Startup fair offers diverse career opportunities for students

By Dan Corry

“Our mission is to help students gain the skills they need to be successful entrepreneurs, and also to expose students to entrepreneurship,” said Jay Bensal, senior in computer science and Founders

Throughout the year, Founders will host multiple events to accomplish its goals, through meetings, career fairs, weekend events and more.

Bensal noticed a jump in attendance this year, from both students and businesses. The number of small business planning on attending rose from 25 to 30, and the projected number of students jumped from about 800 to 1,000.

“Students have gotten more aware of these professional opportunities,” he said. “(Instead of) working at a cubicle from nine to five … more and more students are open to the idea of working at a smaller company with a larger entrepreneurial environment, and therefore given more responsibility and ownership for their work right away.”

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The fair is open to students of all majors and unlike the business career fair, dress code is casual. Overall, Bensal said he was excited about the wide range of companies spanning from those located in Champaign and Research Park to San Francisco.

To bring this range of companies to campus, Amy Fruehling, director of College of Engineering Career Services, ECS, works with staff to coordinate interviews, career fairs and other occupational opportunities for engineering

“Last year, Founders reached out to us, and mentioned their interests in doing a startup fair, which was an idea career services had been thinking about as well,” she said. “(This year, ECS had) a slightly larger role in terms of promoting the fair to employers. For the most part, the students are still managing the event and it is still very much a Founders career fair.”

Fruehling highlighted some of the main differences between last week’s career fair and the startup fair.

“It’s less formal, it’s showcasing innovation, it attracts students who are interested in working for those smaller startup companies who may have idea of their own for their own startups, and it provides a more unique and smaller fair that targets students that are interested in entrepreneurship and puts them in front of companies who share that passion,” she said.

She said that another unique aspect of the startup fair is the collaboration between a student organization as well as career services, which together, can provide more value to the coordinators, the businesses participating, and interested students.

“It was really interesting seeing the breadth of companies represented, doing everything from agriculture to real estate,” said Niraj Pant, freshman in computer science who attended the startup fair hosted in the fall. “There’s nothing to lose — even if you don’t get much interest, it is a great way to prepare for other career fairs. Getting an internship is the single best thing you can do if you want to go into industry after graduation or learn more about startups.”

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