When Ryan Coon was a freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and studying accounting and finance, it would have made sense for him to intern in an accounting firm or at a big bank.
Instead, Coon took an internship with College Works Painting, a company that offers interns the chance to run their own painting businesses in locations across the United States. College Works Painting insures the student-led businesses and provides them with management training and paint materials.
The student intern is responsible for the logistics, hiring and managing each paint job as well as their finances. The prices charged are competitive with other contractors and backed by a quality guarantee; if anything goes wrong, College Works Painting will fix it. The minimum pay for the summer is $4,000 for interns ($2,500 for those in California) who meet the program requirements, but interns can make more than that if they manage their business well.
That sounded enticing back in 2004 to Coon, who knew he wanted to start his own company someday. He spent the summer running a house painting operation in the suburbs of Chicago.
“I got exposure and experience in all aspects of running a business,” Coon said. “It taught me a lot about what it means to go through the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur.”
The experience proved worthwhile. Immediately after graduating, Coon landed a full-time job in an investment bank. Later, it paid off again; In 2011, Coon left banking to start his own company, Avail, an online platform that helps independent landlords manage their properties. He said his time at College Works gave him a foundation in business principles he still uses today.