While startups are any type of entrepreneurial venture with a limited operating history, most people associate startups with being technology-based and having a high level of outside investment. They represent a possibility of tremendous pay-oﬀ, but many startups falter before creating much wealth for its employees. Despite the risks, startups present an attractive opportunity to build skills, cultivate networks, and possibly become wealthy. Many entrepreneurs will tell you that networking is the key to uncovering opportunities at start up organizations. Working as an intern is the best way to get a foot in the door. Identify startup organizations that you would like to work for and reach out to them for an informational interview to help identify internship or job opportunities.
Startup Job Search
Startups hire on an as-needed basis, meaning they are looking for interns and full time hires to ﬁll positions that begin immediately. This means you’ll be actively applying to positions that are posted 6-8 weeks prior to your projected start date. Keep in mind, however, that many startups do not post open positions. This is because they are often short staﬀed and like to hire by word of mouth or referral. Networking within the startup community is absolutely essential, as this is often the best route to ﬁnd “hidden” positions. There are many resources at Columbia, and outside of Columbia (see below) that can help introduce you to people in the ﬁeld, but do not be afraid of reaching out to introduce yourself and inquire about opportunities or request a networking meeting with a company you admire. Generally, employers are looking for people who are committed to the company’s mission, able to work in small teams, able to take on many diﬀerent roles, and a have a willingness to work hard toward helping the company achieve its goals. Often, early stage startups require individuals with technical expertise to build a product or service, as well as ﬁnance/business development/sales professionals to help secure funding and clients/users. Other business positions, like those in human resources, for instance, will be added as the company grows.
Beneﬁts of working for a startup
Career development: Working for a startup is a challenging, ground-ﬂoor opportunity that can lead to extraordinary career growth. It provides hands-on experience with a variety of tasks, allows you to work on projects that directly impact the success of the organization, and gives an insider’s view into the inner-workings of a company. It allows you to build up a strong connection with not only the owners of the startup but also with the customers, vendors and friends related to the organization as well — which can beneﬁt your career in the long run.
Building skills: Working for a startup provides an opportunity to work outside your comfort zone to expand your range of skills. Technical skills will be challenged and improved, and you will also be able to enhance soft skills such as communication and time management. Additional skills include research, interpersonal, social media, presentation and analytical skills.
Ownership and inﬂuence: In a small-company atmosphere, individual contributors are highly prized and high levels of responsibility provide a sense of ownership. Ownership, in turn, encourages you to do your best work. You will also have more inﬂuence on key decisions and will have an opportunity to voice your opinion. Working on a small team, often directly with the CEO or founder, allows you to be an integral part of the organization and make strong connections with your co-workers and superiors.
Meaningful work: Oftentimes, startups are built around a strong purpose and bring like-minded individuals together on a team. Having a meaning or vision behind your work is a strong driving force that will help to bring enthusiasm and passion to the team.
Atmosphere: Startup teams need to work cohesively together and have a strong bond, which promotes camaraderie and teamwork. The atmosphere of a startup, while hectic, is often more casual and less conservative than traditional companies and can simply be a more fun environment.
Future success: If the startup company oﬀers incentives such as proﬁt-sharing, partnerships or stock options, you might make a lot of money in just a few years. Working for a startup could be attractive to future employers and will also give you the skills to start your own company.
Drawbacks to working for a startup
Job security: The major disadvantage of working for a startup is lack of job security. If the company goes under, is short on funds or overestimates its growth, you may lose your job (potentially without severance).
Hours and workload: While wearing several hats is an advantage in terms of skill-building, it requires long hours, heavy workloads and a fast-paced work style. The lifestyle may not be for everyone as the nature of startups is “24/7,” meaning you may be on call at all times and will work odd hours. You will also be called upon to deal with urgent matters frequently.
Pay and beneﬁts: Perks, beneﬁts, salaries, and raises may be limited. The company may oﬀer “sweat equity,” which will only pay oﬀ if the company is proﬁtable, and may take years at that.
Organizational changes: If the company grows, merges or makes acquisitions, the atmosphere of the company may change completely. You may then have less inﬂuence and become more anonymous, and your responsibilities will shift. The desirable, small-company, everybody-counts atmosphere will probably fade as the company grows, merges and makes acquisitions.
