Michigan Founders Fund: Future Founders Internship Program Welcomes Underrepresented College Talent into the State’s Startup Ecosystem

16 underrepresented students secured summer internships with 11 Michigan tech companies through the program, which offers training, mentorship and support to students and companies.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.--()--The Michigan Founders Fund (MFF) is a nonprofit serving the needs of high-growth entrepreneurship and community impact across the state. Now in its second year, the Future Founders Internship Program helped 16 underrepresented students secure paid summer internships at 11 Michigan-based tech companies. Of those hired, the interns self identify as 75% women, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming, 81% Black, Indigenous, or People of Color, 56% are PELL-eligible, and 44% are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Established as a standalone organization in December 2021, MFF was previously serving the community as the Ann Arbor Entrepreneurs Fund (A2EF), an initiative of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. Under A2EF, the organization launched the state's first DEI-focused internship program for the tech ecosystem last year, formerly called the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Students + Tech Internship Program.

“We are thrilled to announce the second year of our internship program, which strives to make Michigan’s startup ecosystem more accessible, diverse, and successful,” said MFF Director of Community Sarah Craft. “Michigan’s high-growth sector continues to experience healthy growth, but the talent within this community is often disproportionate to the diversity found across the state. The Future Founders Internship Program is one step in efforts to change this trajectory as we provide internships, training, and mentorship to diverse Michigan college students while also helping tech startups develop or strengthen their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and reach new talent.”

The program is sponsored by Bank of Ann Arbor, with support from Washtenaw Community College (WCC). Washtenaw Community College, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, Detroit Promise, Eastern Michigan University, and University of Michigan-Dearborn served on an MFF-led advisory team to help with student outreach and evaluate the 145 applications using a standardized rubric. Applications came from 16 colleges and universities across the state.

In just one year, the applicant pool doubled, indicating an increased interest from Michigan college students in the startup industry and effective student outreach strategies. MFF will continue to engage more startups to offer internships in future years to enhance opportunities for diverse student talent.

Mykolas Rambus is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Hush, which is based in Detroit. Rambus is from Southeast Michigan but spent more than a decade living, working, and building companies outside of the state. Rambus and his family recently relocated back to the region with the intent to grow and scale his business in Detroit. Hush hired a Future Founder intern and is actively pursuing opportunities to develop their team and support the community.

"I want to grow our company in a way that benefits our entire community," Rambus said. "We are actively recruiting and hiring diverse, local talent through programs like the Future Founders Internship Program, Detroit at Work, and elsewhere. It's important for high-growth companies to be active contributors in solving our own talent pipeline challenges and participation in the internship program is one way to make our industry more accessible and successful."

As part of the program, companies are also required to participate in three DEI-focused workshops and consultation, which is led by Sharonda Simmons of Thrive and Shine LLC.

Student interns began work at the end of May and will continue their internships through the summer. Students are also receiving skill development workshops, professional mentorship, and networking opportunities within their cohort and across the startup ecosystem.

Caylinn Higgins is an incoming senior at University of Michigan Dearborn and was hired as a Customer Education Intern at Nutshell in Ann Arbor. Higgins said she is aware of the impact businesses can have on a community and wants to explore the startup space as her way to make the change she wants to see.

“Businesses and companies have the power to make or break a community,” she said. “Whether I impact someone through a screen or in person, the world needs change and I want to take the initiative to be that change. I chose to be in the startup industry because I want to create a clean slate for new ideas and innovations.”

Students have already completed two learning workshops and have been matched with their mentors, who are all professionals connected to Michigan’s startup ecosystem. In an effort to improve networking opportunities and continued access to the startup space, MFF and partners will host a late-July celebration and networking event for students, companies, mentors, and ecosystem partners.

To learn about the unique opportunities available to high-growth entrepreneurs through Michigan Founders Fund, how to hire interns in future years, and how to become a member, please visit https://michiganfoundersfund.org/ or contact community@michiganfoundersfund.org.

About the Michigan Founders Fund

Michigan Founders Fund (MFF) is the state’s founder community. Together, we are committed to fellowship, cultural intention, and funding solutions that uplift communities across the state where we live and operate. MFF’s mission is to grow the presence of successful high-growth ventures and advance civic leadership in Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem by (1) creating a strong, inclusive, and active founder-to-founder support network to help leaders succeed in their ventures, (2) driving a for-purpose, founders-for-founders and founders-for-community culture, (3) providing founders with a simple mechanism for philanthropic giving and opportunities to become community leaders in parallel to being business leaders. MFF creates programs for founders and investors to advance relationships, the ecosystem, and startup success. The MFF network of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists have pledged 1% of equity, profit or investment carry from their businesses into a fund for state-based grantmaking. To date, the organization has 53 pledged members.


Trista Van Tine, Executive Director, trista@michiganfoundersfund.org

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Trista Van Tine, Executive Director, trista@michiganfoundersfund.org