Internship fund aids startups with big dreams
Startup companies — especially in the tech sphere — tend to have big ideas but limited resources. Developing those plans into reality and getting the product to market requires a combination of hard work, determination and luck.
One way that Binghamton University supports startups is through the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator, run by the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Partnerships (E&IP). It offers 35,000 square-feet of offices, lab spaces and common areas, as well as co-working spaces that encourage collaboration between companies.
Watson College students — both undergraduates and graduate students — benefit from the symbiotic relationship with companies at the incubator. The students gain real-world experience through internships or jobs, and the startups get help reaching their goals.
This past summer, junior Hannah Neusner worked as a project development intern at M.E.D. Energy through the Knoll-MacDonald Business Startup Internship Fund, supported by internet pioneer Geraldine MacDonald ’68, MS ’73, LittD ’17.
M.E.D. Energy is developing a clean-energy storage system that uses a unique technology without carbon dioxide emissions. That environmentally friendly thinking lines up with Neusner’s own aspirations for her career.
“I want to make some kind of lasting change,” says the mechanical engineering major from Maplewood, N.J. “I feel like if I’m going to learn math and engineering, I should use it for something important.”
At a company with five employees, Neusner found herself doing a little bit of everything, such as creating computer-aided design schematics of M.E.D. Energy’s proposed products, writing and sending marketing emails and cold-calling downtown Binghamton businesses to see if they would be interested in buying the technology for their buildings.
“When I walked in, I don’t think I realized how big their aspirations are, because I didn’t know how accomplished the people who work there are,” she said. “The founder and CEO has huge dreams for the company — he thinks that it’s going to change the world by bringing a disruptive technology for a positive impact on climate change. It’s cool to be in a company full of people who are so excited about what they’re doing.”
CEO Kameran Yakob says: “It was great to have Hannah at M.E.D. Energy. She learned about clean-energy engineering and CAD design during her summer internship. As the saying goes, ‘The expert in anything was once a beginner.’”
As a retired senior vice president for America Online, MacDonald understands the challenges that startups face, with adequate resources at the top of the list.
“I wanted something that would give students experience working in a real-life setting, and perhaps not a perfect real-life setting, because not all startups succeed,” she said. “I thought that would be important for engineers headed into industry to see both the good and the bad, because not everything works — particularly not the first time.”
MacDonald supervised many interns during her career as a tech executive (and before that as assistant vice president for computing at Binghamton University), and the best ones figured out their place in the team where they worked. Showing up on time and eager to learn are also essential.
“Some were better than others, and for some it really changed their lives,” she says. “There’s a whole spectrum of who can take advantage of it, how they take advantage of it and what they take away when they leave.”
Neusner will continue her relationship with M.E.D. Energy as the company moves forward with manufacturing its clean-energy device. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in environmental engineering — and after that, maybe a full-time job with M.E.D. is in her future.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s a cool environment to be in,” she says. “They’re all working together on something that they’re really passionate about, and it’s nice to be part of a project where people believe in themselves.”