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Ann Arbor SPARK program connects startups with passionate interns

october16.featureintern
october16.featureintern
As the economy and the entrepreneurial spirit in Michigan continues to grow, so does the demand for passionate – and curious – interns. In order to thrive, startups need employees who are invested and passionate about their field of expertise, and ready for the fast-paced world that young companies offer.
 
Often, startups don’t have the revenue or resources to coordinate, hire and facilitate official intern programs. That’s where Ann Arbor SPARK comes into play. While Ann Arbor SPARK had been coordinating intern programs for years, they often found technology startups had barriers to identifying and attracting good candidates for intern positions, and needed additional expertise from a marketing and consumer engagement standpoint.
 
To fulfill the intern talent gap, Ann Arbor SPARK teamed up with faculty members from Eastern Michigan University and local experts to serve as an additional resource and oversee the interns working with startups.
 
“Our program works with startups to match interns and coordinate all of the administrative and human resources work,” said Bill Mayer, vice president of entrepreneurial services at Ann Arbor SPARK. “By sharing costs with startups 50-50, we’re able to help make it realistic for young companies to have interns on staff who are invested in helping the company grow.”
 
Interns work on real-world problems and projects, and work with the experts to identify solutions. The inaugural class of 2015 had 10 interns working for startups, and the program continues to grow. In 2016, Ann Arbor SPARK helped place 20 interns. The internship program helps startups hire interns who are eager to learn, work hard and ideally, are able to grow inside the organization.
 
Interns are typically recent graduates and hail from colleges throughout the state, including Eastern Michigan University, University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University. The ultimate goal is to retain talent in the Ann Arbor region and contribute to the economic comeback.
 
“We partner with startups who are selling goods and services outside of the region,” said Mayer. “Typically, these startups have the potential to produce more than $10 million in revenue within the first five years of business. We want them to have a local, national and global presence to add jobs and fuel the economy right here in Michigan.”
 
Furthermore, the intern program at Ann Arbor SPARK helps determine if the intern and startup are a right fit culturally. Often, the work environment is dynamic and require the first initial employees to work long hours. Intern programs are a great opportunity and trial period for both the intern and startup to determine if they’ll fit into the culture.
 
One example of the success of the SPARK intern program is ContentOro, an Ann Arbor-based startup that was founded in 2014 by Bob Chunn. ContentOro provides unique, engaging content from experts for the digital marketing world. While working with Ann Arbor SPARK last spring, Chunn was approached by Mayer and his team about their internship program.
 
“The internship program at Ann Arbor SPARK is a natural fit for us,” said Chunn. “As a startup, we needed to fill our void in the digital space. From helping develop our website, curating social media campaigns and interacting with customers, our interns do it all – and well. I’ve hired two interns full-time after experiencing the impact they’ve made on ContentOro.”
 
Ann Arbor SPARK interns are trained by industry professionals in the classroom, then put those skills to practice at internships. They are well-informed in Google Analytics, Ad Words, SEO and digital marketing, and are able to lend their expertise to help the company grow.
 
Chunn notes the interns they hired from Ann Arbor SPARK are self-starters who are eager to go above and beyond to advance their technical skills. The most successful interns are those who are flexible and offer their expertise in a variety of different tasks, which is critical in a startup.
 
“Our partnership with Ann Arbor SPARK and EMU has been invaluable. It is the perfect fit for startups who need to grow their business,” said Chunn. “Good talent is the most important aspect for company growth, and the interns we’ve hired have made a huge impact on our success. I’m very grateful for Ann Arbor SPARK.”
 
Ann Arbor SPARK continues to evolve its internship program to serve as a resource for entrepreneurs. The internship program at SPARK continues to help retain talent in Ann Arbor and contribute to the growth of the economy.  
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