Startup scores on STEM intern program, SciTechsperience
When the co-founders of tech startup Mobile Composer contemplated having summer interns, they didn’t want college students in cubicles doing busywork. CEO Loren Horsager and Chief Marketing Officer Catherine Gillis had bigger ideas.
“We decided to create an actual product the interns could work on,” says Gillis. “We had architected the dashboard for our analytics panel, and it needed to get built out.”
The dashboard is for Orchestrate, a mobile platform for marketing and sales teams. Functions include the ability to project multiple story paths and embedded calculators that enable number-crunching on the fly.
Gillis and Horsager turned to a state-funded internship program, SciTechsperience. Administered by the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA), SciTechsperience’s mission is to build Minnesota’s STEM workforce by connecting students with small science, technology, engineering and manufacturing companies that need skilled workers. This year, SciTechsperience will place about 270 interns.
“As a startup company, it’s a challenge to identify and hire great talent to support our growth,” says Gillis. “SciTechsperience recruits from college campuses and job fairs, so it’s a valuable resource in helping us reach the next generation of software developers.”
SciTechsperience offers businesses a 50% wage reimbursement of up to $2,500 in matching funds for each STEM intern, making the prospect of hiring interns more affordable for small businesses. Metro area companies must have fewer than 150 employees worldwide (Greater MN: 250 or fewer). Companies make the hiring decision.
The job posted by Mobile Composer on the SciTechsperience site told about the project and the need for four interns to work as a team. They ended up interviewing 25 candidates.
“We were very careful,” says Gillis. “We hired both for skillset and for mindset.”Horsager and Gillis selected four interns with quite different backgrounds. Carlos Lopez is a former carpenter who attended Minneapolis Community Technical College. Kyle Blackburn is a Marine Corps veteran who served in Afghanistan and is at Anoka Technical College. Kameren Lymon is a computer science major at the University of St. Thomas.
Finally, David Munkvold is a double major in computer science and neuroscience at Macalester College.
The team completed the dashboard in ten weeks, a pleasant surprise to all. Each Monday Horsager explained the week’s goals. The four would split up to work on their own coding challenges. At a team lunch on Fridays they shared their accomplishments and challenges.
By Labor Day, Mobile Composer hired three of them. Lopez was hired full time, and Blackburn and Lymon work part-time while they finish school. They learned things that are not available in any classroom:
Munkvold: “The process of learning from scratch with a team really empowered me; I feel less intimidated by new technologies.”
Blackburn: “I went in with a basic knowledge of HTML/CSS and have come out with a tool set that puts me far above my peers.”
Lymon: “The greatest benefit is gaining the skills to learn quickly and pick up new technologies easier. It’s a confidence-booster.”
Lopez: “It is very eye-opening to get in on the ground level and see how this industry works. I also got word that I’ll oversee the next batch of interns to roll through next summer.”
“SciTechsperience’s database of potential candidates and the matching grant makes the process easy and affordable for us. We intend to participate in the program again in 2017 and would recommend it to any small business interested in growing its technology workforce,” says Gillis.
Leadership: Loren Horsager, CEO, co-founder; Catherine Gillis, CMO, co-founder
Description: Produces Orchestrate, a mobile platform for salespeople
Leadership: Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Pres/CEO of MHTA; Becky Siekmeier, program director; Jonah Anders Kaplan, assistant program manager
Description: A state-funded program administered by MHTA to build and retain Minnesota’s STEM workforce