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In wake of COVID-19, three Brown students create ‘Intern from Home’

Online platform aims to provide students with remote work experience, alleviate economic impact of pandemic on startups

By
Staff Writer
Sunday, April 19, 2020

Amidst the growing threat of COVID-19 coronavirus, which has prompted an exodus of students from their college campuses across the country, three University undergraduates came up with an idea to help students gain work experience and give startup companies an extra set of hands.

Intern From Home, a free online platform founded by Chuck Isgar ’20.5, Megan Kasselberg ’20 and David Lu ’20, connects students seeking remote internships with startups seeking extra help. The co-founders hope to both help alleviate the economic impact of the pandemic on small and nascent companies and to provide students with opportunities to gain work experience during a period when they may have more free time than they did at school. 

The platform allows any student to browse job opportunities posted by startups and apply through a Google Form. Intern From Home also sends a newsletter every other day alerting students to positions whose applications are due in the next 48 hours.

Isgar, CEO of the company, came up with the idea in early March when University students were told to leave campus due to the current pandemic. He then approached Kasselberg and Lu to see if they would join him in creating this platform. 

“I thought there were going to be a lot of students who were going to go to places and not have a lot to do,” Isgar said. “They might have their classes still, but have a lot of newfound time.” 

Isgar was also aware of how startups were being affected by the pandemic and thought there should be a way to help both the student and startup communities by connecting them to each other.

Professor of Engineering Barrett Hazeltine advised the co-founders on this project and believes the platform is a great resource for students looking for internship experience. “These months when we are in the crisis should not be a blank in people’s lives,” Hazeltine wrote in an email to The Herald.

Hazeltine also stressed the importance of timeliness to the co-founders. “My advice was to launch as soon as possible, before students had found other outlets,” Hazeltine wrote. He also cited the advantages of a “minimum viable product,” meaning that the co-founders should “get something out and learn from the reaction” instead of waiting to perfect the platform.

Following Hazeltine’s advice, the co-founders acted quickly and sent out a Google Form to act as a waitlist to gauge interest in the project while the platform was being built.

“We saw an immediate product-market fit,” Kasselberg said. “Before we had even finished making the platform, we went ahead and made a waitlist for students to sign up on. Those numbers started doubling and tripling immediately, and we could see that people were interested in this idea.”

By March 18, just one week after the idea was conceived, the platform was live and generating interest from both students and startups. The co-founders spread the word about their new platform via Facebook and asked students and other contacts to share the site to others. They simultaneously reached out to companies in each of their networks to inform them of the opportunity to gain help from college students. 

“When we got the interest form sent out, it literally took a matter of minutes to start seeing the growth happen across the country, so we could see it in real time,” Isgar said.

Though the network has only been live for four weeks, the platform has already attracted over 1,000 students from schools across the country, including Stanford University, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Texas and University of Michigan. As of April 15, Intern From Home featured more than 100 intern postings on the platform. 

Isgar credits the success of the platform to their “bias for taking action,” he said. “A lot of people have ideas, but a lot of people don’t act on them in the timely manner you need to to really get them into fruition.” 

The team has also applied lessons learned from the University’s Entrepreneurship Program, in addition to direct advice from Hazeltine.

Job postings on the site can be filtered by students’ career interests and whether the internship is paid or unpaid. After finding an interesting opportunity, a student is prompted to answer questions such as name, class year and institution and detail their interest in the company. The student will then answer other company-tailored questions and submit their resume, after which Intern From Home will package the application and forward it to the company.

“Right now, one of our great differentiators from other gig economy platforms or even other internship platforms is that we really are making as seamless of an experience as possible and as efficient of an experience as possible, especially given what’s going on around us,” Isgar said.

Companies and job postings on the website range from solar solutions to data and insight, and the Intern From Home team takes pride in the diversity of offerings. 

“Every student has a different sort of interest and passion as well as a different skill set, so the more variety of opportunities we can potentially provide them, the better in our minds,” Isgar said. 

Intern From Home’s success builds on each of the co-founders’ previous experience in entrepreneurship. Last year, Isgar launched his own startup, BrainChain, and in 2018, Lu founded H2Ok Innovations. All three co-founders are also active in the University’s Entrepreneurship Program where Isgar serves as co-president, Lu serves as the co-director of special events and Kasselberg serves as co-director of alumni relations.

Since the launch of the platform, the Intern From Home team now includes seven Brown students from all four class years. “These (students) are all go-getters and really brilliant students who we are so lucky to work with,” Kasselberg said. 

Intern From Home hopes to continue their efforts to help students and startups into the summer. 

“We’re now shifting a bunch of our focus towards internship roles for the summer as we’re seeing classmates, including myself, likely getting their internships canceled, … so we’re trying to support students through that as well as startups who are looking to bring on summer interns,” Isgar said. 

But for now, their main priority remains helping students and startups in their current circumstances. Because of this, the team has not decided yet if they will continue the platform into the fall and what that would look like.

Kasselberg believes the pandemic may change how companies will operate in the future.

“(We’ve) seen a lot of really large, old companies going virtual in ways that they never had before because they have to now, so we are excited about what the future holds for how we can help companies to operate their best virtually,” Kasselberg said.

In just over a month, Intern From Home has already helped many students and startups, and the co-founders are excited about their work and the future of the platform.

“We’re really proud to be doing everything in our power to be helping students and startups during this challenging time,” Isgar said.

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