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Intern opportunities: InternGF drawing interest from startups, other employers

Interns of the world, unite. A recently launched joint venture between UND and a local economic development group is well on its way to creating as many as 15 new internships this year in the Grand Forks area, according to the initiative's point ...

iStock.com/fizkes
iStock.com/fizkes

Interns of the world, unite.

A recently launched joint venture between UND and a local economic development group is well on its way to creating as many as 15 new internships this year in the Grand Forks area, according to the initiative's point person.

Becca Cruger, strategic initiatives coordinator with the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., has overseen development of the program, dubbed InternGF, since its Jan. 25 launch. Cruger said she's fielded a "surge of interest" from local employers, mostly startups and young companies in their early stages, now looking to hire on student staff.

The response, she says, plus the underlying demand for more internship opportunities in the region, could be a valuable asset in retaining young talent from UND in the local economy.

"People who have internships in this area are more likely to stay in the area after graduating, because it builds those community connections," Cruger said.

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UND is providing $35,000 in seed funding with plans to cover half the costs of hiring on the interns, or up to $3,500 each. Keith Lund, EDC president, said at the program's launch event that he hopes InternGF could eventually place as many as 20 interns per year, serving as an aid to local startups while bolstering learning experiences for university students.

The main UND partner is the institution's Center for Innovation, a community hub for entrepreneurship training and services. Barry Horwitz, interim director of the center, said the internship program is attracting interest from businesses that "we maybe hadn't expected-which is a good thing."

Employers need to apply to take part in the program and, at this point, four businesses have been cleared for participation by the InternGF leadership, with three more pending. Cruger said those approved companies will account for six new internships and "run the gamut" from a health software provider to a videographer to a drone piloting firm. On the student end, job postings for the internships appear through career services offered by the university, namely the school's Career Connect portal.

The program is mainly targeting startups, with an eye toward those dealing with new technologies or novel concepts. The philosophy there is that the new businesses might not be able to afford hiring on interns despite needing the help.

UND seed dollars could thus promote local entrepreneurship while placing students in hands-on learning environments that eschew stereotypical intern tasks like fetching lunch or making copies. Beyond funding the interns themselves, Cruger said the program also serves as a kind of "concierge" for the fledgling business partners.

That means walking them as necessary through procedures for hiring and setting up payroll for new employees, processes that might be foreign to a firm in its early stages.

Horwitz said the initiative is well in line with the goals of the Center for Innovation, which was founded as a means of fostering entrepreneurship in North Dakota. The intern program, he added, is one additional means of leveraging university resources to make an impact beyond campus. Though the internships, like most jobs, are targeted to specific roles and require skillsets to match, Horwitz said the Center is looking to provide opportunities open to all students-not just those focused on business.

"Innovation can happen in any of the programs," he said, "liberal arts, engineering, aerospace-entrepreneurship isn't just limited to business school, so we're trying to broaden that reach as well."

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