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Specialist program preps tomorrow’s business leaders

Want to hear from other Specialists about their experience? Discover how Launch Tennessee’s Specialist Program gave college students a valuable window into entrepreneurship.

Launch Tennessee is accepting applications until Feb. 20 for the next Specialists cohort, a 13-week paid summer internship that pairs university students with Entrepreneur Centers and startups, to teach students how the entrepreneurial ecosystem really works.

Since 2014, 81 students have participated in Launch Tennessee’s Specialist program. Participants say it offered insight into operational startup issues they wouldn’t have gained elsewhere.

“I was attracted to the internship by an announcement in my engineering entrepreneurship class at the University of Tennessee,” said 2014 Specialist Jordan Mykleby, who was part of the 2014 inaugural class and worked at the ZeroTo510 medical device accelerator in Memphis before returning for a second stint in 2015. “I was just starting to dip my toes into entrepreneurship, so what excited me most was getting to work alongside multiple startup teams at once and learn from their successes and failures. Also, learning all facets of a startup was invaluable experience.”

Mykleby said a major lesson he learned was how to build a product geared towards the needs of the end user by leveraging customer discovery and product-market fit to validate the product idea.

“I learned to break down the phrase ‘if you build it, then they will come’ in terms of entrepreneurship,” he said. “Instead of building a product for them and hoping they come, build a product with them and know they will come. The Specialist Program was unique because it allowed me to connect with mentors across the state, work hands-on with startups and entrepreneurs, and have the chance to complete bigger responsibilities than a traditional internship.”

After two years as a Specialist, Mykleby become the Director of Engineering at Lineus Medical, a startup in ZeroTo510, in 2015. Since he joined, the company raised seed money to finalize the development of its flagship product, the SafeBreak I.V., and move into production upon a 2017 FDA 510(k) clearance.

Specialist Claire Coulter applied while attending Rhodes College, where she was involved in the school’s newly founded Entrepreneurship Club. Like Mykleby, she parlayed her program work into a full-time positon.

“I worked on organizing events and email campaigns and then stayed on that fall to take over social media too,” Coulter said. “That spring I was offered and accepted the position as Program Coordinator at Start Co. and worked there for about a year. Then I began working for a startup, Preteckt, that went through the Start Co. accelerator in 2014. I began by learning how to build their hardware and have recently transitioned into Lead UI Developer, spending most of my time working on our customer dashboards.”

The Specialist Program gave her the opportunity to manage tasks without detailed instructions and guidelines, compared to other internships with specific parameters.

“With the Specialist Program I was challenged in a way I had never been before,” she said.

The ability to build relationships and networks, and also to learn in a hands-on way, was also important to Specialist Campbell Markham.

“I was a Specialist the summer after my junior year of college, so the job search was quickly approaching,” she said. “Being from Nashville, I knew I wanted to be back there after graduation if the opportunity presented itself. Through the Specialist program, I got the opportunity to work with a lot of people inside and outside of Launch Tennessee, as well as attend Specialist-specific events with speakers just for us to learn more about Tennessee entrepreneurship.”

The program helped her hone her job-search focus as well.

“I learned that I wanted to work with a smaller team,” Markham said. “I’ve done the big corporate internship before and learned a lot, but going into Launch Tennessee everyday didn’t seem like work. Because of the close-knit team and the camaraderie, work was fun, and because of that, it was more productive.”

Markham took a position as content director for Apto, a Nashville startup, which was a career move she wouldn’t have imagined before her time as a Specialist.

“This internship changed my perspective, in a way that can’t be taught in a classroom,” she said. “I worked on real projects, not just ‘intern’ projects. Because of that, I had to meet real expectations and was held to a standard. Plus, it taught me how important company culture is to me: It’s not something that can be taught or forced, and it isn’t industry-specific. Anyone can do it, but if it’s not at the forefront of everyone’s mind, it’s the first ball to be dropped.”

“Launch Tennessee spends a ton of time and effort on this program, and it definitely doesn’t go unnoticed,” she continues. “The team’s intentionality makes it the rock-star program that it is, and it doesn’t stop on your last day as a Specialist. Launch Tennessee is the only internship team that I continue to have lasting relationships with, even though I’m not there anymore. This is a perk of working with a team that is small, wants you there and believes in you.”

To learn more about Specialists and to apply by Feb. 20, visit Launch Tennessee’s Specialist overview.

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