It seems like a lot of us college kids experience a pretty similar feeling come end of Junior year. We stop wondering what we are going to do after college, and begin really focusing in on it.
While I was finishing up my spring semester this year, I had just completed my Consulting Capstone course and I was feeling a bit inspired by it (Consulting Capstone). I only had two semesters left in college. I had friends who were graduating and landing jobs in their desired field, and other friends who seemed like they were always involved in something. So, I set out to earn as much experience as I could during the summer.
As the semester ends, a lot of the internship opportunities are open up. Naturally, once the Spring semester was ending, I decided to start applying for what felt like every internship opportunity out there. I stopped looking for internships that were strictly working for directly for a sports organization, and challenged myself to apply for a few for sport-affiliated companies.
While I was submitting dozens of applications to different companies and organizations, I landed a few extra opportunities from school. I began my work with the Sports Innovation Institute(SII) at IUPUI, as an undergrad researcher. My first project utilized the design thinking method to identify potential software and improvements that IUPUI Athletics should implement, in an effort to boost in-game attendance and overall fan engagement through their promotional efforts.
By the time summer started I had lined up a full summers worth of work. While working with SII, IMS, and Jazz Fest, I continued my previous role working Game Ops with Indy Eleven, our local USL team, for the season.
Shortly after seeking out these new opportunities, I got accepted as an Events Department Intern for the Indianapolis Colts, where I got to work events, training camp, and game days (pictured right, is the Lucas Oil Stadium at 6am during setup for our first game of the season.)
Soon after, I began at a startup company called SponsorUnited, where I worked as a Sports Sponsorship Scout identifying, analyzing and recording in-house, as well as digital, sponsorship.
Finally, I ended up landing a full-time internship at a place called Techstars. Techstars is an accelerator program, run worldwide for startup companies in dozens of industries, but this would be the first ever Techstars Sports Accelerator. And, they chose to start it here in Indianapolis.
Once I landed my internship, I researched Techstars Indy and read anything that I could find online about it. I found out a guy named Jordan Fliegel would be the MD, so I googled him. I learned about his past work, and what he was currently up to with CoachUp and Techstars. Plus, I found out he wrote a book called Coaching Up (which I then bought online and read in 2 days — you’re welcome Jordan).
A few days later, we met Jordan at his house for an orientation/rooftop cookout (this was my first clue that I was going to really enjoy this summer). During orientation, Jordan and Andrew (Techstars Indy Program Manager) ran us through what we should be expecting and what was expected of us this summer.
I remember Jordan saying two very important things:
- “I am telling you guys this, sincerely. If you want to work in business, this is where you want to be. It is like an accelerated MBA program as an intern. I went and got my MBA, and this summer is going to teach you more than any MBA will, if you just make the most of it.”
- “This is Champ, my dog, and there is BBQ Chicken Pizza in the kitchen, so please help yourself.”
Joking aside, Jordan was right and I knew it. This summer was going to be what I would make of it. I had interned other places before, and I knew what I wanted to work on and how to be an asset. I listened to every word he said, asked questions where I needed more information, and took notes to help myself be successful.
Before I knew it, I was spending days surrounded by Founders, CEO’s, & other high-level executives of million-dollar, even billion-dollar companies. I was listening to founder-stories that were intended to share some wisdom and inspiration with the current Techstars companies, along with multiple workshops about best practices in a variety of topics for startups.
To put it into context, my first job was working roofing for my neighbor. Shortly after, I started working at a Dairy Queen, and once I graduated high school, I left and became a sales associate at TJ Maxx. These were humble beginnings that never led me to believe that I would be working alongside such incredible minds. Throughout college, I was lucky enough to earn opportunities with multiple sports organizations around the city, and even so, none of these experiences taught me what Techstars taught me, or put me around the network that Techstars did in just three short months.
While at Techstars, I learned a multitude of different things from a vast amount of people, in a very short period of time. Within this time, I picked up a lot skills and knowledge that I did not have prior. However, instead of boasting about the things I am able to do now because of Techstars (trust me, I will save those for my resume), I thought that sharing three key takeaways from my experience would be more beneficial, and just inherently more interesting.
- Be Bold
When I began the Techstars program, two of the guys I was working with were taking each intern out for a monthly coffee and were asking us questions about how we were doing, how the program was going, etc. We talked for a while and they eventually challenged me to set a goal for myself for the duration of the program. I came to the decision that I wanted meet with at least three different people, from different companies, outside of work each month.
One day, I went out with another intern and Co-Founder of WePlayed, Rob Ciampa. Rob is an entrepreneur/author/business speaker/pizza connoisseur (basically anything you can think of). The man is full of knowledge and one of the most sincere people I met. As we walked around the city of Indianapolis, Rob talked to us about his business journey, touched on his personal life a bit, delved into what made me and my fellow intern tick, and what ultimately brought us to Techstars.
Rob asked me what my personal brand was to which I had a bit of confusion. I wasn’t sure that I had ever really identified my brand down to one sentence. After talking to Rob for a while, he challenged me to be bold. In that moment, I wasn’t sure what exactly he meant, because I liked to think I was bold. After much consideration, I realized that Rob was telling me to put myself out there and to take a risk. (An entrepreneur advising risk. Imagine that.) He told me to go create my own brand and to create a domain to go with it. “You can always go make changes, but you have to put yourself out there first. Spend five minutes on yourself and go be bold.” he said. From that point forward, not only in the internship, but in life, I made an effort to put myself out there and to spend the extra five minutes on myself. To be bold.
- Be Smart
There is a tendency with our society, and probably more so our generation in particular, to get distracted by things too easily. We spend too much time looking at social media, playing games, or binge-watching our favorite series on one of our handful of streaming platforms. We are over-saturated with options that hinder our work flow.
When I experience this, I like to take a second to calmly think about where I want to be five to ten years from now, and then ask myself if what I am currently doing, is getting me closer to that goal. Then, based on my answer, I respond accordingly.
Out of the dozens of Founders and CEO’s I worked with or met, the most successful ones have surrounded themselves with like-minded people, in the sense that they are all disciplined. Scott Dorsey, the Co-founder of Exact Target, talked about the importance of Level 5 Leadership from Jim Collins’ Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. In the book, Collins talks about ensuring that you “get the right people on the bus, get the wrong people off, then take the bus where you want. First who, then what.” If you surround yourself with a group of smart, driven people, who all have a common goal in mind, you will survive any shifts or pivot that may come your way.
3. Build Relationships
This one seems obvious, yet it still seems to be taken for granted the most. As a young professional, it is probably the most important part of starting your work in almost any industry. I learned early on, that finding a mentor is a very essential aspect of growing. I have been lucky enough to find multiple people who have taken interest in me and help me succeed, but it wasn’t by happen-stance. You have to be willing to take the first two steps to really flourish in this part. You have to be bold enough to go talk to the person who you think could really help you grow, but you also need to be smart enough to know which like-minded people are going to help you stay disciplined.
Techstars was the perfect example of how networking is essential. Techstars entire program revolves around this. Ten different companies coming together to push their companies to the next level, by collaborating with one another, meeting with dozens of mentors, who gave their insights on our company and how they might be able to help, and a social network of former/current Techstars members to reach out to. It was this “give first” mentality that really drove a lot of the progress in Techstars, and it inspired me to try and exude that same mentality within my own professional and personal life.
As I am finishing up my last semester of college, I feel more prepared than ever. I know that I still have a lot to learn, and that is what I am gearing-up for each and every day. I know that as long as I keep a growth mindset, I will continue to grow and influence others along the way. So, be bold. Be smart. And build those relationships.