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Students + Startups internship program integrates Trinity students into San Antonio’s entrepreneurship culture

When a member of the United States Armed Forces receives orders to relocate to a new duty location, that move is called a permanent change of station, or a PCS. For many, moving to a new base, state, or country can be a stressful time filled with all of the traditional hassles of packing up belongings and furniture.

Cue MilTribe, a community-driven marketplace for the U.S. military and their families. The San Antonio startup connects members to shop, buy, and sell goods and services within a trusted network of military families. Bintee Karia ’17, a Trinity economics and math/finance major, served as a summer 2016 intern at MilTribe through the Students + Startups internship program. The experience was an introduction to the needs of the American military community and a deep dive into the startup world.

“My job was to look at data, like age and spending habits, for all kinds of military people,” Karia says. “I did demographic research to show companies how much business we could bring them and why they should offer discounts to MilTribe members.”

Karia was one of 15 Trinity students who interned at San Antonio technology startups through the Students + Startups internship program. The initiative was organized by Trinity, Geekdom, and the 80/20 Foundation to provide budding small businesses with quality student talent. The pilot program launched in June 2016 and connected Trinity students with 13 different startups. Students interned for 10 weeks, worked 40 hours per week, and earned one academic credit hour.

Like many entrepreneurial endeavors, Students + Startups was conceived in a brainstorming session. Lorenzo Gomez, CEO of the 80/20 Foundation, had recently visited Detroit to observe the Venture for America program, which connects recent college graduates with jobs at startups in cities such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Nashville, and Detroit. Inspired, Gomez met with Luis Martinez, director of Trinity’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Graham Weston, co-founder of Rackspace and Geekdom. The trio talked about the possibility of implementing a similar program in San Antonio to nurture the city’s blossoming startup community.

Energized by the idea’s promise, Gomez, Martinez, and Weston began laying the groundwork for the Students + Startups program. The 80/20 Foundation covers half of the $4,000 stipend received by interns, with participating companies paying the remaining balance. Students are housed and fed on the Trinity campus, just four miles north of Geekdom’s headquarters on East Houston Street. Despite the quick turnaround—applications opened in March—60 students applied and were winnowed down to the 15 available spots.

Dani Galarza, Devina Kumar, Calvin Usiri, and Philip “Monty” McKeon visit Geekdom to learn about startup culture.


“Here was an opportunity to do three really important things,” Martinez says. “We wanted to provide students with valuable startup experience, provide companies in the city with exciting millennial talent, and help our students understand that what’s happening with the local startup ecosystem in San Antonio shows that the city is ripe for opportunity.”

Joining An Ecosystem

With the arrival of businesses such as Codeup, Grok Interactive, EasyExpunctions, Jungle Disk, SnackDot, Seat Smart, and Google Fiber in recent years, the prospect of a downtown ‘tech district’ has city and tech leaders buzzing. Some proponents believe it has already come and is thriving. Students + Startups is designed to introduce students to San Antonio’s tech “ecosystem” through after-hours lectures, networking events, and coding challenges.

Martinez says an ecosystem is fitting to describe San Antonio’s startup culture because entrepreneurs thrive best when they are working in tandem with one another.

“Healthy ecosystems have really strong segments that are all contributing,” Martinez says. “Trinity has historically been that source of outstanding early-stage talent. Students + Startups is our way to provide that talent to our local ecosystem here in San Antonio.”

Students who participated in the pilot program agree. Forty percent of interns say they are more likely to recommend San Antonio as a place to live and work after partaking in the program.

Bintee Karia, Stephen Chang, and Laura Wilson present their findings at the 2016 summer undergraduate research symposium.


Laura Wilson ’18, an engineering sciences major, says the program got her more involved in San Antonio, especially on a professional level. Wilson was an intern at Grok Interactive, a software company that mainly develops websites and mobile apps. Although she admits her major did not directly translate to the business development and programming work she did at Grok, she says the experience provided “many professional connections.”

“This experience showed me that I could be valuable in any workspace,” Wilson says. “There were no instructions for what I needed to do, so I quickly learned how I could be valuable in a lot of different situations.”

For Wilson, that meant creating a scope of work or site map for potential Grok clients. She would annotate their websites and make note of areas in need of improvement. Then, she would prepare a list of proposed modifications and price out different options. Regularly she sat in on meetings with clients and her boss, CEO Jason Straughn.

The ability to adapt and learn new skills on the fly is required for a Students + Startups intern, says Martinez. Students must be prepared to get out of their comfort zones, to find solutions to problems they have never encountered before, and to be comfortable with ambiguity. Companies encourage students to become the expert and tackle complicated topics on their own. Paramount is the need to constantly communicate, even when that means acknowledging that they do not know how to do something.

“There is a need to communicate and be honest in a startup environment, because even normal mode for startups is going a thousand miles per hour,” Martinez says. “Regardless of the major, Trinity students share the ability to think deeply and critically and to see something from multiple perspectives at one time. That is what makes them ideally suited to work in a startup environment.”


“There is a need to communicate and be honest in a startup environment, because even normal mode for startups is going a thousand miles per hour.”

Learning Through Experience

As Students + Startups builds on its pilot year, the program is looking to be more intentional with the matching process between startups and Trinity students. Startups have expressed interest in choosing their own interns and will ‘sell’ their companies to prospective interns at a pitch night in February. Shortly after, students will attend a “speed dating” style interview night where they will pitch to startups why they should be hired. This idea is the brainchild of Carmen Aramanda, the program coordinator of Trinity’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“One important thing is that if you are going to host an internship, then you have to have a clear and solid vision of what their intern is going to do,” says Erin Hood ’03, internship coordinator for Trinity’s Center for Experiential Learning and Career Success. “After the pitch night, students and startups will each send us their top three choices and we will facilitate interviews.”

Both Hood and Martinez point out that Students + Startups realizes objectives from the Trinity Tomorrow plan. The University’s 10-year strategic plan calls for “strengthened experiential learning opportunities for all students” and “faculty support and development to increase engaged and experiential learning in San Antonio and beyond.” Critical to experiential learning is the ability to reflect on what you are learning, and so that too is built into Students + Startups. Students all completed written reflections that tasked them to consider what they learned from the job responsibilities.

“There is so much research that says you hold on to what you learn more if you process what you are learning while you are learning it,” Hood says. “You are better able to articulate what you have learned and have a more developed sense of your own skillset.”

Another goal for 2017 is a more deliberate effort to facilitate networking between Students + Startups interns and summer interns for Trinity’s Arts, Letters, and Enterprise (ALE) internship program, as well as students conducting academic research on campus. Not only are students exposed to the startup tech culture downtown but also to many amenities that make San Antonio a great place to live long after graduation.

Adriana Rios, a Geekdom program coordinator who organizes Students + Startups with Trinity, says that Geekdom believes in building a pipeline of talent that will grow downtown’s presence.

“We believe that Trinity is full of great talent that can integrate new, young, and fresh minds into San Antonio’s ecosystem,” Rios says. “Short term, we are matching interns to companies in the hope of creating jobs, but long term we are getting people excited about what is happening in downtown San Antonio.”

As Students + Startups grows the program and hopes to increase the number of interns, one aspect remains the same: a desire to give students a worthwhile summer internship experience. The San Antonio ecosystem is strong, ready to grow, and already embracing Tiger talent.

Learn more about Students + Startups on their website at www.studentsstartups.com.

Carlos Anchondo '14 is an oil and gas reporter for E&E News, based in Washington D.C. A communication and international studies major at Trinity, he received his master's degree in journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.

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