Find Your Passion: Oh, the Possibilities: Internship Opens Eyes to Marketing Opportunities

By Chris Bryant
Photos by Matthew Wood

July 9, 2013

Will SandersSanders stands in front of a mirror at the Sigma Chi fraternity house. The UA senior frequently practiced his end-of-the-semester pitch to investors by practicing in front of this mirror.

When Will Sanders refers to his part-time, on-campus internship as an "eye opener," it's a descriptor that fits.

Sanders, a University of Alabama senior, spent the spring semester as one of eight interns in UA's Office for Technology Transfer. During his initial stint with the office, known as OTT, the Mobile native says he learned more about three things – marketing technology, shrimp and himself – than he anticipated. And, he indicates he just may have spotted a potential career path.

"I didn't think it would be as involved and in-depth as it turned out to be," Sanders says of the position in which he worked from eight to 15 hours per week for approximately 4 months. "It was a pleasant surprise."

UA' s Office for Technology Transfer partners with UA innovators to bring technologies created at the University to the marketplace for public benefit.

In this, the first year of the Venture Development Internship program, the students performed in-depth analyses of various technologies, enabling OTT to prioritize resources and to identify technologies needing additional research, says Dr. Whitney Hough, venture development associate with OTT and overseer of the internship program.

Will SandersA Mobile native, Sanders was one of the first participants in UA's Venture Development Internship program.

"Will's background is in marketing and sales, so he wasn't familiar with the science behind the various technologies at UA," says Hough. "Instead of focusing only on the business portion, he sought out additional resources and assistance in order to gain a deeper understanding of the various technologies. He isn't afraid to ask for help, which allowed him to have a more complete understanding of the technologies and why it would be attractive to industry."

From business plan development to promotional strategies and from researching public speaking to forecasting market values, the paid position, Sanders says, offered him much experience in areas that he – a marketing major with a sales specialization – desired.

OTT combined students having a technical background with those from a business background and had them work in teams. Sanders and his teammate, fellow intern, Sergei Wallace, chose to concentrate on marketing a technology offered by 525 Solutions, a start-up company incubating within UA's Alabama Innovation and Mentoring of Entrepreneurs, or AIME, building.

The science behind 525 Solutions, which was developed and is being perfected by UA chemistry researchers, revolves around the removal of the compound chitin, in a pure form, from shrimp. The naturally occurring material has shown promise as an element to incorporate into a new type of bandage, one with anti-bacterial properties and vitamins and minerals to promote healing. The company's research also indicates the material has potential as a carrier of anti-aging components, enabling cosmetics, for example, to deliver, in an extended-release formula, anti-wrinkle therapy directly to skin.

Will SandersSanders says the internship, overseen by Hough, right, advanced his business skills.

Sanders and the other interns spent much of the semester gearing up for AIME Day, an opportunity to "pitch" their respective technologies to potential investors visiting campus.

"We are not trying to start a business," Sanders says. "We are trying to pitch an idea. It's really the technique that we're doing that we're trying to commercialize."

Over the course of the semester, Sanders and Wallace developed and perfected an eight-minute oral presentation, accompanied by about 20 PowerPoint slides, to give to the potential investors.

"It is kind of a nail biter," Sanders says. "You spend so much time researching something and investing your time in it, and it comes down to about eight minutes where you either do it or you don't. It's not quite do or die, but it's pretty close to it."

In preparing for the presentations, Sanders says OTT introduced him to its specialized research databases and other new approaches.

"Using some of the tools they use not only helped my presentation skills, but my business skills are a lot more advanced than they were."

Will SandersA marketing major, Sanders and his internship partner were tasked with 'pitching' to investors a technology offered by a UA start-up company.

In the weeks leading up to the big day, Sanders and the other interns gave their presentations to fellow interns and other UA representatives including Hough and Dr. Richard Swatloski, director of OTT. These practice presentations were recorded, and each one was later critiqued with the video of the presentation posted online for the interns' review. Sanders could literally watch his presentations improve as he became more comfortable and incorporated suggestions.

"It was definitely surprising to see yourself on camera, hearing the way you actually come across. It's an eye opener, especially seeing the speed at which I spoke and the overall tone I had. At this point, though, it's really kind of second nature. We know what we're talking about. It's just a matter of executing what we know."

Hough indicates she was pleased with the final presentation that introduced the product, addressed its value propositions, risks to entry, marketing opportunities in select fields, and potential growth rates, among other things.

"Will and Sergei's pitch got good feedback from the judges and investors," Hough says, "as many liked the use of local raw materials, businesses and workers. All of our interns performed extremely well … better than our expectations."

OTT rewarded Sanders with a second, different, internship this summer.

Prior to the initial internship, Sanders says he knew little of technology marketing's existence. Now? He's wondering if he's found a potential calling … following the completion of his degree in December and a potential MBA after that.

"It is definitely a career path that I am looking into and trying to be more educated on."

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This story is part of the Find Your Passion feature section of the UA home page. For more stories, please visit Find Your Passion or Crimson Spotlight. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.