As I sit here writing my last blog post for the summer, I can’t help but feel a little sad. This is my last day of my internship at UNTHSC, so it is definitely a little bittersweet. Over the past 4 months, this job has become a welcome part of a very strange and unexpected summer. I will forever be grateful for all the experience I gained, the knowledge I attained, the connections I found, and the memories I made.
This was my first internship, and my first taste of a 9-5 job, and I couldn’t have asked for a better first encounter with ‘the real world.’ I feel very fortunate to even have been able to work at all this summer. As Covid-19 hit the world, the United States, and Texas, I saw most of my friends lose out on their internships as companies across the country cut expenses and pulled internships. For me, I had quite the opposite experience. Due to my school (The University of Georgia) going all virtual at the end of last semester, I was actually brought on early, in mid-April, as a part-time intern, and then transitioned to full-time about a month later. Through one of the most turbulent and ever-changing seasons of any of our lives, my internship has been the one constant sense of normalcy, and it has truly helped me navigate these crazy times. I’m not sure what I would have done with all the time I would have most assuredly had on my hands if not for working here.
Since my first Monday, I have been rather busy. At the time of this writing, I have published 8 blogs on Sparkyard, totaling over 10,000 words, with a few more on the way. I have created over 150 charts and graphs of all kinds of data. Because of all that data, I have been able to learn Excel and have created more spreadsheets than I’d like to count. I have also performed over 160 unique PitchBook searches. I’ve worked 15 weeks, 67 days, and over 400 hours. Because this is my last day, I thought I’d share a few of the lessons I’ve learned throughout these past few months.
Many are probably familiar with this concept by now. When I learned I would be working from home for the whole summer, I didn’t really know what to think. Obviously it wasn’t the ideal scenario for my first real job, but I was just happy to be working at all. There were definitely times when I got tired of the monotony of never leaving home. However, it has its perks. You get to sleep a little more because you don’t have to drive to work. You get to at least be around your family a little more, even though you’re working (I promise I was working). You have a little more flexibility throughout the day as well.
Although I was just an intern, I actually learned a lot about leadership. It wasn’t so much about doing, but rather observing. I was able to meet quite a few great leaders (virtually) and I definitely took a lot away from those encounters. However, I learned the most from my own supervisors. Being able to see firsthand what it looks like to lead a team well was invaluable for me. Even though I was a mere intern, they didn’t treat me any different, and actually let me loose on several tasks, trusting that I would do a quality job. I’ve learned that great leaders identify others’ strengths and then put those people in positions to succeed, and my supervisors did that all summer. They empowered me and encouraged me to run with any ideas I had. I distinctly remember sitting down and talking with one of them, at which point he asked me, ‘What do you want to get out of the rest of this internship? What would you like to do?’ If that’s not leadership, I don’t know what is.
This one is connected to leadership, as the leaders of any team establish the culture. I know I don’t have much experience in the working world, but I can’t imagine a team with much better culture than this one. For starters, you can ask anyone at UNTHSC who the ‘fun department’ is, and they’ll all tell you it’s Innovation Ecosystems. Everyone keeps it light and friendly, but don’t mistake fun for not getting things done. On a more serious note, everyone on the team genuinely cares about everyone else, and that starts at the top. Each team member is ready and willing to help anyone else out at any given time, which makes it much easier to do your job when you know you have the full support of everyone else.
Fort Worth Cares
I was fortunate enough to listen live to several of the recordings of the Innovate Fort Worth podcasts this summer. It was very encouraging to hear so many of the city’s best, brightest, and most influential innovators say over and over again how tight-knit the Fort Worth community is, and how much people embrace each other and support each other. Starting a business can be a daunting and monumental task, but it is made drastically easier when you have people pulling for you and helping you along your startup journey. While there is no way to measure the compassion of a city, Fort Worth seems to be full of it, which will help tremendously as we begin to improve our startup ecosystem.
It Only Takes One
This is an idea I’m sure we have all heard of in some form or fashion, whether it be in sports or otherwise. Fort Worth is not known for its entrepreneurial landscape, but it only takes one. One startup that really makes it big and puts Cowtown on the map, acting as a magnet, attracting more and more successful companies and all the talent, innovation, and economic success that comes with it. Here’s even better news: this ‘One’ might already be here. Linear Labs, a revolutionary electric motor company has made waves recently, having signed a nearly $70 million incentive plan with the city of Fort Worth behind its game-changing electric motor technology. Linear Labs and other innovative companies are the future of the Fort. We as a city need to kick the old-fashioned oil and gas and real estate trend and start to embrace innovation. Every Fort Worthian should be encouraged to pursue their idea, to be spurred to action to bring their business to fruition. After all, it only takes one.
Numbers Aren’t Everything
My final point here might come as a surprise to many who have followed Sparkyard’s recent data-heavy blog posts. One of my main roles this summer was as ‘the data guy,’ doing all kinds of research on PitchBook, collecting data and creating charts, and then writing about that data in order to convey its meaning and importance. (Bonus lesson learned: I always knew I liked data, and I knew I liked numbers, but I didn’t know I also enjoyed writing about data and numbers.)
I know Fort Worth’s entrepreneurial data has been somewhat bleak, especially in comparison to other cities. But here’s the thing about data: there are actual people behind those numbers. Real life people with unique and incredible stories of failures and triumphs and ups and downs. Could Fort Worth be better in terms of early stage funding? Yes, of course. Should we be better? Given our size, most would also say yes, we should. But if we really want to start moving the needle and improving our startup outlook, I think we should start to focus on the people who can and will make that happen.
I’ve already talked about how the people of Fort Worth care about each other and want to see each other succeed. When you mix that sympathy and support with the many incredibly passionate people and plethora of resources the city has to offer, Fort Worth could be on the rise quicker than we thought. Like most problems in life, the solution is oftentimes a people-focused one. They say ‘build it and they will come’ but I think the inverse is just as true: ‘they will come and build it.’ The people, passion, resources, and ideas have already come, and will continue to come, to Fort Worth. In fact, I think they’ve been here awhile. Now we just have to build it.