Diversity & Inclusion
Guest posts / Jobs / Mentorship / Venture capital / Workplace culture

4 steps to create a pipeline-building internship program for your VC firm or startup

The COO of startup studio and seed investor Rev1 Ventures shares lessons in shaping an inclusive, mutually beneficial internship program.

An intern working at Rev1 Ventures' home office in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Robb McCormick Photography, used with permission of Rev1 Ventures)
This is a guest post by Kristy Campbell, COO of Rev1 Ventures, who leads the startup studio and seed investor's inclusive entrepreneurship efforts.

A successful internship program is an invaluable asset for startups and VC firms seeking to foster a pipeline of talent and drive innovation. As summer comes to a close, many organizations are wrapping up their programs and, hopefully, evaluating what went right and identifying areas for improvement.

Internship programs vary widely — structured or self-directed (a blend is probably best), remote or in-person (that’s up to you), paid or unpaid (please pay your employees!) — are  just some of the basics to consider when designing your internship program. Regardless of your approach, there are several best practices to follow to ensure yours is a success. By focusing on a few crucial areas, companies can create an enriching and impactful experience for interns, while also contributing to the growth and success of the firm in the long run.

Let’s dive into some of the key lessons we’ve learned along the way.

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Whether your interns are fully remote, fully in-office or hybrid, open lines of communication are the foundation of any successful internship program. Clearly outline expectations, deliverables, and processes from day one to ensure everyone is set up for success. This also includes outlining the communication process itself. Will you email, Slack, text, meet via Zoom, or use a combination? Make sure however you’re doing it, you’re creating regular communication touchpoints to keep interns engaged.

Feedback and evaluation also plays a crucial role in this area; constructive feedback helps interns understand their strengths and areas for improvement, guiding them towards a more successful career path. Set aside time to connect with interns to gauge how their experience is going. Transparent evaluations can also demonstrate the firm’s commitment to interns’ professional growth.

2. Prioritize mentorship

Effective mentorship is a cornerstone of any successful internship program. Assigning experienced mentors to guide interns through their projects, answer questions, and provide insights can greatly enhance the learning process. Mentors can also offer career advice, share their experiences, and create a supportive environment that encourages interns to explore different facets of the venture capital industry.

One of the most effective ways to structure mentor/mentee relationships is by assigning each intern a mentor who is not their manager. Opening that line of communication between mentor and intern will allow them to feel supported and, in turn, successfully complete the necessary tasks at hand. This offers new perspectives and experiences, while also making space for the intern to network across the organization.

Interns working at Rev1 Ventures’ home office in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Robb McCormick Photography, used with permission of Rev1 Ventures)

3. Provide networking opportunities

A successful internship program should facilitate a host of networking opportunities. Organizing meetups with entrepreneurs, founders, industry experts, colleges and universities, and other professionals enables interns to expand their professional network. Networking can lead to valuable connections, potential job opportunities, and a deeper understanding of the startup ecosystem. Our program has resulted in 22 full-time employment hires across our portfolio of companies.

4. Commit to inclusion

One pillar of our program is a deep commitment to diversity and inclusion: 64% of our interns have been women or people of color over the history of the program, and we’ve had interns from 45 different universities. Creating an inclusive and diverse internship program contributes to a rich learning environment. The VC world in particular is a historically white, male-dominated field. This is self-limiting. Venture capital firms should actively seek interns from various backgrounds, cultures, and disciplines. Embracing diversity not only brings fresh perspectives to the firm, but also aligns with the broader industry trend toward inclusivity.

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At Rev1 Ventures we have created a thriving, best-in-class internship program that builds a pipeline of talent for high-growth startups. Since launching in the spring of 2020, we’ve fulfilled 495 internships while maintaining a strong commitment to hiring the best, brightest and most diverse young talent we can find.

We are grateful for our success, but it hasn’t happened in a vacuum and it certainly isn’t luck; we are continuously monitoring and improving the program to provide the best and most valuable experience for our interns and the startups implementing them.

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