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Capital Factory founder responds to criticism of unpaid internships

(BUSINESS NEWS) Capital Factory founder, Joshua Baer responds to criticism of their recent blog post featuring participating companies’ internship opportunities.

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capital factory

The center of gravity

Capital Factory is the self-proclaimed “center of gravity” of the tech and entrepreneurial community in Austin, soon to celebrate a decade in operation as an accelerator, incubator, coworking space, and guide for the industry. If you’re in the Austin tech world, you’ve been to one of the many events in their space, from Ignite speaker series, the Austin Diversity Hackathon, Women Epic Office Hours (kind of like speed mentoring), to the Nonprofit Tech Club, or [name any coding language] networking meetup.

In fact, according to founder Joshua Baer, the 40 person team that operates Capital Factory is 75 percent women and is comprised of two lone white males. The opposite of what most tech startups internationally can say.

The scrappy company has endlessly made something out of nothing, so to speak. “We lead by example,” Baer asserts.

Why then is the company currently under fire?

They recently asked all of the companies participating in their program if they had any internships opening up that they could promote for them. Then, they posted the openings, most of which are less than part time. Here is the original internship posting that ignited the debate.

Sounds innocent enough. But some in the Austin community rejected the fact that some of these internships are unpaid.

Ironically, two positions have been commonly taken, both on and off the record. The first is that unpaid internships anywhere exploit people and benefit the company with free labor. The second is that the wealthy are disproportionately advantaged because mommy and daddy can pay their bills while they pad their resume by working for free at a startup.

Baer calls accusations of exploitation “ridiculous” and favoring the rich oxymoronic. He responds by challenging anyone to find an unpaid intern from any of these startups that feels exploited.

Whichever opposing viewpoint you may subscribe to (it exploits people or favors the rich), the ethics are subjective.

What is not subjective is the law

Lawyers tell us the internship postings aren’t clearly illegal, nor are they clearly legal. Baer said that they did not review the listings for legality, but that Capital Factory pays their interns, again, leading by example.

When asked if the tone of the job postings could be the source of the ire, given that they failed to focus on what an intern would learn, rather on what their required skills and duties at the company would be, Baer called this a “learning moment.” As their role is to guide, not operate these companies, he said that perhaps they can help guide their entrepreneurs to write better job descriptions in the future.

What the federal law boils down to is that unpaid interns may not benefit the company financially, and that it cannot be unpaid unless it passes the stringent Department of Labor test of six criteria:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

The DoL goes on to say, “If all of the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the intern.” Meanwhile, unpaid internships are pretty kosher in Texas, but they point back to the restrictive federal laws.

Baer calls the whole exercise a “waste of time,” noting that “the Department of Labor isn’t going to enforce this, it’s a waste of their time, they have bigger fish to fry, so it’s not going to change,” several times alluding to the DoL’s focus being on larger companies like IBM, not such tiny early stage startups.

CF also under fire for not enough melanin

Also part of the internship posting are pictures of the teams, most of which are two to 10 people large. Although not exclusively all white males, many complained that the pictures were revealing of the startups present in the Capital Factory ecosystem.

In response, Baer reiterated that they lead by example by being one of the most diverse teams in town, working hard to “combat brogrammer culture.”

Some believe the negative response about diversity is a knee-jerk reaction that every event host is familiar with (there are more men on the panels than women, you sexists!), and every startup has heard (there are no black people on the team, you racists!). Others believe pointing out a lack of diversity is critical in impacting change.

“The Austin startup scene is becoming a parody of itself,” Redditor Travis_Williamson commented. “All of the upper middle class white guys in those photos are just creating shit for themselves at this point.”

Skin and pay aside, what’s the real issue?

The troubling undertone of public and private conversations surrounds the nature of Capital Factory. Since their inception, they’ve been an unquestionable force in the Austin tech world, unavoidable even. Success breeds jealousy and they’re often the victim of vague criticism for that reason.

But this line of conversation is different, more venomous. More substantial.

