Skip to main content
Communication, Art + Technology › Communication
Co-operative Education
SFU VentureLabs

empty
Amy sitting on a sofa, with the SFU VentureLabs logo behind her

After 12 months of Co-op terms at 3 very different companies, I am closing out this major piece of my undergrad. I started out at a crown corporation, moved on to a rapidly growing tech startup and now I am currently wrapping up with SFU VentureLabs, which is the university’s business accelerator for new tech and science-based ventures. While VentureLabs is not a startup or even a small company itself, we work directly with small & medium sized enterprises, and help them grow effectively. All of these placements combined have given me a great foundation and transferable skills, but I also learned equally valuable things about different work environments. I encourage anyone still in Co-op to not overlook the very real benefits of smaller organizations.

A picture of the SFU VentureLabs logo on a glass wall

When you first enter the Co-op program, it’s easy to be drawn in by all the big names and Fortune 500 companies that you want to spend the next 4-8 months with. These are brands we recognize, and we can easily fall into the thinking that those are inherently “better” opportunities. There are undoubtedly some unique benefits to large organizations, but I will argue the same for smaller organizations and startups based on 3 key points as follows:

1. Work Closer with Executives

  • A smaller company usually means a smaller and more closely-knit team. In my second co-op, I was at a local tech company that recently celebrated their 10-year anniversary but still very much embodied some startup attitudes and practices. We were a team of 20 or so people spread across Canada, Europe and Australia, and I got to work closely with them all. I sat a few desks away from the CEO and was in an open office with a phenomenal team of experts in their own domain that I would observe and work with on a daily basis
  • This proximity to mentors, whether physical or virtual, is something that you don’t get to the same degree at larger companies. At a large company, there will be much more separation between you as a student and the executives. It is an incredible privilege to have the opportunity to build these relationships in these settings. It is also fascinating to watch people at this level do what they do best, and ask questions along the way.

2. Opportunity to Make an Impact

  • There are stages to Co-op in my eyes. Early on, it's all about learning new skills and being a sponge to soak up as much knowledge as possible from these placements. Later on, however, the emphasis is on putting what you have learned previously into practice and seeking Co-op terms that will allow you to a.) keep learning always, but also b.) produce something. Put your skills on display, take ownership over projects and make an impact.
  • One of the most rewarding things I will take away from my Co-op terms is presenting my work to clients and having them actually take it and implement it into their business. At larger organizations, students may not always get the access or direct interaction with clients because there are so many other moving pieces and people to handle that. We will often get to contribute ideas and work on pieces for clients, but to actually meet with clients, understand their needs and then produce something they can directly use is extremely valuable and encouraging.

3. Room to Think Outside the Box

  • One of the best things about earlier stage companies or startups is that they are malleable. Their processes and products may not be set in stone. This means that there is room for more lateral thinking and new innovations. I found that there was a very energizing culture of forward thinking and that people are really open to creative solutions. I was encouraged to think outside the box and put my own flare on my work. In larger, more established organizations, processes are also more established and it can be harder to break the mold and have that creative freedom to try new things. Working at a smaller organization also means employees typically wear multiple hats and can develop a wide skill set from having to find creative solutions for a range of tasks.

Co-operative Education
SFU VentureLabs

Posts by Author

Giulia standing in front of a window
Blog
Applying for jobs outside your faculty: low risk, high reward

Meet Giulia Crovini, an Economics Co-op student. In this quick Q&A, Annelyse shares about her co-op experience. Specifically, she highlights the many benefits of applying for positions outside of your faculty.

Ditij sitting at his desk
Blog
Opportunities are what you Make of it - An Interview with an Economics Student

Meet Ditij Beladiya, a student completing an Honours undergraduate degree with a Major in Economics, Concentration in Economic Data Analytics and Minor in Political Science. In this quick Q&A, Ditij shares about his co-op experience. Read about his interview, his day to day tasks and what he has learned.

Fatima standing in front of mountains
Blog
WHERE Are They Now: An Interview with a Former Master's Co-op Student

Many times, our co-op students graduate from our program, and use these experiences in future positions. Today, we will be interviewing a former student of ours, Fatima Sajid to see where she is now after graduation. Read about how her onboarding processes went, the skills she learnt and how her employers helped her develop said skills.

You Might Like These... Prospective, Professional Development, Career Exploration

Co-op students jumping in the air
The Co-op Connection Helps Retention

In this blog post, Heather shares with us why co-op is an important experience for all students, whether it be to further career aspirations or to gain future employment opportunities. 

author, courtney, smiling
A Second Term in Government: More of the Same?

Having completed my first work term for Health Canada as a Communications Officer Intern, I was eager to try something new, and the government was not where I believed that was going to happen. That is until I was offered a position at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada...

Working on campus
The 10 Minute Commute – Resources and Useful Information for Working on Campus

Have you ever thought about working in a place that you are familiar with?  Perhaps a Tim Horton’s close by? For many students the idea of working at SFU might be a great option, if you prefer a 10 minute jaunt to work after class or an opportunity to learn more about how a university operates.

You Might Like These... Career Exploration

a girl smiling in the office
Take Action & Welcome Opportunities

Applying for a volunteer opportunity, a job, or graduate school, are all forms of taking career-related action. But what if you don’t have enough time to tackle these aspects of your life individually? That’s where the miniBIG Fair 2014 comes in – read more to find about this very useful, one-day event.

Nature
Mix and Match your International Adventure!

With a little creativity and some careful planning, you can stack and simultaneously complete your international activities to accomplish one long international adventure. For example, you can combine an international academic exchange with an international Co-op work term.

Photo of Kate Beckinsale
Optimism’s Underworld – Unrealistic Expectations

I’m going to share a secret with you, internet: I’m a big Kate Beckinsale fan, and have been since the first Underworld movie came out in 2003.  So, when I found out that the 4th Underworld movie - New Dawn – was being filmed at SFU , and that Kate was in a starring role, I got pretty excited (as many of my coworkers can confirm).