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CWRU professor's internship program helps students despite COVID-19

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Posted at 6:24 PM, Jul 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-03 06:29:58-04

CLEVELAND — In a matter of days, the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to internships left and right, leaving college students around Northeast Ohio in limbo. Thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of some Case Western Reserve University faculty members, however, hundreds of students are hard at work and, in some cases, getting paid while also receiving quality experience.

When COVID-19 started flooding the country like a broken water main, summer internship opportunities quickly dried up. Some college students had those internships locked up to six months prior to the pandemic. As he started seeing those opportunities fall by the wayside, Michael Goldberg, an associate professor of design and innovation at CWRU's Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship, started to get to work.

Goldberg, affectionately referred to as a human Rolodex or the human version of LinkedIn, began connecting students with businesses. It quickly spread.

"We had the idea of starting what we're calling the remote entrepreneurship pilot program," Goldberg said. "There was a pretty overwhelming response both from students [and businesses]. There were about 200 students that submitted an application to be part of the program. We had almost 200 projects from entrepreneurs and small businesses. About 70 percent of them are in Northeast Ohio."

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One of those students that were connected to a local internship opportunity was Darrell Butler, a history major that has been attending CWRU through the Cleveland Humanities Collaborative (CHC). The CHC is a partnership between Tri-C and CWRU to promote the transfer of Tri-C students to CWRU to pursue a bachelor of arts degree in any humanities field.

Butler, 41, was connected with Yogesh Patel, a local entrepreneur that owns a series of beverage stores around Northeast Ohio, including Cleveland. At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Patel knew customer behavior would be in the process of drastically changing. He wanted to make beer and wine sales online.

"We need to come up with a model where they can get their alcoholic beverages at their home without paying anything extra," Patel said.

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Butler would be a perfect fit for the startup considering his vast experience in retail wine and beer sales. Without the remote entrepreneurship pilot program, the connection would not have been made, Butler said.

"What I was going to do, I wanted to put myself back into the business world to kind of see whether I wanted to pursue an MBA or what I was going to do. The pandemic happened. I was more or less frozen. Everybody was on hold. To be honest, I had no idea what was going to happen this summer," Butler said. "It was a really good fit. I think from my end, what was great is that I got to be part of an e-commerce business at its very start and being part of a startup."

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For the past several weeks, Butler has been working hand-in-hand with Patel and his teenage children. Using his knowledge, Butler has been helping the startup, WineBeerUSA.com, narrow down its offerings of wine and beer. The startup aims to differentiate itself from the pack by offering boutique and local wines to the lower 48 states. Customers will be able to earn free shipping by buying 12 bottles of wine.

"It's incredibly valuable for me, number one, just being able to work with a local entrepreneur and getting that mentorship. I think that will be something I will be able to use as I graduate from Case this December," Butler said. "One of the big things that I really enjoyed about this is that all my years in the wine industry, I never got to choose it myself. That's awesome."

That type of symbiotic relationship between the business and the intern is what the program is all about, Goldberg said.

"I'm hopeful that out of this mess of a situation that we're in, there's going to be some great work that my students do for companies and really help the companies. I think more so than anything it's that experience on their [resume]," Goldberg said. "We're starting to see this through this program, employers that had never traditionally recruited on our campus, through this program, are being matched in a way. My hope is that they see the talent that we have."

Patel, who has been paying Butler for his work on the startup, hopes the pilot program continues in the years to come because of how beneficial it is for both sides.

"This experience, what Darrell is getting, he's not going to get at a large company," Patel said. "It is very important that if you want to spark entrepreneurship you need to provide that access of mentoring to these college students."

Patel said WineBeerUSA.com intends to go live on July 5.