Written by Andrew Seale
Michael Coates wasn’t looking for your average internship when he signed up for the University of Toronto’s Impact Centre’s entrepreneurship class with an internship component, he wanted something different, something inspiring that would open the door to working with startups further down the road.
“My goal is to start my own business and run a company,” says Coates, who’s rounding out his final year of a bachelor in commerce from the university. “I've alway been interested in that and working in an unconventional environment that pushes you – I think that's the path I want to go in my career.”
Through the Impact Centre, a development hub for early-stage startups based in the natural sciences and engineering – like all natural ice pop maker Happy Pops, posture performance clothing designer AdrenalEase, and Pueblo Science which develops teacher's kits to provide children in low-resource settings with hands on science education – Coates clinched an internship with Comfable, maker of QTemp.
“It’s a wearable weather device that measures the UV and air temperature of your exact location and then sends this information to an app on your phone,” explains Coates. “The app has an algorithm that calculates the time you can spend in the sun before you have to seek sunscreen or you'll get burnt.”
Through his role as a business development intern, the commerce student and budding entrepreneur has grown his skill-set over the past eight months, learning about manufacturing operations, contributing to market research and engaging in outbound marketing and even tackling some legal paperwork.
“This internship has given me invaluable experience in many different aspects of a business that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else,” says Coates.
The Impact Centre’s internship program works on two prongs. The obvious benefit to the students is getting some real-world experience on what the day-to-day operations of an early stage startup look like. On the other hand, those early-stage businesses tap into fresh entrepreneurial talent and receive human resources support from the development hub as they learn to manage their workforce. It’s like a people incubator within a startup incubator.
“You're going to face daily challenges and you learn to adapt and work in a situation where you wouldn't conventionally work,” says Coates. “That’s what I got out of this, learning to think on me feet quickly and what makes a successful environment and a successful startup.”
Programs like this are valuable for his generation which he says seems to still carry a stigma around choosing to pursue business and the viability of having a career in the startup world.
“These types of programs (like the Impact Centre) promote creativity and innovation,” says Coates. “I'm not sure what (kind of business) have in mind yet… I have a few years to think about that (but) if I didn't do this I wouldn't even know where to start.”