CLEARWATER — Lauren Berger knows a thing or two about internships. The Countryside High grad, who bills herself as the "Intern Queen," completed more than a dozen of them before she graduated college.
Berger, 25, parlayed her intern status into an expanding brand that includes college speaking engagements, endorsements and an online site that boasts six-figure revenues, celebrity employers and thousands of job seekers.
This month, BusinessWeek named her a finalist in its annual roundup of the country's most promising young entrepreneurs. Culled from a list of more than 600 nominees, Berger is one of 25 finalists vying for the chance to become one of America's Best Young Entrepreneurs. Winners will be announced Nov. 9.
"Just to be on the list," she said, "that's huge."
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Berger was a freshman at Florida State University when her mother saw a segment on NBC's Today show and encouraged her daughter to seek internships. Berger followed her mother's advice and stopped by the school's career center. A counselor told her she was too young.
"I didn't take no for an answer," she said. "I immediately saw the long-term value. I learned more about myself and my professional goals than ever before."
One summer, Berger worked at Fox, MTV and NBC at the same time.
"I would work Monday through Saturday, two days at each company," she said. "People assume they need to be available every day of the week. What a lot of people don't realize is that internships are flexible."
She eventually transferred to the University of Central Florida in Orlando. By the time she received a degree in organizational communications in 2006, she had 15 unpaid internships.
Friends of her parents hired her to help their children find gigs. They paid her $200 to send out their children's applications.
"We're talking small potatoes," she said. "Maybe a list of 10 people. I made gas money from it."
The Intern Queen was born.
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The business wasn't off the ground when Berger received "Best Young Entrepreneur of the Year" honors from the national Stevie Awards in 2007.
"From that point on, I just made it a point to put myself out there as much as possible and to tell as many people as I could, whether I was at work or out socially, what I was doing and the company I was trying to create," Berger said.
Another year passed before she found an investor. She was working as an assistant at Creative Artists Agency, a Los Angeles talent and literary firm, just trying to pay the bills. Marshall Herskovitz, the producer behind The Last Samurai, thirtysomething and I Am Sam, was a client.
"He looked at me and said, 'I like your idea. Quit your job. You're going to do this full time.' "
She gave the agency notice and never looked back.
InternQueen.com gets 500 to 1,000 unique visitors daily. Employers pay a $75 annual fee to post an unlimited number of openings. Job candidates can apply for the first internship for free. Additional applications cost $3 each.
Berger forwards their resumes to contacts at companies such as Interscope Records, Seventeen magazine, Sirius XM Radio, Clear Channel and Nielsen Co.
Beyond e-mails and testimonials, Berger does not have statistics that detail how often and how successful she is in pairing candidates with internships. She's been quoted in the Washington Post and the New York Post and featured on Yahoo.
Berger lives in Los Angeles but visits this area often. Her father is a dentist in Clearwater; her mother, a teacher at the Pinellas County Jewish Day School.
Rodney Thrash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4167.