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Paid Internships: Bridging the Gap from Classroom to Boardroom in Silicon Valley

In This Episode:

Silicon Valley faces an urgent paid internship gap. College students from underserved areas are sidelined, with only 43% of Black and 40% of Hispanic students gaining internship experience, compared to 56% of their white peers. Yet, with interns 82% more likely to secure full-time roles at their host companies, this disparity isn't just about internships—it's about the future of our workforce and widening wealth gaps. With white households holding median wealth almost eight times that of Black households, it's clear: bridging the internship divide isn't a choice; it's an imperative.

Paid Internship Imbalance in Silicon Valley:

  • The Discrepancy: While 56% of white college students land internships, only 43% of Black and 40% of Hispanic students do
  • Why It Matters: Interns have an 82% higher chance of getting a full-time job at their internship company.
  • Wealth Gap: White families typically have $188,200 in wealth. Black families have $24,100, and Hispanic families $61,800. The lack of equal internship opportunities contributes to deepening racial and wealth divides.

"Working for free is a luxury, a privilege not everyone can afford."

About Ittai Shiu:

Ittai Shiu is a digital marketing executive catering to interactive agencies and global brands. He is also a business consultant and advisor servicing organizations ranging from stealth startups to mature companies as they grow and scale. He has contributed to the success of B2B, B2C, and DTC businesses through his marketing and operational expertise. An instructor at UC Berkeley and a small-business advocate, Ittai is committed to supporting overlooked talent in underserved communities.

"Internships should be more than just work; they should be a paid, professionally relevant experience."

Show Notes:

  • What is LaunchPoint?
    • LaunchPoint is Itai's journey from ad tech to nonprofit founder. The organization aims to ensure equal opportunities for all recent graduates, addressing socioeconomic disparities.
  • Why LaunchPoint?
    • LaunchPoint's primary focus is on paid internships. They collaborate with host companies to create meaningful student experiences, emphasizing the importance of bridging the gap between academia and the professional world.
  • How does LaunchPoint support Students and Host Companies? 
    • LaunchPoint offers coaching and career advice to students while assisting host companies in developing structured internship programs. This dual approach ensures both students and companies benefit from the program.
  • How are Partners and Interns Selected? 
    • Host companies are chosen based on their willingness to collaborate and mentor interns. Meanwhile, students from underserved communities apply with writing samples to join the program, ensuring a rigorous selection process.
  • What is the Internship Experience like at LaunchPoint? 
    • Internships at LaunchPoint typically run for three to four months and include dedicated supervision and coaching. The program focuses on professional development, work plans, and regular feedback to ensure interns' success.
  • Why Promote Business Benefits with LaunchPoint? 
    • LaunchPoint goes beyond providing great interns and streamlines engagement with academic institutions. They promote diversity and unique perspectives in the workforce, benefiting businesses and society.
  • What Challenges does LaunchPoint Face? 
    • LaunchPoint faces growing pains as a new nonprofit, and there needs to be more clarity about immediate intern placement. Overcoming these challenges is an essential part of their journey.
  • How do you encourage the community served by LaunchPoint? 
    • LaunchPoint advises its community to encourage individuals to assume unlimited resources, break down problems, think big to overcome scarcity mindsets and focus on pragmatic solutions for a brighter future.

"We're not just creating internships; we're building launchpads for future careers."

Episode Transcription

Please tell us about the history of your organization, who you serve, and how it all began.

Yeah, absolutely. So, a little bit about myself. I spent 20 years in the ad tech industry. I became a consultant for startups and tech companies in the Bay Area. I am doing operations growth marketing. Recently, I started teaching at UC Berkeley's entrepreneurship program. All these things intersected and motivated me to do something I was passionate about: creating a nonprofit. LaunchPoint was founded on the notion that only some graduates are on equal footing upon graduation. So. getting accepted into and graduating from a four-year college program is a huge accomplishment, but it's also this inflection point where young people start their careers. And despite hard work, intelligence, and grit, some segments of the population need to be on equal footing due to socioeconomic demographic variables.

 

In college many years ago, I paid for an internship, learned a lot, and got a lot out of it. I was able to put it in my resume. I still reference it once in a while. But then, I realized I could do that early on. I could lean into my savings. I could ask for more help from my parents. And I realized that some individuals don't have that choice. Working for free is a luxury. It's a privilege. Students out there who need to work out of necessity. They will take these jobs to pay for books, food, and necessities, and often, these jobs don't contribute to professionally relevant skills. These students will tend to work more hours than their colleagues, and that will tend to lead to risks in grades, graduation rates, and, most specifically, upon graduation, they don't have, they have fewer professionally relevant skills that they can talk to, that they can point to. The mission of LaunchPoint is to ensure that every graduate, regardless of their circumstances, has access to those same opportunities at this kind of critical inflection point or this launch point of their career. 

