A start-up's secret sauce: Interns

By Kim Goad / Photography By Jennifer Rubenstein | September 04, 2016
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A start-up's secret sauce: Interns by Butler University

At Butler University’s Lacy School of Business, all sophomores are required to take a course called Real Business Experience (RBE). Students form teams to conceptualize a business, create a business plan and apply to the university for real dollars to launch the business.

Business professionals mentor the teams, but the students are responsible for all marketing, operations and finances to get their ideas off the ground. Among the products and services developed, successful businesses have included the Butler Bed Buddy (a pillow in the form of the Butler Bulldog mascot, Blue) and Freelance Foam (which produced the foam three-finger “thringer,” 3,000 of which were purchased by the NCAA for the 2015 Final Four games).

When Kevin Rhinehart and his teammates were tasked with starting their own business, rather than create a whole new concept they looked to build upon the success of another prior year’s team: Freedom of Peach BBQ Sauce.

Starting with the popular sauce of a team member’s grandmother, the first group tweaked and tested her recipe, obtained FDA approval, worked with a food scientist to create the required labeling with detailed nutritional information and partnered with a local food producer. To create awareness, they participated in an event at Sullivan’s Hardware in Indianapolis and convinced some local butcher shops and specialty markets to distribute the sauce.

By the time the semester was over, while proud of their accomplishment, the group had other priorities like classes, internships, athletics and other commitments. That’s when Rhinehart and his team, as part of the next RBE class, decided to approach the original Freedom of Peach team about buying the business.

After valuing the business, they entered negotiations and finally agreed upon on a price. Rhinehart’s team then borrowed from the university to pay for the business and to cover their first production run. In just a few months, they quickly grew distribution from six stores to 20 in Indianapolis, Fishers, Carmel, Mishawaka, South Bend, Muncie, Anderson and Cincinnati, including three Fresh Thyme stores in the Indianapolis area.

Rhinehart says “the quick growth has kept us on our toes,” adding that a couple of customers have expressed interest in buying the business.

He smiles easily and exudes enthusiasm. “My number one appreciation of the experience is that, even in just a college class, you can still make an impact in the community and people will support you, even if you’re 20 years old and still trying to figure out how things work.”

Building Careers a Semester at a Time

At Butler’s College of Business, we say we “build careers a semester at a time.” First-year students participate in the First Year Business Experience by forming teams, creating a business plan and presenting those plans in the Top Dawg competition. In RBE, sophomores create and execute business plans, sometimes continuing those businesses after the class is over.

Now, Rhinehart and his teammates are juniors and searching for their first required internship. (As a requirement of graduation, Butler business majors complete two internships for academic credit.) They’ve been professionally groomed through the structured career development program, Blueprint. They’ve met regularly each semester with their own personal career mentor (a seasoned business executive who develops a relationship with them over their four years at Butler and often beyond). They’ve completed upper-level courses in accounting, marketing, finance, operations, risk management, entrepreneurship, management information systems, economics and international business. They’ve often held leadership positions in athletics, business clubs, fraternities and sororities, and volunteer organizations. They know what it is to attract customers, increase sales, improve efficiencies and grow profits. Some already have work experience in global organizations, closely held businesses or start-ups.

Butler’s employer partners report that their interns are a valuable resource, often performing at the level of regular employees, yet they are an often-overlooked resource for start-ups.

Your Future Talent Lives Here

Whether you need help translating your concept to a business plan, market research, design, event planning, social media, packaging, positioning, partnership development, manufacturing improvements, distribution strategy, financials or systems, consider how an intern could help you get further and faster while bringing fresh ideas to the table. Internships are also a proven, cost-effective way to recruit and evaluate potential permanent employees.

Here are some tips for making the most of the internship relationship:

Dream Big! An internship combines the strengths of a business education with the skills and training of on-the-job experience. It enhances a student’s academic training and provides a real-world introduction to careers the student would like to explore. At Butler’s College of Business, students complete internships during the fall, spring or summer semesters and work a minimum of 240 hours (many summer internships are full-time). They are concurrently enrolled in a course where they complete assignments that apply technical, skills, critical thinking, interpersonal skills and other business course content to the job.

When the career mentors conduct mid-semester site visits, the number one improvement students report should be that they would like more challenging work. Students rise to the challenge. Job duties should relate as much as possible to the student’s curriculum and career goals and give the student broad exposure to the various aspects of the business. Responsibilities should be challenging, stimulating and allow the student to make a contribution to the company.

Share Your Passion and Experience. Lindsey Pollack, millennial workplace expert and author of Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders, says “experience is the new swag.” Students value interaction with company leaders and experiences over cheap giveaways often offered at career fairs. Pay interns what they’re worth, but also give the gift of your time. While a good intern doesn’t need constant hand-holding, a big part of the experience is what they learn from professional interactions and mentoring. Involve them in meetings and other company events (trade shows, client visits, etc.). They want to learn what you know and why you’re passionate.

Set Clear Expectations. At Butler, employer evaluations count toward the professionalism component of the student’s course grade (30% of the total). Help the student by setting clear expectations and then providing feedback on his or her performance. Since the student is in a stage of life where professionalism is being formulated, your attention to his or her performance, work habits, character, ethics and judgment is vital.

Whether or not you are in a position to hire the student full-time when he or she graduates, you are in a position to strongly influence the student’s career trajectory and perception of the business world, and lifelong relationships can be formed.

You know food. Let an intern help you get that piggy to market. And then cover it with Freedom of Peach BBQ sauce.

Interested in learning more about Butler interns? Email LSBCareers@Butler.edu.

Article from Edible Indy at http://edibleindy.ediblecommunities.com/food-thought/start-ups-secret-sauce-interns
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