Blue Leaf Ventures founder and CEO discusses how externships serve as learning opportunities for both students and the company.

Breakthrough New York partners with a variety of companies who offer hands-on internships and experiences directly to our students. Last summer, 12 Breakthrough college students participated in an externship hosted by the venture capital firm Blue Leaf Ventures. This virtual workshop series focused on business and entrepreneurship and concluded with a start-up pitch competition with a $2,000 cash prize to fund the winning idea. To learn more about our winners, visit our Facebook page.

We spoke with the company’s founder and CEO David Wezdenko on how working alongside Breakthrough students changed his perspective on hiring practices, and his advice for companies who are considering a partnership with Breakthrough New York.

How would you explain the summer externship?
The concept behind the externship is Entrepreneurship 101, introducing students to the basics of launching and growing a startup business. Specifically, if you have a great idea, how you go about taking that idea and turning it into a viable business opportunity.

Part two is an opportunity for students to understand business more generally. Through the externship, students were exposed to core business concepts from mission to organizational structure.

The third objective is to expose them to different career opportunities. Through the entrepreneurship course this summer, we introduced students to the types of roles that make up an organization and how those roles fit into the company’s business, mission, and success.

Then there’s the leadership, the softer skills. What we’re doing in this externship is we’re bringing together four teams and 16 participants. They’re launching their own business, thinking about what idea they want to commercialize. Part of that is the leadership and collaboration with respect, diversity, and inclusion, being open to everyone’s ideas.

What would you say to a partner who was considering having a relationship with Breakthrough New York?
I would say, just do it. I think the whole focus on diversity and inclusion will level the playing field. Just break down those barriers. I’m hoping that what we continue to see is significant change in looking at the individual and their future potential, regardless of whether they went to an Ivy League institution or a great community college.

It’s a win-win. You will achieve better business outcomes, but don’t underestimate the fulfillment you get as a professional, or as a business, to give an individual an opportunity, who’s just as capable, and maybe even more so, than other candidates that you might typically consider hiring.

Are there things you feel you’ve learned from students, or from this experience in general?
Having worked in financial services for over 35 years, I have seen tremendous progress over this period with the focus, commitment, and achievement of a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace in the financial services industry. That being said, there is still more work to be done at both the individual and corporate level. Working hands-on with the students of Breakthrough New York, I have become more sensitized, attuned, and frankly, better at working with individuals and teams with diverse social, economic, and cultural backgrounds. These are the types of experiences that just improve your ability in creating and leading a diverse and inclusive organization.

Fill in the blank: Breakthrough is ____
Breakthrough is “breakthrough”. Meaning it’s giving individuals that have high potential like everyone else, regardless of demographics, economic situations, social situations, whatever the case may be, an opportunity to be successful and be fulfilled. It’s not just about making money; it’s about being fulfilled. I don’t how you say that in one word, but your name is perfect.

About Blue Leaf Ventures
Blue Leaf Ventures is a venture capital firm that invests and provides advisory services to early-stage companies created to solve big problems and improve people’s lives. The Blue Leaf team of seasoned business executives delivers deep experience with diverse networks to provide the Capital, Expertise, and Partnership for sustainable success.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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