The legitimacy of the startups in the internship posting is under heavy fire. Mean-spirited comments about their model permeate communities like Reddit where Baer is accuse of being “less of a keen startup motivator and more of a rent queen,” with others saying that if the CF ecosystem is so hot, the companies should be able to at least afford minimum wage, not just an honor badge.

Baer, used to being a target, says the online commenters are “complainers” and brushes off the entire critique.

Baer insists they teach entrepreneurs how to be “resourceful,” and “scrappy,” reiterating that an unpaid intern won’t be the only unpaid person on some of these teams that are being guided to make something out of nothing. It is also important to remember here that Capital Factory doesn’t own or operate these companies, they’re an incubator/accelerator designed to incubate/accelerate.

So although the internship posting was a simple gesture from the actual Capital Factory team toward the companies in their offices, it triggered numerous online and offline debates about unpaid internships, then about diversity. Baer firmly believes they lead by example with a diverse team and paid interns, but with the postings focused on job duties and not on intern learning opportunities (the core tradoff of unpaid internships), it created a vulnerable moment for CF that the internet jumped on.

The future of unpaid internships at CF companies?

Baer argues that a “three person startup can’t barely even pay payroll and doesn’t really even know what they’re doing and are just trying to figure it out? Yeah, they can have unpaid interns, sorry. I don’t think that’s a problem.”

Will Capital Factory reconsider their position on unpaid internships? Absolutely not.

In fact, Baer doubled down, asserting, “I’m not going to discourage them from doing that. I’m going to encourage them to be creative about finding other ways they can not pay for things, or defer paying for things, and do other things that allow them to create something out of nothing, which is what creates jobs for other people and allows them to eventually pay for them.”

#unpaidinterns

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Paul O'Brien

    April 20, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    Interesting. There is much to be said for why and whether or not we should be having to reinvent the wheel of entrepreneurship. The point that startups are 3 person teams without even enough capital to pay themselves is VERY valid. So too is the point that people need to be paid. Someone not getting paid in a startup is part of the team. An intern is there to learn and further paid to work; what I look to in internships if from whom the intern will be learning and if that’s lacking, one has to wonder how an intern can benefit.

    What I find here (In Austin, relatively speaking to my experiences on the coasts) though is that startups are unwilling, discouraged from, or unfamiliar with how to deal in equity (and more importantly – how to ensure that equity is valuable). Owners are neither interns nor employees unless they are too that. I own a piece of a business, that’s why I work on it; AND I am paid by a business, for my position in it.

    There is a real challenge for us to collectively consider when venture capital isn’t prolifically available, funding rounds are relatively smaller, and outcomes average a fraction in size compared to elsewhere, if exits occur at all: equity is both at once more precious and less valuable. Founders want to retain just a bit more, early investors hesitant to relinquish as much, early supporters seeking their ROI. Likewise, Angels press for a little more ownership to offset the relative rate of return.

    What then is available to build good teams?

    By no means an answer or a way forward for us. Just an observation of reality that relatively less capital, less valuable companies, causes the circumstances with which we need to work. Startups can’t succeed without teams, and young professionals will struggle to get the good experience they want/need, and can provide, if businesses can ill afford them. Let’s solve the challenge.

    Business capitalization, valuation, growth, and establishment is NOT remotely easy. We might be experiencing a lot of a cart before horse situation where we think we need more startups to find their way, to get more capital injected, to get interns and executives paid, to drive further outcomes. Maybe we’re going about it wrong and need to work the other way with more leadership and education to drive outcomes, get more executives and interns involved valuably, injecting more capital into the ecosystem, enabling us to fuel more startups.

  2. Pingback: Summer 2017's best paying internships - The American Genius

  3. Pingback: THE DISRUPTORS: Joshua Baer stamps his brand on the DFW startup scene - Launch DFW

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9-to-5 workdays are no longer the norm: Flexibility brings productivity

(BUSINESS) Doing away with 9-to-5 workdays in a cubicle can work wonders for a team’s productivity. This is no longer a dream, but today’s reality.

