects emerging talent with start-ups and entrepreneur driven SMEs – sees an impressive trend toward entrepreneurial internships: “Mentor-based, entrepreneurial internships are the new black. From December 2010 to February 2011, candidate registrations and submitted internship applications on YouTern increased over 200%.”

Babbitt adds: “Gen Y seems predisposed to working in dynamic start-up environment where they contribute immediately, versus the traditional ‘Go-fer’ internships common at larger corporations. A start-up internship not only provides real world knowledge and experience, the intern typically works very closely with C-level executives – significantly reducing learning curves when they start their own companies.”

Of course, experience is not a pre-requisite to founding a start-up; it’s certainly possible to jump in head first, Zuckerberg-style. However, many budding business leaders credit their entrepreneurial internship with having a dramatic impact – good and bad – on their own dreams and ambitions. According to Babbitt: “We had an intern who wanted to be the next Steve Jobs, a rockstar. After one week in the intense, passion-driven work environment of a bootstrapped start-up, he decided he was better suited to what he called a ‘normal’ job.”

Another distinct advantage of interning at an entrepreneur-driven company is the inherent networking – through social media and face-to-face. Through her mentors, a young engineer, for example, will meet highly influential people within her industry – greatly expanding her sphere of influence. A few months or years later, as a young executive in her own company, that former intern already has champions; supporters who remember her for her passion, work ethic and character.

Entrepreneurial internships are becoming increasingly popular, in part because they combine two elements important to young professionals: entrepreneurism and social responsibility. “Mentoring a young entrepreneur is a great way to give something back,” says Todd Herschberg of Quantimark. “A good mentor doesn’t simply spend a few weeks guiding an intern… or, worse yet, a few weeks sending them for coffee.  We make it clear to the interns that we remain available as a resource for the rest of their careers. And we ask that they pay it forward once they get their start-up off the ground.”

Gen Y continues to graduate into our worst economy in three decades. This generation, however, is not sitting around waiting for something good to happen. Perhaps unwittingly, and most certainly out of necessity, many have developed their own “business plan”…

Through entrepreneurial internships, online and offline networking – and by accepting the challenge to give back to the next generation – Gen Y has created a repeatable, scalable success mechanism.

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