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Internpreneur Starter Kit (ISK) and Certification Program

By focusing on today's students, tomorrow's leaders, the Internpreneur Starter Kit (ISK) and Certification Program takes a systems approach to plant the seeds of change from the bottom, up, and from the inside, out.

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What motivated you as an intern?  That motivation probably had something to do with your future, and it is the heartbeat of this concept.

The Big Idea

As the name implies, the Internpreneur Starter Kit (ISK) and Certification Program has two components: 

  • (1) Starter Kit. The starter kit provides the tools, support systems and resources needed to unlock the creative potential and ambition of interns at companies around the globe regardless of size, industry, or location. 
  • (2) Certification Program. The second component, the certification, recognizes participants for inspiring world benefit through their for-profit organizations. Given the collaborative nature of achieving impact through world benefit initiatives, it may make sense to also consider a "Team Award." This is a variation on Chris Shaw's idea, and actually he suggested it on my other concept, The World Benefit Compass & Award (link). To read more about the certification, scroll way down to the next question.

The concept recognizes that any individual, independent of job title, can create lasting, sustainable impact if he or she has both the willingness and the right tools. 

Tools & The 5 Steps

Refer to the second illustration above. The starter kit has 5 steps, which may begin in advance of the internpreneur's first day of work: (1) Educate (2) Diagnose (3) Ideate and Plan (4) Ship (5) Share. The first and last steps create a positive feedback loop that grows with each generation of internpreneurs. The starter kit's objective is to accomplish for sustainable value what Betty Crocker did for cooking, through the careful packaging of information and necessary resources.

When I think of tools, I think of Galileo's telescope, which enabled him (hence, mankind) to see further into the galaxies and make new observations in the field of astronomy. That is what we want to do here: empower interns with tools that enable them to see further, and create world benefit through their for-profit organizations. The first and most essential tool is the instrument of knowledge. During the first step (educate), internpreneurs must read Chris Laszlo’s book, Sustainable Value (link). 

As a source of knowledge, inspiration and support, the internpreneurship community empowers interns to innovate for world benefit.

How It Works: Little Big Projects

Interns initiate and execute a small, concrete project that creates mutual benefit for the business as well as the local community. Examples include initiating a recycling program* in an office that doesn't currently do so, or arranging for occupancy sensors to reduce electricity costs. These are just two examples. Can you think of more? 

Another project may include researching and presenting to senior management a series of proposals on how the organization can innovate for world benefit. Knowledge-sharing to the upper rungs of an organization is a respectable way to promote such a program, change perceptions, and generate buy-in. 


As a requirement for achieving certification, interns must tell their stories by capturing their experiences, both in written format and video. This documentation process and content creation (step 5: share) is vital to the program's ultimate impact and reach.

  • Multiple Stakeholders, Multiple Narratives. In the spirit of how world benefit is created, the videos capture several perspectives from multiple stakeholders including customers, investors, and supply chain partners. World benefit recognizes the value of expanding the circle of collaboration beyond traditional silos. Although catalysts are essential, rarely is the impact of a world benefit initiative the result of a single individual. Keep this in mind when you read about the certification, below.
  • Eligibility. This program dovetails nicely with Arjan Tupan's concept, the Master of World Benefit (link). However, this program is designed to have the broadest possible reach, for students enrolled at any accredited academic institution. 
  • Program Integrity: 2 colleagues, including a supervisor, must verify the initiative. To protect the integrity of the program and certification, each certification is coded; this code keys into the internpreneurship website. Also, coding makes it easy for the intern to share his or her experiences with others, while allowing interested parties to conduct searches.

Global Network: Long Term & Scalable Growth

Refer to the third exhibit. University Career Centers want their students to succeed after graduation, and therefore are the ideal place to plant the seeds of this program. Note how the model leverages existing systems. More thoughts on growth:

  • Résumés & LinkedIn. The certification program is a great career marketing tool for recent college graduates, and therefore will find its way onto résumés, including professional profiles such as LinkedIn. Naturally, a LinkedIn group (easy to establish) is an excellent marketing channel.
  • Digital Natives. Today's interns are tomorrow's leaders. This is how the program achieves long-term growth, with scalable impact. Leveraging the "Digital Natives" generation's adaptability, commitment to corporate transparency, collaborative nature, and innovative spirit are levers that enable this concept to embed world benefit into an organization's core. Thanks, Arjan Tupan for pointing out the dynamic that interns bring to an organization.
  • Mentors. In the movie, Top Gun, first place fighter pilots were honored with an invitation to become instructors. Jokes aside, successful interns become essential in passing on wisdom to the next generation of internpreneurs. This strengthens the community and global network.

