Beyond coffee runs: The new world of startup internships

by Nov 23, 2023

Originally published by UTS Startups

In bygone days, internships often painted a picture of fledgling workers running errands or brewing coffee. Today, however, with the rise of technology enabling even the smallest of companies to offer greater opportunities, the landscape of internships has dramatically evolved. Not only do startups provide an expanded horizon for budding talents, but interns are now more deeply immersed, gaining experiences closer to real customers, projects, and the core operations of the company. 

One of the standout examples of this evolution is Compass IoT. Over a span of 5 years, Compass has onboarded 10 paid interns, with a number transitioning to part-time and full-time roles. These roles have led to remarkable successes, such as assisting Transurban in halving the car crash rate on one of Sydney’s busiest roads and expanding the company’s presence to the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Hong Kong. 

Compass IoT is no isolated case. UTS Startups has been at the forefront of this transformation, engaging 950 students in internships and startup projects in just the previous year. Murray Hurps, Director of Entrepreneurship at UTS, expects this number to soar even higher in the coming years. This enthusiasm for entrepreneurship is evidently on the rise, with graduating students already steering their own startups upon graduation – a trend that’s been climbing year on year. 

“57% of incoming UTS students last year said they wanted to pursue entrepreneurship while at UTS, which has been increasing year-on-year. And 9.4% of graduating students last year were running their own startup when graduating, which is also an increasing trend.” 

– Murray Hurps

Current and former students of the University of Technology Sydney have dived headfirst into these opportunities, leveraging startups as an avenue to supercharge their careers. While startups might often be equated with volatility and unpredictability, their potential as incubators for robust, lasting careers is undeniable. 

For aspiring professionals like UTS alumni Angus Cheung, Javiera de la Carrera Garcia, and current students Saloni Aphale and Palvi Bothra, startups such as Compass IoT have bridged the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical, real-world experiences. These students have engaged in high-stakes projects, translating their classroom learnings into tangible contributions to the startup’s growth. 

Group of people standing in warehouse decor office

Saloni Aphale, Palvi Bothra and Angus Cheung in the UTS Startups spaces. Photo by Emily Bobis.

Saloni Aphale, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) and a Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation, encapsulates the new-age internship experience. “Even as an intern, responsibilities equivalent to a junior engineer are often handed over,” she shares. Within weeks, Saloni was at the forefront, curating custom dashboards for state governments to gain insights into road safety. 

Similarly, Palvi Bothra, a Bachelor of Data Science Engineering student and Women in Engineering IT Co-operative scholar, underlines the magnitude of responsibility and real-world impact as her reasons for choosing a startup.  

“I’ve worked on diverse tasks and collaborated with a range of stakeholders to bring these projects to completion, which I never thought I’d have so much experience doing at this point in my life.”

– Palvi Bothra

In the past year alone, she’s crafted over 200 data extracts and compelling dashboards for clients, including major Australian state government road authorities. These projects, she notes, have played a pivotal role in securing contracts worth significant sums. 

The dynamic nature of startups, coupled with their propensity to evolve quickly, does present challenges. However, as Angus Cheung points out, the ability to adapt and pay close attention to detail is paramount. 

“Having great attention to details is the most important thing as a data scientist. Spotting errors or inaccurate data and fixing them beforehand will contribute a lot in training a good model and creating useful data reports for customers.”

– Angus Cheung 

Guided by Javiera, an alumna of the Masters of Data Science and Innovation program, the team thrives on solving tangible problems. The culture, innovation, and impact of their work consistently trump the allure of traditional corporate roles for these budding professionals. They unanimously agree on the importance of effective communication, especially when elucidating the value behind data to clients. 

group of people smiling in an office

Saloni Aphale, Javiera de la Carrera Garcia, Angus Cheung and Palvi Bothra in their office. Photo by Emily Bobis.

Compass IoT’s recent accolade as one of the top 4 in My Startup Gig’s Top Startup Employers 2023 for companies with fewer than 20 employees is a testament to their dedication to fostering young talent.  

Murray continues to witness the rising tide of entrepreneurial spirit at UTS. Five years ago, only 39% of UTS students were inclined towards startups. Fast forward to the present, and this figure has surged to 57%. The connection between students and startups has never been stronger, with UTS providing a symbiotic relationship – invaluable real-world experiences for the students and a steady talent influx for burgeoning startups. 

With the right amalgamation of resilience, inquisitiveness, and communicative prowess, the youth today are not only flourishing in startups but are passionately sculpting their dream careers. 

Startups like Compass IoT prove that internships have moved far beyond fetching coffee. The promise of building better, safer cities and the drive to mould the next generation of professionals lies at its heart.