UNM’s Innovation Academy is on a mission to create a new intersection between higher education and innovative new companies by holding internship fairs that connect students with startups.
Last week the Innovation Academy held its second internship fair. It was attended by 100 students and 16 employers.
Robert DelCampo, head of the Innovation Academy, said the Academy is a university initiative that encourages students to be entrepreneurs.
“Students want to start their own business, or they want to be a freelance reporter, or they want to be a studio musician, or they’ve got some product they want to launch or whatever, and they think this whole startup concept culture is really cool,” he said. “But what they really lack is the realistic job preview of what that’s really going to look like.”
While there are internship programs in most UNM departments, obtaining those internships can be a difficult and lengthy process, DelCampo said, and the Academy decided to hold internship fairs at the request of students.
The internship fair takes a different approach from other job fairs on campus, he said.
“It’s really informal, so students get this colored nametag, employers get this colored nametag. Bring your resume. Throw some cookies out there. Go talk. Let’s see what happens,” DelCampo said.
Students were encouraged to talk with every employer at the fair, not just companies operating in fields clearly related to their major, he said.
“From a startup perspective that’s really what you want,” DelCampo said. “You don’t really know what you need until you start talking to people that vibe with you and fit into what your company is really looking for. So they were really hiring for a cultural fit rather than a specific skillset.”
All of the employers at the fair found at least one student intern, he said, and the fair brought in startup companies that need labor but are unable to pay students in traditional ways.
“We even had a company say, ‘Here’s three percent equity in my company to work with me for a semester,’” DelCampo said.
Students who obtain an internship at the Academy can enroll in a 300-level liberal arts class and obtain class credit while also gaining work experience, he said.
The Digital Garage, a cloud-based computing company that launched their platform at the beginning of the month, was one of the employers at the fair.
Havana Posa, cofounder of the company, said he was impressed with the turnout.
“Working with interns is a great experience because students who are new to the industry have so much enthusiasm for the work they are doing and the skills they are learning,” Posa said.
Abdiel Ramirez, a senior majoring in computer engineering, said he was able to get several contacts and an interview thanks to the event.
“I think it's a great initiative, and I was happy to see so many students, and so many great employers not only looking to hire UNM students, but also doing really great work,” Ramirez said.
Two of the startups at the fair were companies founded by UNM students.
A biotechnology company and a company that began a community organizing platform were both student-run companies looking for student interns.
The fair also brought nonprofits looking for student interns, because some students want to start their own nonprofits, DelCampo said, and Ronald McDonald House and the National Hispanic Cultural Center were both in attendance.
The Innovation Academy had its first internship fair last semester, and plans are in place to have another in October, he said.
Along with holding more events, the Innovation Academy is expanding their physical presence. The Academy is opening a six-story building downtown in August 2017, DelCampo said.
“Our hope is we can have these things every other month, twice a semester, something like that, so we can try to draw people to that downtown site,” he said.
Innovation Academy and its internship fairs are open to any student from any major, DelCampo said.
“A lot of the skills that entrepreneurs have, or teaching this kind of course are things that employers in general are looking for. Take initiative, collaboration, critical thinking, teamwork. It’s all good stuff,” DelCampo said. “All the reports that have come out say this is what employers want. Thinking in an entrepreneurial fashion is something that’s beneficial to everyone.”