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The Startup Internship Rush

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Startups in recent years have hogged the business limelight with ventures in a range of fields mushrooming across the country. Notwithstanding the recent blacklisting of a few startups from IIT placements, they’ve enjoyed an ever-increasing presence on the placement and internship scene.

In this feature, we speak to students who’ve interned with startups and take a closer look at this trend.

The Great Indian Startup Boom

According to a recent NASSCOM-Zinnov report, the number of Indian startups grew by 40% over a period of just one year and India is now the third largest base of technology startups in the world. This Great Indian startup boom has provided students opportunities galore across a wide variety of profiles and companies. Internship profiles range from marketing and management to content writing, web development and data analytics, among others.

What exactly draws students to intern at startups?

“I learnt a lot more than I would have at an established company since there is ‘a guy’ for every job there”, said Kanha Batra, a junior undergraduate who spoke of his experience as a content writer interning at Shoes on Loose, a travel startup, “I progressed to create a department and hire interns who worked under me.”

A fledgling organization may often serve as an excellent platform to learn, and offer interns the chance to play a more significant role due to the smaller scale. A nascent setup could also help students to hone their skills and gain expertise across a larger range of domain areas by enabling them to dabble in different projects.

Echoing Kanha’s thoughts, Himanshu Upadhyay, another student in his third year, who was hired for android and backend development by SmallDay IT Services said, “My main focus was learning and I was advised to apply to a company where I would get to play a major role.”

However, those who harbour apprehensions about emergent firms or feel that an internship at a larger organization would better further their career goals needn’t necessarily shut their doors on startups, as companies such as Flipkart, Snapdeal and MuSigma may well offer much the same workplace environment as well-established organizations. Of the list of unicorns—private companies valued at over $ 1 billion— published by CB Insights, a market intelligence platform, seven companies are headquartered in India.

“Delhivery’s past the stage of the smaller startups that we see on campus and as one of the largest contenders in its sector, I didn’t think of the internship as a tradeoff between interning in a startup versus at a big corporate firm. I got to work on several projects as well as experience the environment at a startup,” said Abhimanyu Dubey, a senior undergraduate whose internship with Delhivery involved project management and working on logistics supply chains.

Delhivery is an e-commerce logistics company valued at roughly Rs 4500 crore, according to a Times of India report dated December 2015.

A greater degree of temporal flexibility and the lack of a straitjacketed method of working is also characteristic of several ventures. “My work was pretty open ended and I could execute my own ideas quite easily as I had a free reign”, said Kanha.

Startups could also be more amenable to virtual participation or working for shorter durations of time, allowing students to intern during semesters or in the winter break, which is often deemed too short to undertake any research internships and when opportunities with other firms may be scarce.

Some ventures may permit interns to travel to their offices on a need-only basis. Take-home work could potentially be a boon to students who intend to juggle their internship with other pursuits, averting any possible clashes of schedule.

Where internships during the course of the semester are concerned, fledgling setups based on campus could be expected to be mindful of events such as minors and majors and adjust for surges in academic workload. Subhankar Dash, a sophomore who worked with Zifflr, a campus-grown educational venture, for a month during the last semester said of his experience, “The timings were highly flexible, the deadlines achievable and there weren’t any fixed hours”.

In addition to offering rising sophomores the chance to gain professional experience and enhance their skills early, the prospect of experimenting with different fields and gaining clarity on one’s own interests and possible career choices makes startups a cool place to intern.

Students in their first year seldom know what exactly they want”, opined Saksham Gupta, another second year undergraduate who interned at Fingertips, a startup developing an educational Android application, “I wanted to try out marketing and operations related tasks, which were all a part of the job.” Where skills outside of the technical, engineering and sciences arena are concerned, such experiences may prove more valuable than taking courses online or working on summer projects.

Startups offer yet another perk: exposure to the much sought-after world of entrepreneurship. Students could be lucky enough to work in close conjunction with founding members of the company and learn hands-on about the intricacies and minutiae involved in running a startup. To those enamoured by the glamour of entrepreneurship, being a first-hand witness to the task of building a company from scratch could well serve as the icing on the cake.

Another potential brownie point could be the possibility of joining smaller ventures as a core member as several startups often claim to offer good performers the chance to be promoted to full-time positions.

Just as the scale of the organization, workplace characteristics tend to vary across experiences. Said Rishabh Mahajan, a third year student who worked on digital marketing with VoiceTree Technologies, “The working environment was quite chilled out and there weren’t many formalities; however this can also have its disadvantages: if the team is lethargic or not motivated enough, no work gets done.”

This portrait of a workplace devoid of conventional formalities isn’t necessarily the norm. Himanshu’s experience at SmallDay involved regular standup meetings, work sprints and execution meetings.

So, to intern or not to intern at a startup? Says Himanshu, “As long as you get to learn and grow as an individual, the company really doesn’t matter.”


-By Nayantara Mudur

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