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Incubator investing in talents of student interns
Sunday, February 27, 2011

Intern group

A sample of the more than 40 current student interns gather at the SUNY Fredonia Technology Incubator. The students represent a variety and growing list of majors that are as diverse as the incubator tenant companies.

An internship at the SUNY Fredonia Technology Incubator provides a level of student excitement that is difficult to match.

“It’s an adrenaline rush,” Incubator Director Robert Fritzinger says of the atmosphere that students encounter when working alongside owners of developing technology firms at the incubator.

After all, these are budding entrepreneurs — visionaries advancing ideas for new products or services — who are literally mortgaging their futures for the opportunity to launch their own cutting-edge businesses. More than 40 students have already seized the opportunity to join them at this innovative facility located just minutes from campus and home to 11 firms only one year after its doors officially opened.

“This is the beginning step for these students. They could put themselves in an employment position, depending on the quality of their work and how successful the company becomes,” said Incubator Project Staff Assistant Jennifer Reinhart, a member of SUNY Fredonia’s Class of 2010. “It’s about taking the initiative. Students can network, gain necessary experience, and jump into the real world, including employment.”

Incubator tenant SellingHive, a second-generation social networking site designed to enable sales people and businesses to collaborate and create business opportunities, is hosting 14 interns this semester. The students are divided into four teams that work on web design, market research, graphic design and business communications. SellingHive is helping its interns exchange credit hours for real-world business experience while achieving important work for the company.

Laura Culhane, a senior Visual Arts & New Media major, is a prime example. She won a logo design contest sponsored by SellingHive last semester and is now interning with the company and leading other interns on marketing and graphic design projects.

Likewise, Vincent Rizzo, a senior majoring in Computer Information Systems and Business Management, is the webmaster for SellingHive and also leads a group of interns working on website development. SellingHive has 12 other internship positions, and expects to offer even more as the business grows.

Another large student presence can be found at TexTivia, a tenant which has 13 interns gaining hands-on experience in marketing, public relations, computer science and graphic design. TexTivia offers a free text-to-win game to connect local businesses, charities and fundraisers to people in a fun, interactive way.

Two intern positions are currently available with Dunkirk Bio-Electric in web design and marketing, and there’s a strong potential for more that would offer students multi-dimensional experiences encompassing biology, business and communication. A renewable energy company, Dunkirk Bio-Electric is developing a facility that turns food and other organic waste into electricity, compost and soil products.

Haledyne, another bio-tech startup, is developing air sterilization products for use in hospital settings that can prevent the spread of disease and infection. It is gearing up to compile a comprehensive study of a new lighting system at two health-care facilities – Brooks Memorial Hospital, Dunkirk, and St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center, Syracuse. Beginning in March, many interns will have the opportunity to compile data for this significant study.

These companies are diverse and at the forefront of innovation in such fast-growing areas as clean energy, social media and mobile application development, Fritzinger said.

Not only are students gaining an actual understanding of business operations and organizational management, they’re also witnessing the process of entrepreneurship —how to transform an idea into business development, with all the risks associated with innovative startups.

By virtue of its downtown Dunkirk location, the incubator conveniently links the campus to the outside business world for students. “We want students to spend time at the incubator immersed in challenging, high-octane businesses that complement the educational opportunities on campus,” said Fritzinger. “The incubator is the bridge between both worlds.”

For senior Chris Dean, his incubator internship builds on the one he recently completed at the Rockefeller Arts Center. “The work here is a bit more corporate, a bit more in terms of expanded bookkeeping requirements and more finance, performing the transactions and not just recording them. It is a bit more than I was doing at Rockefeller. I just wanted to expand upon my experiences,” Dean explained.

And that experience could turn into a real benefit for Dean in a highly competitive job market.

“I’d like to think that I bring a different aspect (to a prospective employer) with this experience. My classes are geared to the public accountancy realm, and this is more of the private-sector performance, so now I have an idea of what actually occurs in the companies that I will be consulting,” said Dean, who wants to join a public accounting firm in Western New York after graduation.

Working with these startups, not to mention the relatively new incubator itself, is also giving Dean entrepreneurial experience that may help him stand out during an interview.

He was encouraged to pursue the internship by Dr. Linda Hall, his tax professor, and he subsequently impressed Fritzinger. “I had quite a long interview, an hour-and-a-half. It went really well.”

Another intern assigned to the incubator, Jesse Sherwood, a 2008 SUNY Fredonia graduate now pursuing a master’s degree in English, has significantly advanced the incubator’s website, printed materials and presentations during his tenure. He’s quickly proven to be a valuable member of the incubator team, displaying a strong work ethic and creativity while working collaboratively with tenants.

Dean and Sherwood are gaining expertise in areas they could have never anticipated when they joined the incubator. “You end up learning skills in fields you didn’t expect,” attests Reinhart. “That’s the diverse nature and excitement of this environment. You have to handle things that you’re not prepared to. That’s real life.”

Fritzinger, whose association with multiple high-technology businesses spans the last 20 years, is uniformly impressed with the talent displayed by interns. Not only are their educational and skill backgrounds exceptional, he notes, they’re also “high-character” people brimming with lots of energy and passion.

“The people in the incubator are clearly a sample of what’s happening on campus in general. We turn out a quality product,” Fritzinger said. “There’s a reason why we’re ranked as high as we are.”

All interns will share in the heritage of the incubator, Reinhart said. “Whatever career path students take, they will carry the reputation and the legacy that the incubator is establishing here, and they were here at the beginning.”


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