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UT Establishing Coveted Internship Program with Techstars

Since arriving in Knoxville three years ago, Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator has sought to establish a deeper collaboration with the Tickle College of Engineering. Since taking over the Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science senior design series, Professor Jian Huang has sought to introduce a more entrepreneurial vision to his students.

It made for a mutually beneficial match to create a new opportunity.

Techstars is launching an internship program this spring for UT students. Ten companies from across the world are coming to Knoxville from March 11–June 6 to consult with Techstars and have a chance to work with researchers at UT, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Tennessee Valley Authority. The companies will be paired with 10 interns who fit their needs and the student’s area of study.

“The senior design program has been reinvented with a lot more of a start-up twist to it,” Huang said. “We are teaching innovation, teaching students to think bigger and embrace the idea of maybe building an engineering solution to benefit the world through a startup. So, there is a natural fit with Techstars in terms of philosophy and method.”

Techstars, which is run in partnership with the UT, ORNL, and TVA, is venture accelerator committed to supporting and advancing world-class startups focused on emerging technologies across industries including artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing, quantum information science, 5G/advanced wireless technology, biotechnology, and clean energy technology.

The UT internship program with Techstars is unique. Techstars has only 60 locations in 11 different countries across the world. They are mostly based in major cities, and Knoxville is considered a “niche” market. The location was attractive because of its proximity to UT, ORNL, and TVA and high amount of research and energy projects in the area.

“The most important piece is the big institutions that are around here that are producing these great ideas,” said Techstars Operations Associate Jonathan Henry said. “Techstars wants to seed and support these ideas to help bring them to market.”

The internships will help UT students establish relationships in the industry and enhance their future job prospects while giving them an inside look at the start up development process.

“They will be able to experience getting to know the companies and the people who are bringing these new ideas to the table,” Henry said. “They can sit down with these companies and really understand how everything works and contribute.”

Techstars is trying to find young companies that can become the “next big things” like Uber or Google. They want to discover the “moonshot companies” that start from a small idea and have the potential to change the world.

Through their internships, UT students can be on the ground floor to experience from the front row seats and learn what it takes. They may even return to Techstars in a few years as a start-up founder receiving the consultation and support.

“The internship started as a very grassroots thing but hopefully it will benefit UT, TechStars, and the Knoxville community,” Huang said. “Techstars is a premier brand and really a movement that everyone wants to be a part of. This relationship really makes UT stand out among other universities.”


Rhiannon Potkey (865-974-0683,