Yeah, that would be our first sponsored intern. This story goes two ways because they've made a difference in the evolution and strategy of LaunchPoint. So, in your introduction, you described us accurately. We strive to establish and create high-quality, professionally relevant paid internships. The key word is paid. Every internship should go with a student getting some fair wage for the work they're putting into, adding value to the organization. So this will happen regardless of the company's circumstances as well. Then, for select opportunities, if the company is collaborative, shows a propensity to be engaging, and has a lot of potential for creating a tremendously scalable, repeatable internship program, LaunchPoint will sponsor an intern. I will support that there first. Intern so that they can develop some momentum around their internship program. So, teaching at UC Berkeley, I have the luxury of navigating through the campus and working with different departments, and I began working with the undocumented student program. Every university and college should have an undocumented students program. I worked with the one at UC Berkeley; they were doing great work. They introduced me to the segment of the student population that literally can't be W-2 employees. They need help to graduate and find a traditional job. Kind of contractors. How do we represent ourselves as a business, as an LLC, and as an entrepreneur? So, it's a whole other level of challenges, which I was surprised to find out I would have an impact on. So, our first sponsored intern, We paired up with a tremendous operational agency led by a female CEO who was undocumented when she was going through university, went on to go through Wall Street, and decided she didn't like Wall Street. Then, she wants to create her agency. So it's just a great story. of a host company we enjoy working with. You know, she didn't have a lot of extra budget to spend on paying an intern, but she had a lot of enthusiasm and energy. So we made this match, and initially, the way the payment works, I figured, okay, well, LaunchPoint will be a contractor. The intern would be a subcontractor, and the intern and the host company would focus on the work and working towards their objectives. The company doesn't have to worry about money. The intern invoices LaunchPoint, and I'll ensure the intern gets paid. During this time, there was a lot of training around. Hours and an invoicing and, you know, tax exposure, all these things that were an exciting conversation for this new, this young intern to be exposed to. You know, ultimately, this program was a success. You see, she spent four months contributing to this business. She's gone on to get accepted into this fellowship and has these requests for agents to start a social media agency because it was such a confidence-boosting experience. So while I'd like to think LaunchPoint taught her and gave her the confidence to do that, this experience gave LaunchPoint the confidence to go out and seek out those opportunities and, with confidence, help, you know, young, fledgling, scrappy companies of the student body that may not have the chance to be W-2 employees and need to think about how do we make money as a contractor or as an entrepreneur.

So, our programs are split into two sides. There's the student side; whether or not we recruit them to be interns, we have this great community where we offer coaching and career advice. We also provide monthly professional insights sessions where I have a guest speaker. Somebody from my advisory group comes in and shares their perspective and insight about what's going on in business in an industry, with an emphasis on how you can make this actionable. How do these skills work their way into a conversation, a real challenge you may face? This occurs whether or not they're in college and when they've graduated, they're alumni. Consider it a lifetime membership into this LaunchPoint community because that network will continue to increase in value. On the other side of things is the program that we have with the host companies, and that is to be able to work with them to organize or develop from scratch a tangible structure around how to set up an internship program; what requirements do I need, how do we establish a work plan, and who is going to be the supervisor, the manager to oversee this, and do they need administer and manage an intern so that you have a great experience, you have value that's generated, and you have accountability. The most important is the momentum. There was a good enough experience to do this again and again. So those are the two sides of the programs that LaunchPoint focuses on.

They need to understand what's required of management, specifically when managing an intern. An intern is a part of the team; they're an employee. Thus, the host company needs to designate or be able to select somebody who can manage an intern. They're willing to collaborate with us on developing a structure and a program, objectives, key results, a job description, and a training and onboarding plan to ensure this program is set up for success. If they're willing to do that and have all of these qualifications, we vet them, see what kind of opportunities they have, and determine whether or not we can find a good match. 

So that's challenging because there's so much need out there, just like plenty of the folks you talked to. There are so many people that you need to help. I'm focused on UC Berkeley and want to expand my reach. When there's an opportunity, it's simply recruiting on campus. Reaching out to undocumented student programs, you know, other organizations within the campus that service students from the underserved. Underrepresented communities. If there's interest, they must submit an application and a writing sample, articulate their academic and career goals, and explain why they'd be an excellent fit for this program.

