Ditch the Startup, Intern at an Accelerator
Blog Post by ELP Student Kevin Demsich ( Computer Science Engineering | Class of 2021 )
Having spent the last two summers working at startup accelerators, as both a founder and an intern, I have had the opportunity to experience multiple facets of entrepreneurship while applying what I have learned throughout my coursework.
Working with a portfolio of early-stage tech startups throughout my time at startup accelerators has deepened my understanding of the field, strengthened my engineering and project management skills, and inspired me to share my insights with you!
Last summer, I was working on a startup at TechTown Detroit’s startup accelerator, called Detroit Technology Exchange. Here I worked to develop an assistive device for people who are visually impaired and pitched to win third place at the final showcase. The leadership experience I gained as a founder and technical project manager honed my entrepreneurial aspirations and aligned my engineering talents to solve problems that matter. This summer, I am interning at Desai Accelerator as a Sr. Software Developer to lead the development of the websites and apps for Desai’s portfolio companies.
One of the best things about working at a startup accelerator is the work environment and open community of support among members of the cohort. Working alongside teams facing, and overcoming, similar problems fosters motivation, ideation, and encourages startups to leverage the diverse background and talents of each member. Working at a startup can be exhausting; however, being surrounded by people experiencing similar workloads and challenges creates a pool of additional motivation needed to power through shared obstacles.
Another great thing about working at a startup accelerator is having the opportunity to create a significant impact across a range of disjointed users. One of the ways I generate value at Desai is by consulting directly with each startup’s founders to refine their problem and solution fit to meet market needs. From there, I materialize their ideas by building iterative prototypes to create their minimum viable product. This human-centric approach to problem-solving is frequently overlooked throughout my coursework yet is paramount in determining if a product will ever gain traction.
Working at a startup accelerator allows you to improve your entrepreneurial skills through constant application ranging from pitching ideas to consulting. Having access to incredible mentors at startup accelerators like Desai helps ground the work atmosphere with experienced entrepreneurs who have had successful ventures. Working alongside mentors yields a learning experience that will prepare you for your future endeavors, long after the internship is over.
One of the things that excited me most about interning at Desai was the technical project management opportunities of my internship. Most internships for large tech companies or startups are structured such that interns frequently work on small projects with little room for autonomy or flexibility. Desai’s internship, on the other hand, was built from the ground up to align my projects with my future career goals and gave me the freedom to solve the founder’s technical challenges starting from the requirements elicitation process until its completion. This experience showcased the importance of effective communication and agile development, as we were able to present the founders with multiple prototypes as we helped them reach their business milestones.
Given the current situation, the entirety of my internship was remote. As a result, I spent most of my time in scheduled virtual meetings with each startup or other interns. On top of my internship, I balanced two engineering courses concurrently over the summer and had to stick to a strict routine to meet all of my deadlines. My other commitments aside, working at a startup accelerator showed me first hand how difficult it can be to organize multiple schedules, as outside commitments compound between members and can make it difficult to navigate. Tools like Google Calendar and Slack were essential in coordinating everyone’s schedules, and without them, it would have been even more challenging to meet milestones on time.
Working at a startup accelerator is an amazing educational experience because you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the startup culture and learn how to use industry tools you may not learn in school. Learning the frameworks can guide a startup to success while also providing a great learning experience that classroom case studies don’t capture. Working with someone’s actual business and livelihood provided a deeper appreciation for the tools I learned about and showed me first hand how beneficial they will be to use on my startups in the future.
Working directly with a variety of startups showed how much the initial minimum viable product is a moving target. Project requirements frequently change, and utilizing an agile development method helped keep my code modular and flexible for unexpected future changes, which was a nice way to apply what I learned in engineering school throughout earning my computer science degree.
Overall, the best thing about working at a startup accelerator like Desai is that they don’t expect you to come back, meaning as there is no return job offer, they want to do all they can to help you take the next step in your career. By wholeheartedly investing in your future, they are encouraging you to make the best decision for you going forward, and not pressuring you, or expecting you to come back. Spending time learning from the mentors at Desai has helped me understand where I want to work next, and provided me with the impactful network connections to help me make my best future happen.