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Laura McGhie is a student at McMaster University who lucked out by landing a summer job last year in the university's Office of Public Relations, working primarily on their website. (Sheryl Nadler)
Laura McGhie is a student at McMaster University who lucked out by landing a summer job last year in the university's Office of Public Relations, working primarily on their website. (Sheryl Nadler)

Guest column

Internships provide launch pad for new business Add to ...

Every future CEO has to start somewhere.

There are many opportunities for students to join the work force during the summer months, but the challenge for Gen Y is to build skills that can launch them from intern to entrepreneur.

To make the most of it, interns should actively work to develop their skill set while they are surrounded by an ecosystem of expertise and support. It allows students to build their knowledge base while bringing a fresh perspective to employers.

Start by taking on extra projects of interest, setting up coffee meetings with leaders you are genuinely interested in, and seizing initiative when given the opportunity.

When I was an intern working in marketing for a Fortune 500 company, I was surrounded by encouraging colleagues who kept an open ear when it came to new ideas and a fresh perspective. The environment allowed me the opportunity to identify and pitch a program that solved a business problem but also confirmed the need for companies to better understand how to connect with students and Gen Y. I saw how leading brands approached campuses and students with archaic and traditional tactics that simply were not working.

I was able to become an “intrapreneur” by identifying a unique and non-traditional approach for this company to reach top students from across Canada to achieve its campus goals.

After “intrapreneuring” during my internships I was able to launch my own company with the support of leading agencies, industry experts and a powerful team of thought leaders that I had worked with. Earning this network during my internship proved invaluable while building my own company, Redwood Strategic.

Internships have been the launch pad for a number of other Gen-Y entrepreneurs, giving credit to the phrase many recruiters use to describe Gen-Y in the workplace: “Intern one day, CEO the next.”

Alex Shipillo, president of Impact Entrepreneurship Group, an organization dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship, is an intern turned entrepreneur. “From the onset of my internship with TeamPages.com there was a clear understanding that I was looking to gain valuable experience from a work environment. This internship accelerated my knowledge of how to run and manage my own company,” Mr. Shipillo says.

It can be difficult to find an employer that is the right fit for your internship. However, it is important for Gen-Y to seek employers that provide meaningful and challenging opportunities. Interns can pre-screen the quality of work a prospective employer might offer by speaking with former interns or classmates and by joining discussions on sites such as TalentEgg.ca.

TalentEgg.ca founder Lauren Friese started her company after being frustrated with the lack of resources available to help students transition into the workplace. She used this insight to launch her business and TalentEgg.ca is now a leading website dedicated to helping students find meaningful, career-launching opportunities.

To get the most out of an internship, there are a few things to keep in mind. They should always be a mutually beneficial experience. As an intern, corporate leaders should want to hear from you, find opportunity to share your insights, spawn new ideas and innovate. By going beyond expectations you will gain new skills that will open your mind and grow your ideas.

These same leaders want to help young workers stretch their capabilities by providing unique opportunities, whether it is a special project, networking event, or lunch with executive leaders who can provide the perfect sounding board for new ideas and often connect you with key contacts, helping you build your own entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Dave Wilkin, a Gen-Y entrepreneur, is an innovator in the campus marketing space, taking a unique approach to reaching students. Mr. Wilkin is the founder of Toronto-based Redwood Strategic, which aims to help Canada’s leading brands connect with the influencers, activities and initiatives that matter to students. He has mentored young leaders across the country, and he has advised non-profits and emerging entrepreneurs. This is the first of a 10-part summer series Mr. Wilkin is writing for Your Business. The columns will appear every Wednesday.

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