They run for three to four months based on the host company's needs. There is most definitely a manager or a supervisor from the host company that's been designated; we will only move forward with them. Also, LaunchPoint does assign a coach and advisor. This coach can partner with the intern to meet with them periodically to ensure they have everything they need to succeed and somebody to talk to about issues that might have come up or things that might cause them stress. The coach is an industry veteran who can provide that level of mentorship to any mentorship management in the host company. LaunchPoint also typically designates the same person, an advisor for the host company to the supervisor, to make sure that mostly that they're being held accountable, that the meetings are happening, that the intern is a part of the team, that they're included on team meetings and made part of the culture. And often, I see that as a missing variable in many internships. They're very much to the side; they're in the shadows. And that's very unfair. It reflects that unpaid interns are worth less, and that's not true. If you want them to add value and if you want them, you know, to do great things in the world, they have to be part of the family. And what LaunchPoint does is make sure that is the case. It starts with a kickoff call of everyone, laying out the expectations. We made both parties sign expectations around, you know, meetings, communications, you know, who needs to meet with whom and how often. Most important is the onboarding training and work plan. These are the things that the host company needs to train this intern on. Intern, these are the objectives you need to work towards. It would be best if you met frequently to see how we're doing against those objectives. If all that goes well, we take a step back and hope that the magic happens, and we're there to make sure that we can pick anyone up if they're starting to stumble; we can help them out if they run into issues. And then, finally, when it concludes, there's this excellent feedback and evaluation cycle where we learn a lot, where the host company learns a lot because they're not just getting feedback from their company, they're getting feedback through us, the intern, you know, we make sure that they get feedback, you know, tangible constructive feedback from their manager, supervisor, as well as the launch point coach. And then we open it up to us. We're very transparent about the fact that we've only been, we've not been doing this for a year. So, we constantly evolve and want to hear from the people we're trying to help. So, that's our internship. That's what it looks like.

That's a great question because it starts with the host company. Before talking to an intern candidate, we collaborate with the host company to ensure they can administer an excellent internship program and experience. It starts with What seems very basic, but then it goes through these steps to ensure that the internship stays within that. That traditional kind of lousy internship experience, where interns are in the background, they're in the shadows doing menial work for free. And that's something always in the back of our minds that we want to avoid. So it starts with the basics, which is, okay, host company, what is your need? And from there, we craft a job description. Just intern, it's not enough, you know. We are having whatever scraps of experience that they can find. Going through the exercise of defining, we need a social media intern. We need a content development intern. It's transformative. It changes the perspective of the host company as they think about what kind of value this intern will add, as well as the recruiting and management process. The next thing we work with the host company is the training and the onboarding plan. And it is critical that Even an intern, someone who's entry-level because there's now a job description, there needs to be some thought behind how do we provide the education and the training so that somebody coming in isn't set to flounder and try to figure things out as they go along. The challenge with unpaid interns is, well, There's no opportunity cost. If they're floundering, that doesn't cost us anything. Okay? And especially if LaunchPoint is sponsoring this intern. Oh, wow, we better, you know, we're sure that they have an onboarding program. They're paid for training and onboarding to add value quickly. The third thing, which I mentioned earlier, is the work plan. Let's ensure you, the host company, can articulate the higher-level objectives the intern will contribute to. From there, we can develop tasks, projects, and all of these things that the intern can visualize; this is my path to the end of this internship, knowing that I accomplished and learned something. Another aspect of professional development during the internship is the coaching and advising during the process. At every stage of our career, our professional development has been enhanced by having a good manager and mentor, and we want to ensure sufficient mentorship chemistry with the internship. And then, and third, even when the internship ends, there's a spotlight on the feedback.

 

Only evaluative input so that the intern knows what they can work on and what they can continue to develop. But then also there's an exercise that I'm enthusiastic about, which is being able to extract feedback. Many times, especially if you're young in a career, you are too shy or too timid to voice your opinion. We all have been there. Exactly. We've all been there. And especially today, this generation knows more about the world than we do in some respects—missing out if we did not extract that feedback from them. But then also, get them familiar with, you know, and comfortable with, even if it's hard feedback, you know, get it out, you know, because it's not going to do anyone any good if it just kind of stays in there and stays in your head and doesn't see the light of day. We all keep in touch if they're alumni or just within the community. There are just people who I've been in contact with, and we keep in touch. We make sure to afford opportunities and then also invite each other to, for example, the professional insights sessions that we do monthly, so everyone's invited to those. 

