University-Industry Engagement Week

Lehigh-Nasdaq partnership links student interns with early-stage start-ups

By David Schwartz
Published: November 8th, 2022

A detailed article on the novel partnership between Lehigh University and Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center focused on student internships with start-ups appears in the October issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, click here.

Lehigh University and the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center have just celebrated the fifth anniversary of a partnership that gives students “scaffolded” internship experiences with early-stage start-ups. To date, 1,000 students across 65 majors have participated in the program, whose main goal is “advancing the entrepreneurial mindset of students in any discipline” through programs, classes, and mentorship.

The “mindset training” that is core to the program involves “how to develop problem-solving, designed thinking — to be an adaptable, creative thinker,” says Nicola Corzine, executive director of the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, a non-profit arm of the stock trading company. “That mindset often starts with the ability to have access, to help dream up those ideas in the first place. That same mindset is equally important for students.”

“We launched in 2017,” says Samantha Dewalt, PhD, the managing director of Lehigh@Nasdaq,  who at the time had been doing industry engagement on campus. She moved to San Francisco that July to take on the role of inaugural managing director of the center. “Lehigh has run a program in Silicon Valley for over 11 years through the Lehigh Silicon Valley Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation on campus,” shares Dewalt. “We met the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center through our program. We were looking to expand.”

It was an alignment of interests and missions, she continues, that made the partnership such a logical move. “We always approached entrepreneurship as mindset development for any student; anyone can learn to become an entrepreneur,” says Dewalt. “That resonated with Nasdaq, and it was one of the fastest ‘come-togethers.’ Leadership hopped on a plane and inked the deal.”

“Always being curious drives both of us,” adds Corzine. “We have an alliance mission that says we want entrepreneurship that is accessible, and equitable to all. They as an institute in the world want to teach how to be a good student, and that the journey to an entrepreneurial mindset is available to everyone. That helps us then take things like the Intern Ready Workbook that has been developed in collaboration.” The workbook is designed to help company managers design effective internships and improve the onboarding process.

“We sit at the intersection of education and industry,” says Dewalt. “All of the programs we design in our partnership center on serving the [academic] community and start-up founders — the business community.”

Key innovation areas addressed by the partnership include educational programs, she continues. “We partner with start-ups, founders, and business leaders, whether they teach courses or run our start-up internship programs,” says Dewalt. “We also focus on research — doing joint research to explore and advance the field of entrepreneurship, education, and practice. We focus on thought leadership, how to package insight, lessons learned, and sharing back to the education and practitioner communities; they both bring something to the table.”

The Lehigh/Nasdaq partnership — one of many Nasdaq has with universities — has a number of programs, including the flagship Startup Academy, where students are placed in start-up internships that are framed by weekly classes, mentor pairings in their professional area of interest, and intern management workbooks.

“It was born out of an idea that came from both of us,” says Dewalt. “Lehigh and the dean of our business school and Nicola Corzine meet regularly with all of the leadership — deans and faculty — to explore impactful ideas. During a conversation they said, why not create a program where we embed student talent in start-up internships where students gain real-world practical experience, start-ups gain access to talent, and both organizations learn about talent development?”

Lehigh recruits and selects the student participants. “It’s a very competitive program, with strong representation on campus,” says Dewalt. “It’s based on aptitude, entrepreneurial mindset, passion, and so on. We work with the center to recruit and vet start-ups, we match them, and work together to scope out the project. We’ve also created a template to make it easier to onboard the students.” The template, she shares, includes a description of what the company is looking for in a candidate, how it matches up with company goals, and the desired skill set.

“There is a program manager on both sides, working together to co-design the whole experience — matching students, helping with project scoping,” she continues. “Then, there is the learning experience; there is a midway check-in with the intern managers, creating a learning community as they learn best practices from each other — what works, what doesn’t, what the challenges are. It creates a learning forum. We get to package those insights to then create a toolkit and share with the community. Now, anyone who wants to get student interns can create a program.”

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