2016 Startup Internship Award Winner Supported By the Rosalind (WG’76) and Roy (WG’76) Neff Entrepreneurial Internship Fund
This summer I was lucky enough to join the team at Gridless Power as a Product Development Intern. Gridless Power, located just outside Philadelphia in Collingswood, NJ, produces ruggedized portable battery packs for application in emergency management situations. (Check out gridlesspower.com for more info!)
Penn’s dedication to entrepreneurship makes it easy to secure an internship at a startup, even as a freshman. While a good number of mechanical engineering freshmen choose to do research over the summer, I knew I wanted industry exposure. A startup was the perfect place for me because I needed a company that was willing to invest the time and effort into training me. I also knew that a startup would probably be more willing to give me hands-on experience and trust me to dive into meaningful work right off the bat. The financial support from the Startup Internship Fellowship made the pitch to hiring startups a lot easier because the startup didn’t necessarily need to pay me.
I found out about Gridless Power through the Penn alumni network. The Gridless Power Founder and CEO, Jason Halpern, recently graduated from the M&T Program at Penn. The startup had been hiring interns from Penn for several years now, and advertised their internships through the M&T Program. Looking back, working with a Penn alum really added to my summer experience because Jason was always willing to talk about his experiences at Penn and offer academic advice.
Throughout the internship, I gained exposure to various different functions within the company. This summer was an exciting time for Gridless Power. There were significant changes being made to their existing product, and they were simultaneously developing new additions to the product line. I helped develop testing to gather data on hardware and software updates to the existing product. This really opened my eyes up to the sacrifices that constantly have to be made in startups between time. Sometimes the “best” solution to a problem isn’t always the most practical at a startup under financial and time constraints.
Over the course of the summer, I witnessed the development of a new product at Gridless. Seeing the product come together stage by stage really familiarized me with the product development process. I began the process with competitive market analysis, gathering data on potential competitors. This helped the engineering team put together basic design requirements for the product. Once a prototype was finally built, I learned more about the validation phase of design, which I had never fully appreciated until then.
Because of the small size of the company, I was also able to learn about other aspects of the business such as marketing and supply chain management. I put together a database of emergency managers across the country so that the marketing team could target them with promotional materials. I got to meet with sales representatives from parts distributors and even visit the manufacturing facility to see the product come together on an assembly line.
Overall, my summer at Gridless far surpassed my expectations. I absolutely encourage any students interested in gaining industry experience early on in their academic careers to consider working at a startup. There are so many startups that need cheap talent, and because you receive fellowship funding, the startups don’t necessarily have anything to lose by hiring you. Find out about startups in your industry of interest and reach out to a bunch of them! You’d be surprised by how many of them respond, particularly if they’re Penn alums. Most importantly, be open minded about what kinds of work you want to be doing. Regardless of what your role is, you’ll be learning a lot!