Starting a Business
What does it mean to be an entrepreneur? Very simply, an entrepreneur is someone who sees an opportunity to ﬁll a need and takes the initiative to ﬁll it. Entrepreneurs are often associated with a business or for-proﬁt examples like that of Pierre Omidyar, founder of Ebay, who recognized the need for people to buy and sell an inﬁnite number of items in an online marketplace. Entrepreneurship, however, has a broader reach than for-proﬁt ventures as entrepreneurs are also those who recognize and seek to ﬁll a social need. One example is Steve Mariotti, a former business entrepreneur and public school teacher who started a foundation to teach entrepreneurial concepts to low-income youth. Regardless of the particular venture, the ability to innovate, to handle risk and uncertainty, and to work independently are key characteristics of successful entrepreneurs.
Many entrepreneurs start their ﬁrst ventures as students, as a sideline to explore an interest or idea. Columbia oﬀers a vibrant entrepreneurship community and support for students who seek to start their own venture. Check out the Columbia Resources section below for more information.
Center For Career Education Resources
- The CCE Startup Career Fair, held in the Spring semester, is focused on connecting startup ﬁrms, primarily from the NYC area, with entrepreneurially minded students at Columbia. Numerous industries are represented including technology, sustainability, media and more.
- The Startup Internship Program oﬀers Spring semester internships at New York City startups in a range of ﬁelds and job functions.
- Columbia Women’s Business Society
- Columbia-China Law and Business Association (CCLBA)
- Multicultural Business Association (MBA)
- Columbia Organization for Rising Entrepreneurs (CORE)
Additional Columbia Resources
- Columbia Entrepreneurship: Mission is to help Columbia’s students, faculty and alumni launch Columbia-born ventures. Its website is a central location for entrepreneurship-centric resources at Columbia.
- Columbia Venture Competition: An annual competition put on by the Columbia engineering school giving a total of $25,000 in prize money for startup business plans.
- Columbia Entrepreneurship Curriculum: Curriculum provided by the Engineering school for students to get a concentration in entrepreneurship.
- Columbia Technology Ventures: Facilitates the transfer of inventions from academic research to outside organizations for the beneﬁt of society on a local, national and global basis.
- Columbia Entrepreneur Alumni Network: Program designed to pair students with alumni mentors who have experience in startups and entrepreneurship.
- Columbia-Harlem Small Business Development Center: A free service provided by the New York Small Business Development Center to help new businesses create business plans, marketing strategies, and comply with licensing and regulations.
- Columbia Business School Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center: Provides a list of websites, publications, and other resources that provide helpful information and assistance to startups and small businesses in the New York area.
- hackNY: Co-organized by faculty from NYU and Columbia, hackNY organizes the summer Fellows program and student ‘hackathons’ during the year to create a community of student-technologists.
- Res Inc: Short for Residential Incubator, it is a living and learning opportunity open to students who are interested in living alongside like-minded entrepreneurs in a hands-on, ideas-rich environment.
Startups and Entrepreneurship
General & Job Search Resources
- Angel List: AngelList is a platform for startups, and includes a job board.
- Built In NYC: Online community for those interested in NY startups and tech companies.
- Inside Startups: A website and email newsletter with job and internship listings as well as events, career fairs and conferences.
- InSITE: Brings together a select group of graduate students with New York area start-ups and leading NYC venture capitalists to enable them to contribute to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in NYC through a mentoring and development program.
- Venture Well (National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance): Association of colleges and universities that support technology innovation and entrepreneurship in higher education to create experiential learning opportunities for students, and successful, socially beneﬁcial businesses. Oﬀers grants, competitions, courses, and networking opportunities
- NYCEDC: An ecosystem to develop entrepreneurs across industries and stages of business with access to information, training, and innovative competitions.
- Start Upers: A nationwide startup job listing directory.
- VentureLoop: Job postings focused on venture-backed companies.
- Venture for America: A national non-proﬁt modeled oﬀ Teach for America giving recent college graduates a two-year fellowship to work for early-stage startups nationwide. Venture For America also will award seed fund for fellows to create start ups after the two-year fellowship.
- Digital NYC: An economic development initiative that supports the city’s vibrant tech community by highlighting job opportunities in the sector, celebrating the growing number of NYC-based digital companies, and providing access to resources and programs.
Resources for Social Entrepreneurs
- Ashoka: A global organization that identiﬁes and invests in leading social entrepreneurs
- Center for Social Innovation: Coworking space, community, and launchpad for people who are changing the world
- B Corp: A global movement of entrepreneurs using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems