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An EIR on Campus

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Last weekend, I went back to Wesleyan, my alma mater, to talk to undergrads interested in startups about internships in New York this summer. These meetings were part of a new initiative from Digital Wesleyan, a group represented by Jim Friedlich, Jake Levine and myself, to fund 10-week internships for Wes undergrads at startups. We've noticed a supply-demand paradox that would benefit from an entity funding, matching and placing students at companies. Interns are smart and eager but not all can afford to work for free; startups are in constant need of body and mind power but few have cash to spare even for 10 weeks of genius. So, if we can find a way to cover the cost of living for a few interns and place them well, everyone stands to benefit, short- and long-term.

We've been thrilled by the response from students and companies alike and hope that the program blossoms in coming years. Yet, there's another, more systemic reason we felt compelled to seek funding for NYC-based internships: our campus didn't know about startups.

As two graduates who happened into entrepreneurship and are now immersed, Jake and I experienced the lack graduating startup knowledge first-hand and continue to see it in current undergrads from many schools. Graduates are not presented startup as a career-path of record or opportunity. Traditional industries still pull the best and brightest because they're known. Career Resources Centers at schools have specialized employees for these fields: law advisors, finance advisors, science advisors, healthcare advisors, and non-profit advisors. Whither the startup advisor?

Enter: The University Entrepreneur in Residence who would represent startups and be an expert in industry trends, alumni introductions and strategy for working as an entrepreneur. In amplifying the liberal arts mission -- to have an impact, to go out and change the world -- schools need to show their students the field of entrepreneurship, where immediate, essential impact trumps all others. Students want it and the schools want them to want it, so brand it and promote it through an EIR. Opening the gates to a larger and younger talent pool with more awareness does nothing to dilute the startup mystique or lessen the profound passion required to succeed. If anything, this role would touch toe to water for students who I'd bet can already swim, the plunge is up to their vision, intellect, and ambition.