Walton Family Foundation Awards $500,000 Grant to U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Emily Scott, a U of A graduate and former participant in the Venture Intern Program, was hired by Fayetteville startup Maker Made after her internship ended. The Venture Intern Program pairs undergraduate students with early-stage ventures, entrepreneurship support organizations, regional accelerator programs and investor networks across Northwest Arkansas for a semester.
The Venture Intern Program, which pairs undergraduate students with early-stage ventures, will be expanded and supported through 2023 thanks to a $518,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation.
Launched in 2019 by the U of A's Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the program has provided more than 60 students exposure to the workings of early-stage ventures and the Northwest Arkansas entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The grant will support 90 student interns each year. The program includes a paid, 12-week assignment with a startup or entrepreneurship support organization (ESO), as well as supplemental training opportunities, cohort meetings and coaching/support from experienced mentors.
The program has been popular with students and startups because it meets the needs of both groups, said Deb Williams, OEI's director of student programs.
"Students want to experience the workings of early-stage companies and startup environments. And these organizations need access to talented student interns to increase their head count and ability to execute," Williams said.
"The Venture Intern Program builds a bridge to connect them and reduces the administrative burden on the startup side as much as possible."
The program is open to juniors and seniors in good standing from any discipline at the U of A with a cumulative 3.0 GPA or higher.
Students participating in the program should be prepared to wear many hats and maintain a high degree of professionalism and autonomy. In exchange, they can expect direct access to founders and an opportunity to play an essential role in a highly dynamic environment.
Applications for the fall 2021 cohort are available here. The deadline to apply is July 2.
Wenjie Zhu, a senior architecture major, interned with Maker Made in Fayetteville, where she was exposed to several facets of startup culture.
"I was very fortunate to be a part of the Venture Intern Program," Zhu said. "I would recommend my peers sign up and have this experience to dive into the startup culture."
Founded in 2018, Maker Made initially sought to fill demand for Maslow CNC machines, but has since made improvements to the original and added their own unique features.
Zhu added that because Maker Made is a small company, she and her colleagues became "a very tight-knit group."
Ox, an order fulfillment startup in Bentonville, has hosted two VIP interns over the last year. Its chief product officer, Tanner Green, said the program "offers just as much opportunity for startups than it does students."
"As a startup, there is nothing more valuable than a young mind filled with new ideas and a fresh perspective," Green added.
Since its inception, the Venture Intern Program has cultivated an interdisciplinary group of students, representing 26 different majors from six colleges, and supported over 30 startups and support organizations.
"In my over 20-year career in higher education, building and growing the Venture Internship Program has been one of the most meaningful things I have ever done," Williams said.
"The combination of work experience in the startup environment and the training, mentoring and support provided by our team has been transformational for so many students in just over the course of one semester. Students walk away feeling more confident in their own abilities and ready to tackle new challenges."
About the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship: The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation creates and curates innovation and entrepreneurship experiences for students across all disciplines. Through the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, McMillon Innovation Studio and Startup Village, OEI provides free workshops and programs — including social and corporate innovation design teams, venture internships, competitions, and startup coaching. OEI also offers on-demand support for students who will be innovators within existing organizations and entrepreneurs who start something new.
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