Intern, or be your own boss?

Marketplace Staff Apr 27, 2007

Intern, or be your own boss?

Marketplace Staff Apr 27, 2007

TESS VIGELAND: For what it’s worth, I’m living proof that internships can do wonders for your career. My hometown radio station, Oregon Public Broadcasting, gave me an internship the summer after my freshman year in college. Three years later, they gave me my first job.

A survey out this month from the career information company Vault found 74 percent of college grads will complete at least one internship before they graduate.
But for some young mavericks, it’s intern schmintern – I wanna work for myself!

Marketplace’s Janet Babin reports from North Carolina Public Radio.

JANET BABIN: Listen to Ryan Allis work a room at a recent Venture Capital conference:

RYAN ALLIS: “Hi, Ryan Allis. I know you guys are Square One Bank, we’re starting to work with you guys . . . get something together as a possible deal . . .

Sounds a lot older than 22, doesn’t he? But then, he is a CEO. His company, Broadwick, creates e-mail marketing and blogging software with 55 employees.

Ryan worked as an intern in high school, but not while he was a college student at University of North Carolina. He started his own company instead. And he doesn’t think he’s so unusual.

ALLIS: The barriers to entry in creating a company today are much much lower. Anybody with a thousand-dollar computer and a couple friends can create a successful venture over a few years.

Well, maybe not just anybody. But business owners have been skewing younger.
During the tech bubble, Jeff Reid started a popular entrepreneurship program at the UNC. He thought student interest would wane when the bubble burst. But he says it just kept growing.

JEFF REID: We kind of theorized that there was this new entrepreneurial generation – that the younger kids had been reading all about these Internet startups and that’s what they decided they wanted to do with their career.

As to whether it’s better to do an internship or start your own business, Reid says that’s a personal choice. But he says it’s a lot cheaper to get experience watching someone else’ s mistakes than making your own.

Wharton business school grad Ryan Comfort says not doing an internship was out of the question.

RYAN COMFORT: My school is very competitive, you get the top internship at the best bank you can. You have to. You have to have that experience.

Comfort says it didn’t matter whether an opportunity was paid or unpaid. But not everyone can afford to give it away for free.

UNC senior Sonya Lorenson is a scholarship student who receives no financial help from her parents. Here’s how she spent last summer:

SONYA LORENSON: I would work at a spa in the day, and then martini bar at night, and get just a small amount of sleep and then start over again, so that I could save for the school year.

Lorenson says she’s finally squeezing her internship in this summer at a national financial institution. No, she won’t be getting coffee, and yes, she will be getting paid, but on a commission basis.

The Vault report found that 71 percent of students surveyed get some compensation at their internships. That’s up 7 percent from last year.

Washington Post writer Amy Joyce says student gigs these days are often more like first-time jobs.

AMY JOYCE: People are coming in, writing business plans and you know, working for large organizations that never really had interns before. They give them real jobs when they’re sophomores, juniors in college.

And if you can’t get that valued internship at a larger company, think small.

Linda Haac co-founded, a women’s lifestyle site. She says her interns suggested ideas that were just plain off her radar screen.

LINDA HAAC: For us, they served as a young focus group. And they also provided a lot of fresh, great ideas for us.

Haac didn’t pay her interns for all that help, but she did coach them on the writing they did for the website. She mentored them, helped them with connections and their resumes.

HAAC: And we always gave them food.

Hands-on start-up experience apparently holds more than monetary appeal – all her interns have asked to come back again next year.

I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace Money.

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