My name is Olivier Elewaut and for the past four months, I had the opportunity to intern for the Slovak NGO, a startup media platform Slovak STARTUP based in Bratislava, where I was introduced to the rising startup community of Central Europe. And this is the summary of how it was.
I had two chief reasons for writing this blog post. Firstly, I simply aimed to present my experience working as an intern for the Slovak STARTUP. The other reason was to inspire other students looking for an internship to extend their search to include smaller companies or those within a startup community. In short – the further away from your comfort zone, the better. This makes it clear why Slovak STARTUP was the best fit for me.
When looking for an internship back in November 2016, I had a clear understanding of what I was aiming for. From the very beginning, I was searching for an internship placement where I would be introduced to the practical side of entrepreneurship and its possible acceleration process. As Slovak STARTUP was situated in the co-working space of 0100 Campus and derives its media content from the Slovak startup success stories, the placement had it all.
What exactly did I do for Slovak STARTUP? Based on the internship ad, they were offering mainly a networking job. I was responsible for contacting and documenting Slovak expats who are active in their local startup communities or who have worked themselves up into interesting positions at Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and other multinational corporations or within universities.
Of course, this was not all I did. That brings me to the reason to why it is so great to work for smaller companies: founders and your colleagues tend to offer you more responsibility, freedom, and independence for completing your assignments.
This was certainly also the case of SlovakSTARTUP. I was always present during the weekly meetings, closely observing the team on how they went through their numerous brainstorm sessions and everyday challenges, and I even had the opportunity to participate in finding new ways to monetize and fund the activities of the NGO.
The overall atmosphere at 0100 Campus and Slovak STARTUP was extremely pleasing and the work culture truly fosters personal and professional development. People tend to give you enough space to work on your own projects and ideas, which for me came as a large surprise. At Slovak STARTUP, they always had time to hear me out, give advice, or ask for advice, and if I needed, they would open their network for me. Thus, I could learn more from a wide range of experts.
My internship started when I came to the vibrant, international co-working space for the first time. There, I was introduced to the team, and Viktor, the executive and operations manager, gave me a great welcome including a tour through the location and a very clear briefing on what was expected of me.
After my first three weeks, I witnessed the first ever Startup Grind fireside chat event with the Chairman of the Board of Frog Capital and angel investor, Martin S. Hauge, as a guest. Creandum, his VC fund, was one of the first institutional investors to invest in Spotify.
I gained a lot of insights from his talk about his many experiences and was given a chance to interview him for my bachelor thesis. This, as you will notice further on, was one of the greatest advantages of taking an internship in the center of a startup community. I was given free entrance to a lot of startup-related events in the area and could meet intriguing figures out of the startup arena and learn from their stories.
The next memorable experience was when I had the opportunity to join Filip Fischer, the founder of the Game Dev Hub, CEO of Charged Monkey, and co-founder of Pixel Federation, for a week-long trip to the city of Prague. He showed me what the true life of a dedicated entrepreneur looked like, as he and his teammates worked REALLY hard on their new game, What the hen!, without ever losing that passion and commitment to deliver.
Besides hanging out and working at the Game Dev Hub and walking through the streets of Prague, my colleagues from Slovak STARTUP helped me arrange meetings with Olga Afanasjeva, COO of GoodAI and General AI Challenge Director, and Gabriel Szuma, Director of Startup Grind Prague.
In the meetings, I learned a lot about new rising technologies like Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence, as well as about how venture capital works. Both technologies – and I am sure of it – will leave a large footprint on our society during the next decade to come. My advice to all? Start learning the characteristics of these emerging technologies immediately – chances are you will have to do so anyway within the next five years.
A few weeks after the Prague trip I experienced my first hackathon, which was something I read about on the internet but had never attended. A hackathon is usually a “competition between strong technical people who form teams to tackle a certain issue or topic in a limited amount of time, generally over a weekend.” In this case, the topic was aimed at one’s personal insurance. Eventually, the prize money went to the team that came up with an algorithm to form a quick assessment of the overall safety of your next holiday destination.
One of my last, but certainly not least memorable moments was when I was present during the recording of the podcast with Andrej Kiska, a partner at Czech VC firm Credo Ventures. I learned more about the venture capital industry within this one hour than during the whole previous year. His bold rational honesty about the entire investment process really struck me. Most of his advice can be found in his book Central European Startup Guide. Later that day, I was also introduced to Kevin Petrovic, an American with Slovak roots, who is the youngest founder to raise over 20 Mil. USD for his startup FlightCar.
Throughout this internship, I not only got my first real work experience, but I also discovered a whole new world that offers a lot of opportunities to students, since small companies see a big value in interns. They make a lot more effort to give students what they need – networks, advice, more responsibility, more freedom, and more experience. A small company internship can be a great fit for students who don’t wish to go the traditional route of multinational corporations. While it is not a path for every student, it IS one that should be explored.
One way to find internship opportunities is to do as Marek Dlugos did – by creating and promoting his personal website. Another way is to keep a close eye on sites like AngelList and CrunchBase, where you can find the most interesting startups and then follow them on LinkedIn.
If you are a student interested in doing an internship in the future, I would recommend you get in touch with the guys in Slovak STARTUP or – in case you are in Bratislava – attend with friends some of the events of 0100 Campus. The network of inspirational people is everything, and this is a great way to create your own and potentially meet someone who might arrange an internship in the near future. Who knows?!
I would like to give big thanks to all the people who helped me during my internship. I see a bright future for the new community in Bratislava.
Olivier Elewaut signing off!