Paddy Ryder and Rob Muldowney founded Covid Interns last summer amid the pandemic after graduating from Trinity College, Ireland.

Guy Boggan

Many college students had their postgraduate plans completely disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. For an entrepreneurial couple, however, the uncertainty offered the opportunity to open their own matchmaking business for internships.

Just days after completing their Global Business Studies at the prestigious Irish Trinity College last summer, Paddy Ryder and Rob Muldowney called local companies to measure interest and build their new business: Covid Interns.

The company is aimed at students and graduates looking for internships, mainly at small and medium-sized companies that offer internships.

Covid Interns has placed over 200 candidates in internships in more than 180 companies since it was founded. The lion’s share of internships have been in Ireland, but the company has also brought people together with mostly virtual internships in New York, Singapore, Germany, Canada and France and is seeing increasing interest from overseas, Ryder told CNBC via video call.

It started as a not-for-profit “Community Response” initiative, as Ryder put it when he heard from classmates whose plans had gotten off course after graduation due to the pandemic. Ryder and Muldowney also worried themselves whether their own plans would come true after graduation.

Ryder wanted to work on mergers and acquisitions, but a series of summer internship interviews ultimately resulted in “email after email” from companies saying they were postponing internships.

Muldowney was in talks to participate in the graduate program of a Dublin-based virtual health diagnostic scale-up company, LetsGetChecked, which includes health tests for Covid-19. He wasn’t sure if this would continue, however, so he wanted to work on something else in the meantime.

Young people have been one of the hardest hit groups in the labor market as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and many are more likely to work in sectors hardest hit by the crisis.

In addition, the job site Glassdoor found that the number of US internships advertised on its site in May 2020 had decreased by almost half compared to May 2019.

Not only has the pandemic pushed companies to move to remote working, but the economic impact has also forced some companies to cut their budgets, causing students and graduates to lose valuable work experience opportunities.

Getting the business off the ground

In addition to the difficulties faced by graduates, the couple also discovered a niche in the small and medium-sized business market that Ryder described as the “lifeblood of the Irish economy,” but lacking the same resources to intern as applicants larger companies.

After helping build an Irish graduate network while studying at Trinity, the couple already had a number of contacts. Trinity and the Irish International Business Network also offered to share articles about their business for free. This meant much of the initial business growth was organic, Muldowney said, without them having to invest their own money in the company.

Even so, Ryder said it would take an “intense” time of up to 60 hour weeks to get Covid Interns off the ground last summer. Shortly afterwards, Muldowney also started the LetsGetChecked graduate school.

Ryder said they used that time to focus on automating processes to make the business more efficient. This meant that when Ryder began his Masters in Finance and Accounting at Imperial College Business School in London in September, he was better able to balance his roles.

Even so, Ryder said it was a struggle to balance Covid Interns with their other work: “It’s long nights and you work weekends trying to balance (everything) but I think it’s kind of motivating that you too There is something tangible and we learn a lot on a personal level too. ”

“A little faith and hard work”

They have since expanded their team and now work with seven employees at Covid Interns. They’ve also started charging for successful internships, albeit at a “pretty modest” fee, Muldowney said.

The majority of internships that host students are paid for, with voluntary unpaid internships reserved only for charities or other companies affected by the pandemic. These voluntary internships also have a maximum weekly working time.

Covid Interns continues to grow. Almost 1,000 candidates have applied in the last few months alone.

Ryder said one of the biggest lessons he learned from launching Covid Interns was not “putting a limit or a cap on where something is going”.

“When we started we probably had pretty modest ambitions and then suddenly, with a little bit of faith and a little bit of hard work, we blew people on different continents, in different counties, in every single sector and (where) where it’s gone”, he added.

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