So, there are a lot of obstacles before they can even get to the point where they can recruit and get an intern on their own. Engaging with an academic institution, a college, is quite challenging. It's very time-consuming. Most career centers at universities work with a platform called Handshake, and it's great to connect employers with students and list events and opportunities. The challenge is that it's time-consuming to join and establish your business. Still, there's a lot of interactivity and student engagement that you need to invest in to increase your reputation score. The higher your reputation score is, the more you can recruit. A lot of businesses, a lot of scrappy startups, need more time for this. And especially they don't have the time to do this for every university that they want to hit, which is why often the types of companies that recruit, they're bigger, they're big six, they're more established, they're set enough to invest the time and resource to do that level of recruiting. And it disqualifies this whole segment, this whole category of startups and scrappier businesses, predominantly female and BIPOC-owned companies that I like consulting with and working with. They need to be represented and have tons of experience and stories they can share. They need more resources, time, and money. And what LaunchPoint does is we're the direct service. We manage; we bridge that gap. So then, if a company can host an intern, whether or not it's from or through LaunchPoint, there are documented benefits of having a diverse workforce. It has a positive contribution to recruiting culture and profitability.

 

Furthermore, this is a demographic and a generation you must recognize. We often kid around with the older generation, talking about how the younger generation has it so easy. I have two kids about to become teenagers, and I might be the first generation to say this. I'm like, wow, the younger generation has it more challenging. Given all the complexity and obstacles out there, you know, and being overwhelmed with all the inputs, data, and news, able to sort through all of this, they can speak a particular generational language. They also have this unique perspective that cannot be ignored as businesses evolve. So, while LaunchPoint may not staff that intern, simply the benefit of hosting or having somebody in that generation, in that demographic, contributing to the diversity within their organization has incredible advantages. 

Well, let's see. LaunchPoint, as I mentioned, has just started. We officially kicked off at the beginning of the year, so October. So, I'm ten months into being a nonprofit founder. So that comes with it, just growing pains. As I mentioned, I'm a consultant for technology companies, so I operate in a particular fashion. And nonprofits, not so much. It requires more respect for timing. Coupled with working with academic institutions, we had a great spring because everyone was planning for the summer. I was like, okay, this is great. We had programs going into the summer. Then, once the summer hits, let's plan for fall, only to realize that academic institutions like to do a little work over the summer. And it caused me to rethink how I pace my year. And it's very much in alignment with the movement within academic institutions. So that's number one. 

Number two ends up being a startup and working with great people who have other things going on. I have great advisors, and I've got great volunteers. They're all great, and one of the challenges is my overcoming the guilt that they're working for a nonprofit. Typically, I have a team that has bonuses and a paycheck, and I now manage a nonprofit where my currency is sound that we're doing, and that's great, but it's required a little bit of adjustment on my part. 

The most common misconception comes from host companies who think they engage with me, and I present them with an intern, and they get to work. The truth is, and I'm very upfront about this now. Is all of the work and collaboration with the host company and the host company's team to develop a structure around the internship program, the commitment around the training and the onboarding program, and the resources that need to be allocated to manage that internship program so that it's a success. Getting over that misconception helps weed out the types of companies I want to work with and those needing more time. 

So, in my class, every time I pose a question, and there's some struggle with the answer, I follow it up with assumed unlimited resources and have them rethink it. The point is to ensure they continue to think big. When it comes to the individuals I want to serve, these individuals typically grew up with much less. And while they will have an edge with resilience and resourcefulness and grit, I know that growing up with less, you know, has the risk of having them develop a scarcity mindset. Often, that will result in perfectionism and over-reliance on oneself. And these are not bad things, but a lot of times, what that does is shift the focus away from the long-term goal and objective. And I've seen this in some of the interns we've worked with: they categorize their capabilities. When faced with or asked to solve a problem or a challenge, because of this mindset, they tend to think of the solution as limited to what they can accomplish alone. And that's a mistake that makes them very tactical, that keeps them from thinking bigger. So I continue to nudge them, to have my advisors encourage them and go, okay, assume unlimited resources because I know the feeling. Your boss asks you, well, we have this challenge. And it's immediately overwhelming because I can't do all this. And the thoughts after that are unreasonable. Okay, that would take an army of programmers and a gajillion dollars, something subjective like that. And where I say, stop, assume unlimited resources, and get them out of that mindset so they can take a step back, breathe, and be pragmatic. Put in a compartmentalizer, break it down, and itemize it; the solution may become more visible. We'll take ten programs, and we will outsource them here.

We may need to partner up here. It's no longer a gazillion dollar. It's like, okay, that's $50,000. Okay, the boss can still say no, but thanks for that. More likely, they'll say, hey, you know what, we don't have $50,000. We have $20,000. Can you do anything with that? And that's where individuals who come from this background can thrive. That's where their grit, resilience, and resourcefulness can be a benefit to figuring out how they can stretch their resources to solve this problem. So assume unlimited resources, break down your issue, and devise a solution you can work with.

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