Interning with startups should be made compulsory for B-Schoolers. Period. There are a number of reasons why I believe that this would be a radical, mutually beneficial exercise for startups as well as B-School students.
Startups, as we all know, never have streamlined processes (barring a few which have expert-led teams and are heavily funded from the onset, either through their own savings or the VC route). Such erratic processes and operations, when built from scratch tell people what their respective strengths are. I for one, am one of those chaps who thought and made a hypothesis that client facing is my strength, while it now turns out that I am better at managing processes and making sure project deadlines do not go out of hand, when the team is working on it. Client facing is now done by my partner who once used to think that operations is his stronger part.
How does this make sense for a B-Schooler? Simply because most of the students there are unaware of their strengths (save the ones who have a sizeable work-experience to back them because they are a little more aware of their respective strong points). Getting into a startup will help them assess the verticals where they are super stars, because as stated earlier, startups do not have fixed processes and people work on all things at all times.
Imagine a scenario where an intern is running around doing multiple things. One day he is facing a consumer, the other day he is with a client understanding his requirements and communicating it to a team and the third day he is mapping the project outline along with other employees. 2 months of such an internship makes him come out a more aware personality, with clear (if not precise) understanding of where he can excel at. He then either stays with the startup after his studies get over, or targets a similar profile in other bigger, more envious firms.
Simply put, most of the people out there are unaware of their core competencies and that leads to a major misfit with the kind of profile students get into after their placements. There is a popular notion that exists at campuses about certain profiles being glamorous ( Marketing with Lever, Investment Banking anyone?) and then you have the vicious cycle of the herd mentality working overtime. This might have served campuses and students well, but unless we try out newer patterns, we would never know where we are better at.
This might sound very fanciful, but this has happened to me and I guess most of the other startuppers I know. This is a win-win situation where startups get talented folks to work as interns and as interns, students know the exact vertical they want to be headed to. Quite simply, there is nothing else than interning with a startup to understand this.
The benchmark can be setup by a Premier B School (as it is a radical idea, the B and C tier B Schools would scoff at the idea and probably the students there would too). I am not saying that the conventional idea of internships should be replaced but we can just add a separate internship structure in probably the 4th semester (for a tri-semester structure), after students are done with their main internship. This would help them to compare the two internships and weigh for themselves which one made them a more aware person in terms of their capabilities. If this model becomes successful, this can be blanketed across other Premier Schools to understand whether this is a model which works universally or not.
I know that there are some entrepreneurial programs where students do this and trust me, whenever I have interacted with those students, they seem more sure about themselves than a guy from a conventional program with a set pattern.
What has been your observation?
[About the author: Bhavya Sahni is currently conceptualizing a niche apparel line. He also works on Digital Marketing in sectors like Travel.]