How to Bring Interns into the Atlanta Startup Community

David Cummings wrote a blog post that opened the topic of interns in the Startup Community.

Brief Background

I spent two years in the ATDC building a product for students by students at OpenStudy. We recruited over 15 Georgia Tech interns during my time there. I spent countless hours in Klaus talking to students about internships, picking their brain on what would attract them to startups, and how to convince them to join something greater than the lucrative Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, opportunity.

Think it’s easy? All those companies pay more, have a better reputation, and the student’s parent’s want them to take the “unbelievable opportunity” at the established company.

In spite of Georgia Tech being a talent machine located right in the middle of our city, the intern scene for the Atlanta Startup Community is weak sauce.

But it’s a better life on the side of a startup. For real.

The ATDC Weakness

Ask me, then Kyle Porter, and we’ll be the first one to tell you we’re bread by the ATDC. We love that organization just as much as anyone in the city. Just check out KP’s twitter handle profile “mentored by the @ATDC.” It’s the truth, and our success at TechStars directly correlates to the mentorship we’ve received from the ATDC.

However, if I had to share my thoughts on the biggest weakness of the ATDC, it would be the lack of student involvement. Survey the junior class of this year’s College of Computing and I’m confident less than 15% have even heard of the ATDC. This is the ATDC. The place where technology companies incubated for greatness are unknown from the brilliant minds 4 blocks (country) away.

The Solution — “Brad Feld Style”

In Brad’s most recent book, Startup Communities (which this whole blog is based around) he writes about the benefits of universities:

“There is a strong conventional belief that for a startup community to be successful, it has to be located close to a major university‚ĶUniversities have five resources relevant to entrepreneurship: students, professors, research labs, entrepreneurship programs, and technology transfer offices. The first two resources, which are people, are much more important than the last three, which are institutions.”

The people are the most important.

There are 3 ways to bring students into the community.

  • Invite them to the startup events.
  • Focus the “entrepreneurship center” toward the computer science and engineering departments (the people who can actually build stuff)
  • Put power in the hands of the students. Share the truth: they go and work for a name-brand company, their impact will be minimal.

“Universities, especially departments within universities, too often see entrepreneurship programs as a near term cash solution in an era of declining state support and rising tuitions. This generally a mistake. Instead, universities need to see themselves as preparing students to be players in dynamic industries that require entrepreneurial skills. There is no better context for this than startups.”

“There are challenges that generalize to any university environment: (1) entrepreneurial engagement is not rewarded within the faculty incentive structure, (2) lack of resources for entrepreneurial programs, and (3) cross-campus collaboration is not in the DNA of a university.”

BFeld and CU faculty member Brad Bernthal provide solutions to each of them in his book.

We, as the community need to embrace the student community at Georgia Tech, Emory, Morehouse, and Georgia State. Creating innovative ways to bring them into the community will benefit everybody and most importantly, keep them here.

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