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2014 Summer Internship Program Highlights
By Kim Mayer, SBTDC's Director of Technology Commercialization
The SBTDC’s 2014 Technology Commercialization Summer Internship Program wrapped up on July 24th with final presentations. Nine students served as interns this year, representing five university programs. Longtime participants, the MBA Programs from NCSU, Duke and Wake Forest University provided a total of six students. In addition, this year marked the 2nd year of participation for both the Duke Masters of Engineering Management (MEM) and UNC Pharmacy programs that provided a total of three students.
John Ujvari, the SBTDC’s SBIR Specialist, has been coordinating the Summer Internship Program for over a decade. Our university partners promote the Summer Program and assist in the identification of highly qualified students who are ready to work as client-facing consultants. The SBTDC's Technology Commercialization Team participates extensively each year as mentors, attending group sessions and meeting often with the students to answer questions and provide guidance.
We recognize that without the support of our clients, this program could not succeed. Clients are selected for invitation in January each year and each client who accepts the invitation knows they have committed to a long-term relationship with their student and the SBTDC. Clients are required to attend several orientation sessions, develop project descriptions, and guide their student throughout the 10-week program. All of the clients are invited to attend the final presentation showcase that signals the end of the summer program.
This year's client projects covered a wide-range of business challenges including: developing an incentive-based sales program, developing licensing structures for software products, evaluating international market opportunities, preparing business grant proposals, and pivoting market focus from researchers to consumers. Students used a variety of tools and techniques in their work, including market, competitor, and industry analyses. Some projects looked at social media presence and evaluated crowd-sourcing options, while others involved financial projections in preparation for investor pitches. Several of our students brought unique resources and skills to bear, particularly for projects involving primary market research in countries where English is not spoken and information is not freely available on the Internet.
Students and clients shared lessons learned at the final presentations. Many lessons involved exploring assumptions, evaluating all costs involved in a project (including opportunity and switching costs), and the importance of identifying and speaking directly with intended customers during product development. The internship allowed students to directly experience the entrepreneur mindset and understand how building a successful tech-based startup can invade all aspects of an entrepreneur's life.
At the final presentation showcase, participants are asked to share some of the challenges they and their clients were able to overcome during the 10-week program. One of the challenges addressed every summer is communication. Students often realize early in the program that meeting their clients where they are, using whatever method of communication makes sense for them, can help the project succeed. For many, the process of collecting and evaluating information from a wide variety of sources and synthesizing these into a complete picture for a client is a new experience, requiring the development of new skills. Finally, learning to cope productively with the intense ambiguity that encompasses the tech-based startup world can be a rewarding experience.
Each year we are impressed with the caliber and persistence of the students who participate in our Summer Internship Program. The students and the SBTDC's Technology Commercialization Team come away from the program inspired by the enthusiasm and hard work demonstrated by our clients as they bring innovative products to market. We look forward to the 2015 Technology Commercialization Summer Internship Program!