Pando

TechLA: A startup internship program aimed at the exodus of LA's engineering graduates

By Michael Carney , written on June 14, 2013

From The News Desk

One of the greatest shortcomings of the Los Angeles tech ecosystem in recent years has been the inability to retain the engineering talent that graduates from its local universities. Believe it or not, it’s LA, not Boston or the Bay Area, that graduates the most engineers in the US each year – 2,900 in total. But, as much as 70 percent of the time, according to some estimates, these talented young individuals leave the area to find work elsewhere.

TechLA, a consortium formed among Internships.com, several local VC firms, incubators, and accelerators, and the leading local universities, aims to change this trend. The program will invite math and engineering students at UCLA, USC, The Art Center College of Design, and CalTech to connect with several hundred participating startups for internships, as well as to participate in general networking and community events.

There will be two 12 week internship sessions during the academic year, both of which will be unpaid with class credit awarded instead. During the summer, internships will be a mixture of unpaid and paid – with the latter historically receiving three times the applicants, according to Internships.com founder Robin Richards. Each TechLA internship will have a defined goal and a direct report at the company, in an effort to ensure that the experience is a valuable one for all involved.

The first crop of students will be matched on August 15 ahead of the fall semester, with the goal of placing 500 students among more than 300 companies in the initial cycle. While the program will focus on startups, larger local corporations like Disney and Sony have also expressed an interest in participating, according to Steven Dietz, partner at LA-based VC firm GRP Partners.

One challenge with previous efforts along these lines has been fragmentation. “We’ve had 30 small programs, with each school within each university running its own internship program,” Dietz says. Stanford grads, he went on to say, have a distinct advantage in their exposure to role models prior to graduation.

Internships.com’s Richards points to statistical evidence to back up the program’s potential to retain local engineering talent. Over his company’s 10 year history, participating employers have hired their interns to full time positions more than 70 percent of the time, while someone interning for the same company twice has better than a 90 percent shot at being hired.

“Students only leave town when fearful they can't get a job,” Richards says. “That’s when they go to where their parents are or where the action is.”

Student applicants will complete profiles and take a personality- and skills-based test developed by Internships.com to match candidates with companies based on their culture, technology, and employer requests.

Historically, internship matching has taken place through a university’s career services office, through career fairs, or through networking among friends and family. With limited transparency or consistency across the ecosystem, it’s largely been a crapshoot for both students and companies.

“Our greatest weapons are speed and efficiency. Colleges, and some companies even, tend to move slowly or make decisions without data,” Richards says. “Our goal is to make sure that every student signing up is matched to a suitable internship, and we can do that using algorithms.”

It’s a wise move by the leaders of LA’s startup community to recognize the ecosystem’s fundamental shortcomings and take steps to correct them. There’s nothing like success to attract and beget more success. If the current generation of startups can build prominent and sustainable businesses, then it will go a long way to inspiring confidence in future graduates to stay in LA and create the next generation of success stories.

As Dietz describes it, “This is just one aspect of everyone getting together and saying, how can we make this a healthier community?”