Honors Students Gain Experience and Inspiration Through Venture Internship Program
Philip Nuñez was matched with Co-Angler, an online platform designed to encourage people to go fishing together.
Honors students, this semester, experienced the opportunity and challenges of entrepreneurship through the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (OEI) Venture Internship Program (VIP).
Tackling solutions like building an e-commerce platform for food truck or creating an app to help paddleboarders navigate rivers safely, as well as designing marketing for a zero-waste brick-and-mortar refill shop, connecting cyclists and mountain bikers in Northwest Arkansas both online and on the trails and creating a community through a platform for fishermen, students in the program not only gain valuable experience, but have also taken major steps towards their honors research.
“It is important for students of all majors to have professionalizing experience like an internship,” said Louise Hancox, senior director of the Honors College Futures Hub. “We encourage students to integrate all facets of the honors experience to launch them to the next step, from graduate and professional school to the right job in the professional world. We often recommend VIP as a great opportunity for honors scholars from across majors.”
The Venture Intern Program matches talented undergraduate students from the U of A with startups, entrepreneurship support organizations and investor networks for semester-long internships and provides training to help them to succeed in dynamic, fast-paced environments. In addition to gaining valuable business experience, many honors students are using the internship to inspire their research interests.
"Entrepreneurship goes beyond just starting a business or organization; everything starts with a problem,” said Jason Riley, Venture Intern Program manager. “Once a problem has been identified, entrepreneurs think creatively about how to solve that problem, based on their own skillset and community or market needs. That's what makes VIP special; it gives students an experiential learning opportunity unique to the startup environment."
Many of the internships are offered through companies participating in the Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program (GORP), a business incubator focused on the development of entrepreneurs who are creating innovative products and services within the outdoor recreation industry.
For students like Jose Torres, OEI and the Honors College go hand-in-hand in crafting a competitive edge to his undergraduate business education.
“My parents immigrated from Mexico, and they wanted a better life for me,” Torres shared. “Since I’ve been involved with OEI, VIP and the Honors College, I've learned there are many avenues after graduation. The experience has opened many paths for me and made me feel calm applying for jobs and thinking about the future.”
TURNER HUPFELD – GORP/PADDL
Hupfeld, a senior honors information systems and finance double major, was matched with Paddl, an app designed to make finding the best paddling destinations more user-friendly, through offering detailed river maps, real-time conditions and trip planning tools for river adventurers.
Hupfeld applied because he was interested in learning more about small business, and he believes the experience has been invaluable in growing his business acumen.
“I am handed real assignments that help and affect the company,” he shared.
In his role, Hupfeld conducts customer and market research and competitor analysis in advance of the app’s launch.
“The experience has given me a lot of hands-on experience,” he said. “I better understand the difficulties small companies face with not a lot of resources.”
Despite the challenges, he’s still interested in eventually pursuing a career in entrepreneurship, and surprisingly, his honors thesis focuses on a big barrier to success – social media's impact on productivity.
“It’s something I noticed in myself,” he said. “It was getting in the way of what I want to do, and I wanted to choose a topic people could relate to.”
JACKSON MAJOR - REJOICY
Major, a junior honors supply chain management and marketing double major with a minor in strategy, entrepreneurship and venture innovation, was matched with Rejoicy, an e-commerce platform that helps small businesses create an online shop and manage orders.
“It’s a great solution for food trucks to take orders,” Major said. “Squarespace and Shopify are targeting the premium high-volume companies, and we are providing a solution with easy set-up and less fees. Within 10 minutes, you can start taking orders.”
In his role, Major works with logistics operations and customer insights. He’s gained lots of applicable experience, but the mentorship he’s received from the company’s founder has been crucial in genuinely learning about the industry.
“I ask a lot of questions,” Major shares. “Business, life, future questions – at a start-up, everything is fast-paced, and you can make decisions in an instant and implement them immediately, while there’s a longer chain of command at bigger companies. I’m not sure what route I want to go yet, but I’m definitely open to working at a start-up.”
Major has found that same level of mentorship and experience at the Honors College.
“I know I’m getting the best possible education,” he said. “The classes are smaller, and I have personal relationships with my professors. They all know my name.”
For his honors thesis, Major opted to write a practice-based reflection on his internship with Rejoicy and heavily documents his experience weekly.
PHILIP NUÑEZ – GORP/CO-ANGLER
Nuñez, a junior honors supply chain and strategy, entrepreneurship and venture innovation double major, was matched with Co-Angler, an online platform designed to encourage people to go fishing together. Nuñez sought out an internship to establish his network in Northwest Arkansas.
“I wanted to be plugged into the local community,” he shared. “I can see the entrepreneurial realm being an avenue for me in the future. Plus, I’m getting real-world business experience, and the internship is paid fairly with flexible hours to balance my school and personal life.”
Nuñez works remotely in his role, which has taught him a lot about building structure and accountability.
“It’s very easy to go off on my own tangent,” he said. “The lack of structure has encouraged me to be more autonomous, and that’s a very important life skill.”
In his role, Nuñez has learned a lot about customer discovery, and that has pushed him out of his “comfort zone.”
