How students can help startups to grow


Sherry Coutu CBE, founder of Workfinder, serial entrepreneur and angel investor, explains what students can bring to the table as startups grow.

An internship isn’t just a great opportunity for a student – startups can benefit from it too. Some of the companies that I’ve been involved with have had huge success using students’ talents to help them grow.

To illustrate how valuable students can be, I’ll take you through four examples from my own experience.

Competitive market research

I was an angel investor in LinkedIn, and previously sat on its advisory board. Very early on we ran two competing studies on how we could carry out a global rollout, well before anyone had heard of LinkedIn and certainly before it floated. Two teams of students studying for MBAs from different business schools ran market entry studies for us and brought up incredible insights, all of which helped us to put together an extremely strong case for the company.

This worked for us again with a different business case. I also used to be on the advisory board of, which is a US-based company. We were looking to expand into potential European markets and needed insight, but we only had one employee based in the UK at the time. It was absolutely critical to get more help on competitor analysis and market research.

We reached out again to a business school, and the students working toward an MBA put together the most phenomenally helpful research. When we had so few resources, the students’ help and insight was invaluable.

Fresh ideas

We had similar experience at Founders4Schools, the charity I founded and am now chairman of the board. An intern had suggested that we build an app that gave students the chance to rate the work experience placements that they had had – because most of them were terrible.

We agreed. So, we put together a few prototypes and it became clear that this could be a really great product, but was it just an idea or really good business?

We reached out again for a team of MBA students to work up a financial model, and with their help we realised that there was a phenomenal potential company in the idea prompted by one of our interns. We discarded some ideas and worked around them, but the first insight we had into how big this market was came from a team of MBA students. That idea grew into Workfinder.

It’s not just MBA students who can help. Around a year after we registered Founders4Schools as a charity, we found out we had to create an annual report for it. At the time we had around three or four staff and were pretty much all volunteering our time, and would need a helping hand on the report.

The daughter of a friend of mine was doing a gap year and we brought her on board. She put together an amazing annual report for us, interviewing students, teachers and advisors. The crucial thing is that she helped us to see ourselves through other people’s eyes, and to tell our story – which of course is what an annual report is for.

The best untapped growth hack

So, the next time you need an annual report, or a competitor analysis, or market research, I urge you to think about getting a small army of student interns. They might be studying at university or be at school. Both would be absolutely excellent.

For me they’ve been the greatest growth hack in so many of my ventures.

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