MTSU senior Karan Mistry has enjoyed his classes thus far in the Jennings A. Jones College of Business. But an internship this past semester for an area startup company gave him a close-up view of entrepreneurship that can’t be found in a classroom.
Mistry, a finance major from Knoxville, Tennessee, was among a handful of Middle Tennessee State University students who interned this past semester for Hytch, a Nashville-based startup that is centered on a ride-sharing service app “on a mission to reduce traffic in Middle Tennessee by bringing the digital age to carpooling.”
The interns primarily worked remotely on marketing and setting up databases, while also assisting with event coordination in support of Hytch’s goal of getting 500 commuting cars off the road and lowering vehicle emissions in the Midstate.
“We were able to learn so much in such a little amount of time,” Mistry said. “What you learn in school can take you a considerable amount of the way, but if you’re trying to do your own thing … I really think it’s important to be able to see it (first hand).”
The Jones College’s internship program was among the resources cited by LendEDU.com, which recently ranked MTSU among the nation’s top 50 schools for its support of aspiring entrepreneurs. An online marketplace for student loans and refinancing, LendEDU looked at more than 100 colleges offering entrepreneurship courses and programs to undergraduates.
Mistry said he was contacted by Bill McDowell, chair of the Pam Wright Chair of Entrepreneurship, about the available internships at Hytch, where classmates Dustin Grubbs and Nick Justice also worked this past semester along with students from Lipscomb and Belmont universities.
“I’ve actually been able to see a startup business at the very beginning,” said Grubbs, a senior business administration major from Smyrna, Tennessee, scheduled to graduate in May 2017.
Grubbs said the Hytch internship, a first for him, also allowed him to research potential corporation partnerships for Hytch, a task in which he could apply knowledge gained from his marketing research courses at MTSU. Through it all, he began to recognize how a small startup like Hytch “really needed the interns.”
“I’ve gotten to see the entrepreneurial side of it,” said Grubbs. “They’re so hardworking.”
That penchant for hard work stems from the deep passion of Hytch co-founder and CEO Mark Cleveland, who was keynote speaker for MTSU’s Global Entrepreneurship Week in mid-November.
The annual event is designed to offer free lectures, workshops and panel discussions to the campus community and general public, with this year’s edition providing students and aspiring entrepreneurs with information on special topics such as apparel manufacturing and general topics such as franchise startups.
“In my view, we should be doing everything we can to support, develop and inspire young people who could become entrepreneurs,” Cleveland said during his keynote remarks. “We all need to catch them early, too, before they are consumed by the idea that it’s cool to blend in and not stand out.”
The Nashville Chamber of Commerce named Cleveland its Entrepreneur of the Year in recent years. In addition to Hytch, he is developing a boutique hotel in downtown Nashville, and owns an online retailer of radio-controlled drones and airplanes, an athletic compression sock company and commercial music and marketing services company.
A self-described serial entrepreneur, Cleveland encouraged students to “fail forward” and “embrace disruption” while pursuing the things they love.
“Profits are not the only definition of success,” he said. “The best definition of success actually revolves around how well you serve others, doing that thing you love to do.”
The new report released by LendEDU ranked MTSU No. 17 in the “Top Colleges for Aspiring Entrepreneurs Report.” MTSU joined Belmont University in Nashville (No. 30) as the only Tennessee colleges on the list.
“We have invested a great deal of time and effort into developing our entrepreneurial program, and I believe that this ranking will help us as we strive to grow the reach and impact of the entrepreneurial culture on campus and in the community,” said McDowell.
“The whole Global Entrepreneurship Week is designed to bring awareness,” added Mistry, who is on track to graduate next fall and is already involved in fledgling e-commerce and real estate projects. “A lot of people have questions these days regarding startups and small business. … It was very inspiring.”
The Hytch experience along with the Global Entrepreneurship Week events allowed him to see what steps entrepreneurs need to take to get their ideas off the ground as well as the periodic trial-and-error that is sometimes necessary with such ventures.
Fellow intern Justice, a junior economics major from San Francisco, did an unpaid internship with Hytch during the semester, but the experience of “building a brand” was priceless, he said. The interns had the freedom to set their schedules, while also learning the soft skills needed during face-to-face interactions at Hytch promotional events.
“With this internship, they were very big on, ‘you pick the project,’” said Justice, also interning for the first time. “That was a huge upside.”
Coming from the Silicon Valley area, Justice has numerous friends who work or have worked for startups. He’s excited that the Midstate contains the ingredients needed for startups like Hytch to thrive here as well.
“I think it’s great for the economy and what’s happening here,” he said. “You don’t have to (always) rent office space, you can work from home and network and start a business that way.”
For more information on the event, contact the Pam Wright Chair of Entrepreneurship at 615-898-2785 or email Stacy.Aaron@mtsu.edu. To learn more about MTSU entrepreneurship program, visit http://www.mtsu.edu/programs/entrepreneurship/.
— Jimmy Hart (firstname.lastname@example.org)