Faith Voinovich, principal at Ohio Innovation Fund, began her time with OIF as an intern. Now, one of her responsibilities is overseeing the internship program. From her perspective, she's seen the pandemic have a significant effect on what young people want from a career.
"The Fund was founded in 2016, 2017 was our first intern that came on, I was part of 2018, and since then, we brought on interns every year," she says. "The application process has changed quite a bit in terms of the level of diligence that we do on the front end, and I'd say that's just because there is so much more interest now as venture capital as entrepreneurship are being a little bit more popularized, especially with those students who are looking for that additional impact that they can make. There's a huge focus on how do I jump into something and make a difference? How do I have something that fulfills me in one way or another? Because I think there's a realization happening that — and COVID-19 was part of this — so much of one's time is spent in the working world — at work, with your co-workers, whether that be in person, whether it be online — and trying to find some sort of additional fit. It doesn't need to be that every day is absolutely the most wonderful and you're passionate about every aspect of the career, but students are really changing that focus to, what is it that I am good at, but can make that impact with, can find some enjoyment out of? And startups are really great way to do that."
She says one of the challenges on the corporate side is that people, because of the pandemic, had this notion of being a cog in the machine as a result of the mass layoffs. It felt to many as if they were just a number. Interns and intern applicants felt much the same as they saw opportunities for corporate internships shut down, in part because companies couldn't pivot quickly enough to do something that's virtual.
Students, she says, have been much more emboldened to tackle major problems or see their ideas turn into something meaningful that can make an impact, such as a startup.
"And I believe a lot of that was because all of a sudden they weren't in the classroom in the same way as they were," she says. "There are huge benefits to being in a classroom, and I'm so glad that many folks are back to that, but there was an opportunity that came with that on just the pure time management, the forced realization of, How do I want to spend my time? Because I've got a lot of it. And right now it's being spent all to myself. And maybe it's just in my head, but where do I have values? Where do I want to be prioritizing things? And seeing that with many of our interns being interested in startup companies?"
She says interest in the Fund's internship program has gone from a couple hundred applications to just under 5,000 applications this past year for just five spots.
Voinovich spoke on the Smart Business Dealmakers Podcast about changes she's seen in early-stage investing and shares her view of the broader startup picture. Hit play to catch the full conversation.