“I interview a lot of people – meeting strangers, building a conversation to build a relationship,” Nuñez explained. “It is a skill I now use in my personal life, but it’s also important professionally. I’ve built a huge network and great life experience.”
Insight into start-up business and culture has provided both excitement and hesitancy when thinking about his own future in entrepreneurship.
“There’s uncertainty in entrepreneurship,” Nuñez admitted. “But I also like that because of the work you put in, you receive the reward of creating something. It’s a chaotic life, but I can also see it for myself.”
Much like the internship, the Honors College provided Nuñez with access to greater insight and opportunities. He is writing his thesis on small-town economic development in Belize, and through honors, he was able to visit this past summer.
“I encourage everyone to get involved,” Nuñez said speaking of both OEI and the Honors College. “This is a great place to start.”
JOSE TORRES – GORP/RIDER UP
Torres, a senior strategy, entrepreneurship and venture innovation major, was matched with Rider Up, a community-centered cycling app that uses real-time location sharing to connect riders. The app seeks to create a more efficient way to connect with other riders and report trail conditions.
“You can meet new people,” Torres said. “Or you can share the app with a group of friends and choose a time and place.”
In his current role, Torres works on marketing research and customer discovery for the launch of the app.
“I’m essentially creating user personas,” Torres explained. “Who are the people we want to target? I’m also researching similar applications and learning from their strategies.”
Torres heard about VIP his freshman year, but he had to wait until he was a junior to apply. That didn’t stop him from enriching his experience on campus. In the meantime, he participated in the Freshman Leadership Forum through Associated Student Government, became heavily engaged with the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation and also applied to the Honors College.
“Both of my parents are self-employed and incredibly hard workers,” Torres shared. “When I entered university, one of the first things I wanted to find was the entrepreneurship community.”
Through the Honors College, Torres has been able to expand his business experience globally.
“I knew I wanted to study abroad and have a close relationship with my professors,” Torres said. “Right now, I’m working on my thesis, and that research opportunity wouldn’t be possible without honors. It made my college experience more worthwhile.”
Inspired by his family, Torres is studying entrepreneurship in Mexico. He’s focusing his research on one state of Mexico and studying different municipalities in the area, comparing investments, economic and job opportunities and health care.
“I’m trying to understand all the nuances,” he said. “I hope it will help identify potential entrepreneurial opportunities.”
KATE TOURNILLON – HIPPIE HOLLOW REFILL
Tournillon, a senior marketing and management major with a minor in economics, was matched with Hippie Hallow Refill, Fayetteville’s first zero-waste refill shop.
“It provides a more sustainable way to shop,” Tournillon shared. “There’s one woman who owns it, and she does everything.”
In her role, Tournillon helps with store operations, customer experience and partnering with local retailers.
“Inventory management is really interesting,” Tournillon said. “It’s challenging to find products that we can sell in-store that are ethically made and also eco-friendly. It’s been eye-opening on what it takes to run a business.”
Tournillon was excited to apply to VIP because of the flexibility to try out many roles within a business.
“With smaller companies, you have the opportunity to learn so many new things,” she said. “If you want to take on more, it’s fairly easy to have that conversation.”
With the many skills Tournillon’s gained at Hippie Hallow, the experience has also given her clarity on her future.
“It taught me that I don’t want to run my own business – I don’t want to be my own boss,” she said. “I learned a lot though, and that’s the most important part to me.”
Tournillon’s never been intimidated to take on more – as a freshman, she was excited about the challenge of writing an honors thesis. Her thesis is studying mentor best practices for internship roles.
“I’ve always been driven to do a bit more,” she said. “There’s a lot of research about mentorship within companies, but there’s very little about interns, which is a mentor-heavy role.”
When she is not studying, working on her thesis or interning, Tournillon gives tours for the Sam M. Walton College of Business, and she’s always happy to share her experience with OEI.
“There are a lot of big businesses in Northwest Arkansas,” Tournillon said. “I like that we are highlighting the smaller companies through this program as well.”
About the Honors College: The University of Arkansas Honors College was established in 2002 and brings together high-achieving undergraduate students and the university’s top professors to share transformative learning experiences. Each year the Honors College awards up to 90 freshman fellowships that provide $80,000 over four years, and more than $1 million in undergraduate research and study abroad grants. The Honors College is nationally recognized for the high caliber of students it admits and graduates. Honors students enjoy small, in-depth classes, and programs are offered in all disciplines, tailored to students’ academic interests, with interdisciplinary collaborations encouraged. All Honors College graduates have engaged in mentored research.
About the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation: 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, Startup Village, and Greenhouse at the Bentonville Collaborative, the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation provides free workshops and programs — including social and corporate innovation design teams, venture internships, competitions and startup coaching. A unit of the Sam M. Walton College of Business and Division of Economic Development, the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation also offers on-demand support for students who will be innovators within existing organizations and entrepreneurs who start something new.
About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas' flagship institution, the U of A provides an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to Arkansas’ economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and job development, discovery through research and creative activity while also providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the U of A among the few U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. See how the U of A works to build a better world at Arkansas Research and Economic Development News.
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