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productivity outside of the challenging the norm of 9-to-5 workdays

As we’ve seen in recent years, many of the old concepts about work have been turned on their heads. Many offices allow a more casual dress as compared to the suit and tie standard, and more and more teams have the option of working remotely. One of these concepts that have been in flux for a bit is challenging the norm of 9-to-5 workdays. Offices are giving more options of flex hours and remote work, with the understanding that the work must be completed effectively and efficiently with these flexibilities.

Recently, I got sucked into one of those quick-cut Facebook videos about a company that decided to test out the method of a four-day workweek. This gave employees the option of what day they would like to take off, or, it gave employees the option to work all five days of the week, but with flex hours.

Despite the decrease in hours worked, employees were still paid for a 40-hour workweek which continued their incentive to get the same amount of work done in a more flexible manner. With this shift in time use, the results found that employees wasted less time around the office with mindless chit-chat, as they understood there was less time to waste.

The boss in this office had each team explain how they were going to deliver the same level of productivity. The video did not share the explanations, but it could be assumed that the incentive of a day off would encourage employees to continue their level of productivity, if not increase it.

This was done with the goal of working smarter, rather than harder. Finding ways to manage time better (like finishing up a task before starting another one) helps to stay efficient.

During the trial, it was found that productivity, team engagement, and morale all increased, while stress levels decreased. Having time for yourself (an extra day off) and not overworking yourself are important keys to being balanced and engaged.

There is such a stigma about the way you have to operate in order to be successful (e.g. getting up early, using every hour at your disposal, and using free time to meditate).

Let’s get real – we all need a little free time to check back in with ourselves by doing something mindless (like a good old-fashioned Game of Thrones binge). If not, we’ll go bonkers.

Flex hours and remote working are not all about having time to do morning yoga and read best-seller after best-seller. Flex hours give us the time to take our kids to and from school and comfortably wear our parenting caps without fear of getting fired for not showing up to work precisely at 9 AM.

9-to-5 workdays are becoming dated and I’m glad to see that happen. So many people run themselves ragged within this frame and it’s impossible to find that happy work-life balance. Using flex options can help people manage every aspect of their lives in a positive way.

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Business News

Corporate-franchise relationships: How has COVID affected them?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Being a part of a franchise has made sense for a long time for both the corporation and the franchisee, but the long stretch of COVID is adding complications.

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A franchise cup on a wooden table.

Americans love a franchise. We love knowing that every Dunkin Donuts iced coffee will taste the same as it did 3 states away – and every McDonald’s snack wrap will meet our expectations.

Franchises rose in popularity after World War II, and the corporate-franchise relationship since has generally been a happy one – that is, until COVID-19.

What’s their relationship?

Franchises are easier to start than a small business from scratch. You receive a business playbook and brand loyalty from corporate – if the business at large is doing well, chances are your franchise will mirror that. No need for independent advertising!

From the franchises, corporate gets an upfront fee and ongoing royalties. (For a McDonalds franchise, that’s $45k and 4% of monthly gross sales, respectively.)

Basically, it’s win-win. Both parties are happy.

Pandemic strain

The pandemic has shrunk margins across most industries, and the chain hotels, restaurants and services have been hit hard. As a result, corporate is adding more costs for franchisees, such as big cleaning bills and promotional discounts to bring back some revenue during COVID.

However, with corporate still taking the same amount from the franchises every month, these newly instated policies threaten to drive some stores into the ground – and franchisees are fighting back.

“I get that franchising isn’t a democracy,” said a Subway franchisee, who objected to the unprofitable “2-Subs-for-$10” promotion that corporate was pushing for. “But at the same time, it’s not a dictatorship.”

What I see here is corporate greed at work; they need to keep their margins up in a sinking economy, so they’re looking to the pockets of their franchisees to make up for that lost dough.

The pandemic has not been easy on any business (with the exception, of course, of Amazon, Facebook, and Tesla, which is a whole other story). However, that’s the draw of being connected to corporate – you are tied to something bigger than your individual store, and will thus stay afloat as long as they do. It’s a big reason why many opt for starting a franchise as opposed to starting their own, independent small business.

