George Haines is an educator who believes that school shouldn't be just about preparing students for real life—it should be real life. As the technology teacher at Sts. Philip and James School in St. James, New York, he decided to immerse his 12- and 13-year-old students in real life entreprenurial internships. In between lessons on podcasting and creating a joint wiki with students in Australia, about 15 kids will have a chance to complete a single day micro-internship with companies TechStars and Yodle, both in the New York City area.
The internship program is still getting off the ground, but TechStars, a Colorado-based start-up incubator with a new branch in New York City will be the first to play host to about 10 students on February 24th. Yodle, an online advertising company for small businesses, is scheduled to invite the next group of seventh and eighth graders on April 26th. Inc.'s Lauren Cannon spoke with Haines about why he started the micro-internship program, what he thinks the kids and companies will get out of it, and how he hopes that his program will inspire other companies to consider offering internships to children way before they're in college.
How did you come up with the idea for offering internships for your seventh and eight graders?
There was some educator that I read at some point who said that school shouldn't be just about preparing students for real life. It should be real life to some degree. When you hear about some of these entrepreneurs out in the world that do amazing things at 17, at 16, these high school students that are having million dollar businesses bought up, I thought, 'why can't some of my students be in that category?'
What do these micro-internships involve?
It's still a work in progress, but micro-internships are single day, full-emersion one-on-one experiences with prominent tech companies where the kids would be able to shadow executives and start-up teams in their intimate working environments. They'll get to see everything from product development to the sales process.
For this round with TechStars, each kid is going to be partnered with one of the start-ups that's being incubated and become an honorary member of their team for the day. I'm going in there with a plan to have the kids learn as much as they can. I spoke to David Cohen, one of the co-founders of TechStars, and he said they would try and find some specific tasks for the kids to do. What I'm hoping is that they might be able to beta test a feature of some software that's being built and give feedback and perspective on it. The goal is to have the students observe and absorb as much as they can from these people. They'll be tweeting about their experiences at twitter.com/MicroInterns.
How did you get TechStars and Yodle interested?
I reached out to tech Meetup groups in the New York City area and sent out letters of interest to the e-mail lists of start-up groups. I personally contacted David Cohen, co-founder and CEO of TechStars, after reading a blog he posted about an experience he'd had with some middle school kids exploring entrepreneurship and how important he thought it was. It blew his mind how innovative and intelligent some of the kids were. He'd never realized how good it could be to connect with kids, so he was all for it. And Yodle, they were interested as well for the same reasons. They wanted to give something back and I guess they figured it would be good PR for them, a good way to get kids interested, and to get people to know what they do.
What was the selection process for the students who were chosen to participate in the program?
I supplied students with an application with questions that tested their entrepreneurial knowledge. I wanted them to get familiar with terms like venture capitalism and angel investing. [I wanted them to have] some basic vocabulary and do some research so they will understand what's happening.
What do you hope your students will get out of this opportunity?
If they can make some connections and learn some things from these micro-internships, maybe they can start their own businesses as opposed to being interns for somebody else later in life. In my view, it's great to learn from people, it's great to shadow people, but it's not always realistic to take six months of your life just to be a gopher who's not really learning anything or getting paid. So, that's part of the reason I want to do this, to get them in front of people that can help them learn entrepreneurial skill early that they can take and expand on.
Do you see these micro-internships expanding into full summer internships or something more?
I always like to think about scaling up whenever possible, and logistically it's not always easy to do. Maybe we can get some of these companies who are New York start-ups to say, "hey, you know what? It was great working with you today. How would you feel about learning some back-end code over the summer and maybe joining our team as an intern in the fall?" I'm always open to that and what possibilities can come from those connections.