Program Evolution

Here are some more thoughts on how the program can evolve:

  • Competitions. Companies can participate by holding student competitions (think OpenIDEO). Winners get to execute the project.
  • Conferences. Conferences, which are excellent for strengthening communities, can coincide with the awarding of certifications and awards. Workshops, seminars, and speeches have quantifiable benefits that multiply in time.

Precedents and the Value of Toolkits

  • IDEO HCD Toolkit. Meena Kadri referred to IDEO's HCD toolkit for starters. This is a perfect example of how the starter kit could evolve. The idea is to empower interns with the confidence to start, and the means to execute.
  • Net Impact (link)As first-mover, Net Impact has done much to raise awareness and pave the way for other programs to enter the marketplace of ideas. There are a number of key areas that I would reconsider, and enhance. For example, the job board concentrates on "(1) sustainable and mission-driven businesses and social enterprises, (2) corporate responsibility roles and traditional functional roles with impact at for-profit companies, and (3) innovative nonprofits, foundations, and government agencies." If our goal is to allow sustainable value to impact every business regardless of size, industry or location, then we cannot limit this leadership role to those who are tasked (expected to) lead such initiatives, or are labeled as such. We can broaden the impact by not including a job board. Secondly, the documentation (stories through video and written formats, as well as program impact) process is a vital component that Net Impact lacks as an area of focus, or strength. This is particularly important, because it allows for the easy sharing of stories through social media channels, etc. Vincent Cheng suggested that Net Impact could be a great way to develop and spread this idea. This is certainly one path, though Net Impact has an excellent start on similar programs. I see a great opportunity to build on Net Impact's momentum, as there are enough areas of difference between the programs and ample market space to absorb more such platforms to justify the creation of the Interpreneur Starter Kit and Certification Program.
  • The Value of Toolkits. In a paper in The Journal of Product Innovation Management, "Perspective: User toolkits for innovation," (link) professor Eric Von Hippel of MIT describes how user toolkits can help organizations determine the users' (customers') need-related aspects of products and services. Toolkits enable enormous savings in time, effort, and as a corollary, money. Although Dr. Von Hippel's research refers to manufacturing, the lessons apply to this challenge. The toolkit is designed to flexibly meet the needs of each organization, which are constantly in flux. 


    Sally's inspiration, the Aspen First Mover Fellowship (link), which "empowers social entrepreneurs (people who create positive change within large companies)," is the genesis of this concept. Also, Ashley's thoughts on incentive design (link) forced me to think carefully about designing a concept that doesn't encourage cobra farms.

    New York Times opinion piece, "The Recycling Reflex" ( link ), suggests that although we have come a long way in terms of recycling, we still have a long way to go. The literature suggests that there are more problems to be solved, and the program encourages creativity and active participation from everyone.


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    I know I am late to the party on this, but a question for the execution stage:

    Certifications are a dime a dozen anymore. There is a certification for just about anything. About half are worthless, and a huge portion of the remaining have apparently morphed into money pits.

    For example, ASIS has numerous certifications. To get the certifications they cost almost $500 and require a person to study for a test based on information contained in books that only they sell. These materials alone run in the hundreds of dollars. When the time comes to take the test, the failure rates are high, and many attribute this to pedantic questions. This requires another couple of hundred dollars to retake the exam. After someone does pass, there is an annual due in the $400 dollar range. Also, the certification expires and requires renewal and a certain number of "educational credits" which can only be earned by attending ASIS events, which also run in the hundreds of dollars excluding travel costs. At the end of the day, people will spend thousands of dollars to remain "certified."

    Now, many employers believe that these certifications carry extensive weight, which can result in people with far less actual experience, but the certification, being considered over those more qualified and experienced. So, the question becomes, who is actually benefiting from the certification? The individual, the business, or is it the certifying body alone?

    Therefore, during execution, a question to keep in mind is: how will the certification be structured so that it accomplishes the purpose of the challenge AND adds tangible value to the community without becoming simply perceived value and a very expensive resume bullet?

    For informational purposes, I am not bashing ASIS as a disgruntled individual that is within their industry. The information was gathered as part of an MBA project on certifications in business, and ASIS is an internationally recognized non-collegiate certifying body.

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