Remote Entrepreneurship Project Program helps students turn “lost summer” into an opportunity to gain experience

In early spring, Case Western Reserve University students had to quickly adapt to virtual learning in new environments in response to COVID-19. By late spring, they had to face another harsh reality: Their plans for a resume-building summer of jobs and internships would need to change drastically. Plans for experiential learning had been postponed or canceled due to the pandemic, and students had to search for new opportunities. 

Through conversations with students, Michael Goldberg, executive director of the Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship and assistant professor of design and innovation at Weatherhead School of Management, discovered this issue was widespread. In partnership with the Office of Post-Graduate Planning and Experiential Education, the Veale Institute quickly responded with the creation of the Remote Entrepreneurship Project (REP) Program. 

“The more students we spoke with, the more we realized their summer plans were almost nonexistent,” Goldberg said. “We really wanted to find a way to quickly make their summer months worthwhile.”

The REP program offers students the opportunity to work virtually on projects for startups during the summer months. All of the work for these projects is remote and each student accepted to the program receives a stipend of $500.

“A lot of my friends who already had or were in the process of getting summer jobs, internships or research positions had their plans canceled,” rising fourth-year biomedical engineering student Sunayana Jampanaboyana said. “The REP program gave us another option to consider for remote opportunities when other things were so uncertain.”

Originally planning to research and implement in-person events for a nonprofit with which she works, Jampanaboyana is now working with Biohm Health, a Cleveland-based company founded by Case Western Reserve faculty member Mahmoud Ghannoum. Working on a project to help diversify partnerships through market research, Jampanaboyana is turning what seemed like a lost summer into valuable time gaining relevant experience for her future.

“I can’t say enough good things about Sunayana,” CEO Brett Malone said. “When I reached out to look through resumes, we were presented with really good talent. It’s amazing to be able to bring in such experienced interns.”

Among the companies participating in the REP program, many Case Western Reserve alumni-owned businesses have been eager to get involved. 

Weatherhead School of Management graduate Nikki DiFillipo owns Via Vera Group and provides B2B marketing and strategy consulting for high-tech startups in their early stages. Max Pennington ( CWR ‘22) and Neha Praseed (CWR ‘23) started working for DiFillipo in June and have been assigned to take a look inward, with Via Vera Group as their client. 

“Typically, I work on my own, with my own strategies,” DiFillipo said. “I’m excited to get different perspectives from Case Western Reserve students of this caliber.”

Praseed, a rising sophomore studying management and economics, is working from home for the first time. Interested in how companies are handling this time of compromise, she applied for the REP program with the hope of gaining real experience in the business world while organizations continue to evolve to meet the needs of the current climate. 

“Companies are going remote and I want to be a part of that experience,” Praseed said. “Opportunities like this should be offered on a yearly basis. Many disciplines could, and should, do this.”

Because of the remote delivery of the REP program, the program was able to offer opportunities beyond Cleveland. Halle Tecco, alumna and the founder of Natalist, a company that produces and sells fertility and pregnancy products that are “inspired by beauty and backed by science,” jumped at the opportunity to bring on rising junior chemical engineering major Megan Nellis.

“We are excited to get the chance to work with Case Western Reserve students, especially young women,” she said in an interview that appeared in Goldberg’s recent piece on forbes.com. “We are eager to provide them with a summer opportunity to learn more about women’s health and business.”

Nellis started her remote project in late May after learning her original summer internship would be canceled. She has been busy creating spreadsheets to organize her market research and competitive analysis, scheduling Zoom calls and attending weekly internship meetings during which she learns from Natalist team members working on everything from marketing to product design. 

“If it weren’t for [the REP program], I wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn so much about product development and competitive analysis and in general, I really like the environment and the people I work with,” Nellis said. 

With an original goal of placing between 20 to 30 students with summer projects, it quickly became obvious there was a much bigger need for opportunities. Thanks to the community members and Case Western Reserve alumni who stepped up, 112 students have been placed with a remote summer project. 

“I think [the REP program] is vital,” Darrell Butler said. “I didn’t know where to start.”

Butler is a nontraditional student, entering college after spending years in business. Now, he is majoring in history and minoring in political science, expecting to graduate in December and attend graduate school at Case Western Reserve. He planned to use this summer to re-enter the business world in hopes that it would help influence what master’s program to pursue, but when COVID-19 left him without childcare, he didn’t want to commit to summer plans without knowing more. 

“I feel like it’s very vital because other students are in the same situation,” Butler said. “It has been wonderful for Michael and [the REP program] to have these business connections and opportunities for the students.”

Butler is working with entrepreneur Yogesh Patel, owner of BeerNow, who is in the midst of expanding his business digitally and needs help.

“Students are getting real experience working for small businesses and small businesses are looking for good talent,” Patel said. “This kind of program should be more available.”

“We are grateful that when we saw this need and brought it to our community, it was well received and people took action so quickly,” Goldberg said. “Thank you to everyone who made this happen and gave our students a meaningful summer opportunity.”