Students Test Entrepreneurial Skills at The Startup Collaborative
Students Test Entrepreneurial Skills at The Startup Collaborative

The Heider College of Business has a history of partnering with startup incubators and accelerators, including support for two of the three founding organizations – Straight Shot and Omaha Startup Collaborative (OSC) - of The Startup Collaborative (TSC), an organization now housed within the the Greater Omaha Chamber’s entrepreneurship and innovation division. Its mission: to radically improve the success rate of startups by accelerating their concept to launch paths through incremental business building work sessions that help founders reach critical milestones and outcomes in their company’s growth, says Erica Wassinger, TSC co-founder with Nathan Preheim.   

“The market determines who moves ahead [through the 15 work sessions], not the concept,” Wassinger explains. “When the market responds favorably to a solution, we reward that startup with tools for growth, be that capital, interns or more.”

That is where the Heider College of Business comes into play. Approximately 25 Heider business students intern for TSC throughout the academic year, significantly improving a startup’s chance of success while simultaneously gaining work experience rich in responsibility.

Students meet with the different startup founders to match their interests and skill sets to the startups’ missions and needs. An interest in the real estate industry led senior economics and business intelligen ce and analytics double major, Kelsey Sunderman, to choose LiveBy, which she describes as a “Match.com for homebuyers searching for the right neighborhood in which to buy a home”.

“The LiveBy team gave me a desk and computer right away, treating me just like another employee,” Sunderman says. “The best part of working at a startup is that everything you do has a direct impact on the company. Startups do not employ a lot of people, so every employee carries a lot of responsibility.”

Taking pride and ownership in her work is one of the draws of working for a startup for senior Emily Okrzesik. In fact, she has had three separate internships with TSC since the summer before her junior year. Currently, she works for Travefy, a budding travel itinerary management software company. A marketing and BIA double major and Spanish minor, Okrzesik has done the marketing for all three of her startups, including guerilla and email marketing, social media, SEO and marketing analytics through Google Analytics, for which she is certified. This summer the Chicago native is helping Travefy tap into the Spanish-speaking market.

Prior to her time with TSC, Okrzesik held more traditional, corporate internships and wanted to expand her work experience with a startup internship. I fell in love with the ‘can do it’ attitudes and work ethic at TSC,” she admits, “and have been working with startups since then.”

Being an entrepreneur is more grit than glamour. You have to be prepared for an unconventional work environment, with wild fluctuations in workloads, long hours, difficulty in establishing traction, rejection and plenty of retooling. Joe Kleven observed this first hand this past spring while interning for Ulytic, a traffic analytics firm. But the junior loved the community of entrepreneurs TSC fosters, the exchange of ideas, and tapping into the “inner hustler” he developed as a cub scout in Edina, Minnesota when he sold popcorn from school dismissal time to dusk. “I love to sell stuff. It’s my element,” he explains, which is why he was perfectly suited for Ulytic’s business development specialist job.

There is an upside to the volatile environment inherent to startups. For Okrzesik, TSC internships have taught her to think on her feet “in ways that traditional classroom learning won’t teach.” In particular, her approach to challenges has evolved: “In semesters past when I could not complete an assignment, I would get incredibly frustrated. Now I find myself having an arsenal of resources and different methods and processes of tackling the project beyond the textbook or the professor.”

Creighton’s physical proximity to The Startup Collaborative, housed on 19th and Harney Street, makes it almost an extension of the campus, and the partnership provides numerous benefits to all parties, Kleven points out. Students have the chance to work for a salary in roles that carry enormous freedom and responsibility, and Heider augments its strong business curriculum with cutting-edge opportunities that keep current with business’ evolving climate. “Whenever we talk [in economics classes] about the use of technology and innovation as the best way to have long term growth in an economy, I think, Yep, I’m doing that,” says Sunderman.

And startups? They gain enthusiastic employees. “Heider business students are as competitive as the day is long,” Wassinger has observed, “and that is the single best trait these early stage startups need to succeed.”