I’m glad to see individuals fighting back against corporate policies that don’t benefit them. They held up their side of the bargain – let’s see if corporate can continue to hold up theirs.

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Business News

What to do if you think you have been wrongfully terminated

(BUSINESS NEWS) Being fired hurts, but especially if you were wrongfully terminated. Here is what you can do if you need to take action.

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Stressed man staring at computer after being wrongfully terminated.

While there are plenty of ways an employer can legally fire an employee, there’s also a long list of unethical and illegal methods. If you suspect you’ve been wrongfully terminated from your job, it’s imperative that you fight back.

Common Signs of Wrongful Termination

Research shows that around 150,000 people are unjustly fired every year in the United States. That’s more than 410 people per day – roughly 17 people per hour. Here are some common signs that you’re a victim:

  • Violation of written rules or promises. The vast majority of employment is known as “at-will” employment. This means you may be fired at any time for any reason (so long as the reason is not illegal). However, if there’s a written statement or contract that implies job security, then you’re probably not an at-will employee. Review all of your employment documents to see what sort of language exists around the topic of termination.
  • Discrimination. It doesn’t matter if you’re an at-will employee or not, employers can never fire someone based on discrimination. It’s illegal – point blank, period. If you suspect you’ve been fired because of your color, race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion, or pregnancy, discrimination could be to blame.
  • Breach of good faith. Employers are known to breach good faith when they do things like mislead employees regarding their chances for promotions; fabricate reasons for firing; transfer or fire an employee to prevent the collection of sales commissions; and other similar situations.

Every situation is different, but these three signs are clear indicators that you have a potential wrongful termination claim. How you proceed will determine what happens next.

How to Respond to a Wrongful Termination

Emotions tend to run high when you’re fired from a job. Whether you loved the job or not, it’s totally normal to run a little hot under the collar upon being wrongfully terminated. But how you handle the first several hours and days will determine a lot about how this situation unfolds. Now is not the time to fly off the handle and say or do something you’ll regret. Instead, take a diplomatic response that includes steps like:

1. Gather Evidence

Wrongful termination cases are usually more complicated than they first appear on the surface. It’s important that you focus on gathering as much evidence as you possibly can. Any information or documentation you collect will increase your chances for a successful outcome. This may include emails, screenshots, written contracts and documentation, voicemails, text messages, and/or statements from coworkers.

On a related note, remember that your former employer will be doing the same thing (if a claim is brought). Be on your best behavior and don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Avoid venting to coworkers or firing off short, snappy emails to your former boss. As the saying goes, anything you say or do can and will be used against you.

2. Hire an Attorney

Don’t try to handle your wrongful termination case on your own. Hire an experienced lawyer who specializes in situations like yours. This will give you a much better chance of obtaining a successful outcome.

3. Get Legal Funding

If you’re like most victims of wrongful termination, you find yourself with no immediate source of income. This can make it difficult to pay your bills and stay financially solvent in the short term. An employment lawsuit loan could help bridge the gap.

As Upfit Legal Funding explains, “Wrongful termination lawsuit loans provide the necessary financial assistance they need to reach a settlement. This funding helps cover basic living costs until the plaintiff is able to get assistance from their settlement.”

The best thing about these loans is that you only have to repay them if there’s a successful outcome. In other words, if the claim gets thrown out or denied, you owe nothing.

4. File the Proper Paperwork

Work closely with your attorney to make sure that your complaints and claims are filed with the appropriate regulatory agencies (and that you meet the required deadlines). Depending on the type of claim, there are different groups that oversee the complaint and can help you move in the proper direction.

Adding it All Up

Getting fired is serious business. And while there are plenty of legal reasons for being terminated from a job, it’s worth exploring what’s actually going on behind the scenes. If it’s found that your employer stepped out of line, you’ll be compensated in an appropriate manner. This won’t typically help you get your job back, but it can provide some financial rectification.

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