Emma Hong C’17 at SwiftIQ, Chicago, IL

2015-2016 Ambassador of Entrepreneurship

The Neff Entrepreneurial Intern Fellow
How did you find the position?
What was your motivation for working at a startup this summer?
To gain industry experience and to explore interests
What advice would you give to students interested in working at a startup this summer?
If you know what role you are interested in at a startup, but the startup does not advertise a specific intern opening for it, you should still contact the startup about what role you would like to have and other potential opportunities

This summer, I interned at SwiftIQ in Chicago. SwiftIQ provides an infrastructure for data access, visualizations, and predictive analytics, primarily for retailers and manufacturers. I discovered SwiftIQ in January through AngelList, which was suggested to me by a friend who got a startup job through the website. AngelList makes it easy to connect with startups that are hiring, and I connected with the CEO, Jason Lobel.
I believe the original posting I responded to was for a position in Inbound Marketing. However, after a series of phone calls and a Skype interview, Jason really focused on what I was interested in working on for the summer to make the internship valuable for the both of us. I said that I was actually more interested in learning about product development, so I got an offer to be a product development intern.

I joined SwiftIQ in a period of fast growth and major new clients- in fact, on my first day, the office was just me, Jason, and one software engineer (a couple others work from home). By the end of the summer, two other interns and two full-time employees joined.

What I found most valuable about my internship experience was exposure to a variety of startup tasks and problems. My responsibilities and projects for the summer encompassed product design, pricing, data collection, client success, and more. By the end of the summer, I felt my work was meaningful to the company. I gained a much better understanding of startups in general, as well as picking up on obscure software and retail marketing terminology.
Aside from my tasks, a key part of my internship experience was just absorbing in all the information around me, with the whole company being in one office. For example, I would listen in on important conference calls with clients, have access to every employee’s calendar, attend meetings with potential company partners, and be among the first to know when good or bad news hit the company. Whenever I had a question, I could just ask Jason or one of the engineers, just a few feet away from me, and they were always willing to teach and explain. I also really appreciated how Jason went out of his way to send me interesting articles related to product.

I found the flexibility of startup life very refreshing. Decisions were made quickly with the expectation of trial-and-error. I had potential projects outlined for me before the start of the internship, but as the weeks progressed, tasks changed as company priorities changed. It was amazing to be involved with new product development firsthand- starting with hearing client concerns on calls regarding usability to a demo of new features that addressed those exact concerns a few weeks later.

Overall, I gained much more technical knowledge, business experience, and mentorship after my summer at SwiftIQ. For those looking for startup opportunities, I think it’s important to understand what you are looking for in a summer internship at a startup, then being proactive in reaching out to companies that interest you!
Picture: My startup was part of the TechNexus startup incubator, so we worked on a floor with a lot of other startups. One night after work, the other interns and I attended an entrepreneurial networking event on the rooftop of our office building, the Civic Opera House, hosted by TechNexus. We liked to eat lunch on the rooftop too!