Should you intern at start-ups?
Many new ventures offer flexible hours, the freedom to work from home, and a sharp learning curve—a perfect experience as a first job
People take notice when I say I interned at a start-up that was only a year old,” says Jaai Vipra. The 21-year-old economics graduate from Mumbai’s Jai Hind College has interned at other places since, but nothing comes close to her experience at Web portal Internshala. In 2012, after her class XII exams, Vipra read online about an internship for an editorial position at Internshala. She applied online, was selected; she earned a stipend of Rs. 5,000 a month.
A website for finding internships, Internshala was founded in 2011 by Sarvesh Agrawal, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. When it was set up, the start-up used a team of interns, each in a different city, to help manage and market it. The interns worked from their homes, and did almost everything. Today, the website has 10 full-time employees and 10 interns as well.
For Armaan Shahanshah, 21, a final-year engineering student at Manipal University, Karnataka, it was a recommendation by a senior student that led him to intern at PropheSee, a digital media and data analytics start-up. Co-founded in 2014 by Ishaan Sethi, PropheSee advises companies on digital strategy. It tracks brands such as fashion labels by Tarun Tahiliani and Manish Malhotra and measures engagement levels on social media. Shahanshah had in 2013 interned at the public sector company Steel Authority of India and Power Grid Corp. of India Ltd in 2014, but was bored. “The work at both places did not involve interacting with clients. All I had to do was make reports. PropheSee was different. The work involved interacting with the real world. I attended client meetings and emails went out in my name,” says Shahanshah, who interned from January-May. He earned a stipend of Rs.7,500 a month.
Vipra says, “On my first day at the job, I had to manage a national-level contest that the website was running. It was amazing to get that much of responsibility.”
“Today the start-up ecosystem has evolved and there are three-four new start-ups every day,” says Agrawal. On Internshala.com and specialized websites for interns, like Letsintern.com and Twenty19.com, listings for internships for start-ups are quite prominent. According to a 2014 report by Twenty19.com on the internship scene in the country, start-up and small company internships account for 70% of all internships offered.
With technology, many start-ups are able to offer flexible hours, and the ability to work from home, which works well for students like Vipra. She continued with her internship, from April 2012 to June 2013, even after her classes at Jai Hind College had started.
For Siddharth Sharathkumar, a final-year student of computer science at the College of Engineering (Anna University), Guindy, Chennai, a distance internship with sports website Sportskeeda gave him the chance to work in a field he enjoyed.
Sportskeeda, founded in 2009 by Porush Jain, uses interns for many of its sports features. Interns can apply through the Sportskeeda website. From the hundreds of applications that come in, Jain handpicks the interns based on the written samples submitted.
Sharathkumar wrote a series of 15 articles between January and March last year. “I learnt about readership preferences first-hand, based on their level of engagement with the subjects I wrote on,” he says. These sports-writing internships are not paid.
Finding the right fit
So how do you find good start-ups to intern at? Many start-ups post details of their internship programmes on their websites and Facebook pages, and email their requirements to colleges. Some colleges and professional institutions have formal programmes for such internships. One such is the “Summer in a Startup” programme at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani; it is in its seventh year now. “Those who do manage to intern at large corporate houses are disappointed at their skills not being leveraged to the optimum; an inevitable consequence of interning at a firm with thousands of underutilized talent,” says the programme website. At a start-up, however, “interns have the opportunity to “be heard”, receive and share insight and bring real action to the table, it adds.
Divyansh Saini, 19, worked at start-up SocialCops from December-January, as part of this programme. Saini, a first-year biological science and engineering student at BITS, says he wants to start his own venture by the time he leaves college and hence it made sense to intern with a start-up. SocialCops, a data and analytics start-up, was founded by Varun Banka, Prukalpa Sankar and Harjoben Singh in 2013. “I had been reading about SocialCops, and following them on the website Quora,” says Saini, who earned a stipend of Rs.8,000.
As in most start-ups with small teams and small offices, the level of interaction between employees and interns at SocialCops was high. “I used to actually sit beside the founders. My project included forming a business plan for a healthcare app, and I would read up and discuss this with founder Prukalpa, who became a mentor,” says Saini. At SocialCops, interns are hired for core functions like building apps, business development and marketing. “Just because somebody is 18 years old, we don’t believe they can’t work alongside us like regular employees. We give them responsibility and independence. Interns should not expect handholding. In today’s online world there are enough ways to learn things,” says Sankar.
Information on internships is available on the SocialCops website.
“The best way to look for good internships is to read a lot online, to follow blogs like Techcrunch and sites like Yourstory and Quora,” says Saini. Seniors, friends and colleagues in your network are often good sources of recommendations for internship positions too, he adds.
For Sethi, taking on interns is an important part of building an organizational team. “We are able to judge if an intern will fit into the work culture here, and then take a better decision on whether to bring them on board permanently or not,” says Sethi. Shahanshah has recently accepted PropheSee’s offer to work full-time from May.
Students like interning at start-ups because they get to work in new-age sectors like data analytics and social media. And for those who aim to start their own businesses some day, interning at a start-up is hands-on training. Start-up internships make their résumés more interesting, says Waqar Azmi, chief executive officer at Mumbai-based human resources firm SutraHR, which specializes in hiring for start-ups in the areas of technology, e-commerce, mobile and telecoms. “It’s mutually beneficial. Start-ups are short of talent. For the interns, they get to see real action and have a definite edge when it comes to being hired, especially if they are applying to another start-up.”
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