2015-2016 Dr. William Zucker Entrepreneurial Intern Fellow
This past summer, I worked at Innova Dynamics, a nanomaterials startup in San Francisco. I found this internship by diligently and strategically finding companies I was interested in and then parsing through my personal, academic and employment networks to find connections at as many companies as possible. I put together a list of startups I found online, in tech blogs and articles, on AngeList, CrunchBase and other startup listings. For science startups, the NSF’s SBIR grantees is a great way to find companies, and is how I found Innova. I noticed that Innova’s cofounders were Penn alums, so I got connected to them through other Penn alums I knew. From there, I had a phone call with one of the co founders and was accelerated through the recruitment process, landing an offer just two weeks after this initial call. This not only helped me land an internship at a great company, but also ensured that I would have a fruitful experience, since I was personally connected to the company, rather than just being a random applicant. This is a strategy I would highly recommend, especially for students looking for nontraditional internships.
Once at Innova, I learnt an immense amount in a relatively short time. I was hired onto the purification team working on nanoseperations, but soon was added to the film patterning team as well. This team was totally new to me and I had no experience with it whatsoever, but I adapted quickly and learnt on the job. Working concurrently on two unrelated teams was a difficult endeavor but definitely a fruitful one. It taught me a lot about adapting, learning while doing, and just plain and simple work ethic and time management. Some key lessons I learnt: Adapt. Being able to adapt and learn on the job is critical at startups. You may need to switch teams or take on new responsibilities, or the company itself may be changing rapidly. Learning to roll with the punches is translatable and useful everywhere. Be self-sufficient but comfortable asking for help. With the intense workload and scrappiness that a startup requires, there is no time for dwindling and being reliant on others. Most problems you’ll be faced with are things you are able to figure out if you apply yourself, look back at things you know, and use resources around you wisely (could be as simple as Googling it). However, if you really are stuck or out of your capabilities, don’t struggle and waste time on your own, ask your other talented coworkers for help.
Have fun. Your startup team should be like your family. Enjoy working through problems together. And spend time outside of work because those are what you take home with you! I would highly recommend working at a startup at least one summer. Since starting here, the company has gone through so many dynamic changes and I have had to adapt to all of them. As a result, I have quickly taken in so much knowledge and experience that would be impossible at a large, slow moving company. I also grew to love my office and coworkers like we were a family working through problems together. It’s an invaluable experience to be at a startup.