FROM THE GROUND UP: Décor Craft Inc. recently moved to a new Mathewson Street home, where owner Roni Kabessa has assembled a team of college interns to launch the Providence firm’s new spinoff company, Coexs. Pictured above, from left, are: intern Hanna Yang, Kabessa and intern Liana Flikier.
In a sleek, white-walled downtown Providence office, five young people gathered around a central conference table bang away on laptops trying to build an app that will bend the retail market.
It’s a scene out of startups’ stock footage, but with a twist.
The workspace is on the ground floor of Providence gift designer and distributor Décor Craft Inc.’s new Mathewson Street office building and the entrepreneurs are college interns.
DCI founder Roni Kabessa assembled the team, which started work in June, with the express purpose of transforming a raw, new business idea into a viable startup.
By the end of this month, the team hopes to present Kabessa with a functioning, beta version of their app and a detailed business plan before heading back to campus.
From there, Kabessa hopes to recruit a full-time professional team to take the fledgling startup, named Coexs, to market.
“I brought in five interns, hand selected with different skills, and gave them the space and the idea,” Kabessa said. “It is awesome. I couldn’t sleep; I was so excited about it.”
Kabessa said the idea of bringing in interns to launch a spinoff startup, instead of working on it within DCI itself, has become increasingly popular with modern companies and grows out of programs like IBM’s highly selective internships built around solving a specific problem.
Although the intern-fueled startup may be a common phenomenon in many parts of the country, it appears to be a novel concept in Rhode Island so far – even though harnessing the talent of local students has become a prime economic-development objective.
At Bridge.jobs, the recently created partnership to connect students looking for work experience with companies who could use them, the kind of internship Kabessa has started is rarely seen.
“The internships that we have on Bridge mostly fit the business model that an organization already uses,” said Adrian van Alphen, director of employer relations and internship development for the R.I. Student Loan Authority. “To bring in an entrepreneurial group of [interns] and work as a startup within an existing company might not work for every company, but we would certainly support the idea.”
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