An Odyssey into Startup Land

How internships gave me a glimpse into the world of disruption

Photograph by Rawpixel

I never imagined I would intern at a startup accelerator — let alone Berkeley SkyDeck, one of the most renowned university incubators in the country — or go on to intern at a new media startup creating some of today’s most accessible audio editing and sharing software available. Despite my proximity to Silicon Valley as a UC Berkeley student, I had always peered into the tech bubble from the outside. My perception was riddled by rumors of toxic startup culture, and although these stories should not be discounted — women founders, especially women founders of color, are few and far between and there is still a dearth of Black and Indigenous voices in Silicon Valley — I did have the pleasure of meeting some of the most curious and hardworking individuals I’ve ever encountered during my time in the land of startups.

But how did I — an English and Biology double major looking to pursue a career in journalism and environmental justice — end up interning at a university accelerator and a new media startup? Well, we have to rewind to the start of last spring.

About a year ago, during the early days of the pandemic (when my peers and I thought we were simply returning home for spring break), not only was I fending off Zoom fatigue and re-acquainting myself with my teenage bedroom, but I was also struggling to find an internship for the summer. Somehow, through a series of clicks, I stumbled on Berkeley SkyDeck’s virtual summer internship fair and decided to tune in on a whim. Slots to network for startups were filling up quickly, but I managed to jot my name down to network with a few sustainability-minded startups and the Berkeley SkyDeck accelerator itself.

At the virtual internship fair, I was impressed with the range of opportunities in front of me; the internship fair boasted a platter of over 50 startups, across a range of industries. I networked with a startup designing eco-friendly furniture, a startup using AR technology to create a more immersive experience for people visiting art museums, and even a Bay Area based startup focused on providing reusable containers for customers/restaurants ordering/shipping takeout and delivery food. Every company seemed fresh for the picking, and I was pleasantly surprised to find all the co-founders I had spoken with to be warm and personable.

I had the same, warm experience when I landed in my final virtual room with the Berkeley SkyDeck team. I shared my enthusiasm for journalism and my fascination with the startup world, and later that week I opened my email to find an interview offer. The interview turned into an offer, and, before I could think twice, I had accepted the offer to be a part of SkyDeck’s 2020 summer intern cohort!

Over the course of my virtual internship, I was in charge of the content and design for SkyNews, Berkeley SkyDeck’s biweekly newsletter. I had the opportunity to put my journalism skills to use by interviewing and writing news segments on renowned CEOs and academic researchers that work across a spectrum of fields, from sustainability to healthcare, education to new media. To this day, my most notable moment was interviewing Dr. Maria Artunduaga, founder and CEO of Respira Labs, a startup that is creating AI-enabled wearable devices to diagnose and prevent respiratory attacks in patients suffering from COPD. During the interview, we had a great conversation about her inspiration for Respira Labs, as well as the struggles she has faced as a Latinx woman in the healthcare and startup fields.

More than the hands-on experiences I gained, my time at Berkeley SkyDeck pushed me to think beyond my passion for putting words on the page. I quickly began to discover an interest for new media, or the platforms and mediums by which we can communicate written, visual, and audio content. As my internship with SkyDeck came to a close, I had the chance to follow this fascination and connect (and, eventually, intern) with Anup Gosavi, the CEO and co-founder of Spext.

Spext is a startup making audio-editing as simple as editing a word document. Nowadays, everyone I know is veering towards the direction of audio-based media. In 2020 alone, 60% of people in the U.S. had claimed to listen to some form of streamed audio in the last week, a notable increase from the 44% of people who claimed to do so in 2015. However, despite our increasing consumption of audio, editing waveforms (the flowing lines that oscillate up and down on the screen when you’re recording or listening to audio) is a tedious, time consuming task. Waveforms are visually appealing, gliding across the screen in sync to a recording’s loudness, but they’re not helpful in deciphering the words sitting behind them. Spext (a portmanteau for speech and text) is working to solve this problem by creating a browser-based platform for editing and sharing audio. Think Google docs, but for audio content.

I was offered the opportunity to intern with Spext and the experience I had this past fall was equal parts exciting and challenging. Spext was still a seed stage startup which meant I had the chance to work independently to design and implement marketing strategies to promote Spext. Alongside my day-to-day responsibilities, I also received a great deal of mentorship from Anup. A UX/UI designer and former co-founder of the startup Be Limitless, Anup would regularly share his perspective on the rapidly evolving media industry, offer career and life advice, and even geek out over Quentin Tarantino’s directorial style during our weekly coffee chats. These weekly chats were one of the most memorable parts of my time at Spext because they were a consistent slice of time in which I would delve into any topic of my choosing with someone who had an incredibly rich set of experiences working in the startup industry.

Before interning at Berkeley SkyDeck and Spext, I was nervous because I thought I’d be surrounded by competitive Business majors and cis white men, but I am very glad to report my experiences proved otherwise. Although there continues to be a large gap to fill in the tech industry when it comes to creating spaces for people who are underrepresented in terms of class, race, gender, and/or ability, I was proud to be surrounded by a team who openly recognized that a lack of diversity only works to diminish the vibrancy of the startup space. At Berkeley SkyDeck, the majority of my fellow interns were women who represented a range of ethnic and academic backgrounds. I was also excited to learn that SkyDeck prioritizes Diversity, Equity & Inclusion as an initiative and hosts at least six workshops each cohort that support female founders and underrepresented founders.

Interning in the startup world, you are constantly in the company of founders, CEOs, researchers, and investors, and this proximity grants you the unparalleled opportunity to re-imagine existing industries with your everyday work. No matter your background or area of study, I am confident there is a startup that could use your unique perspective and experiences. Berkeley SkyDeck’s 2021 Summer Internship Fair is right around the corner on May 7th. If you’re interested in taking the plunge and discovering a summer internship that might be right for you, click here to sign up.