Home to Texas: Jivika Rajani Q&A
Photo by Jeff Hing
Home to Texas Participant: Jivika Rajani, Employer
Title: Operations Manager, Spaced Ventures
Hometown Brownsville, Texas
Intern: Ethan Lopez
During the summer of 2022, Rajani supervised UT student Ethan Lopez for his Home to Texas internship. At the end of the internship, we spoke with Rajani about her experience as an employer in the Home to Texas program.
The Home to Texas Program, which is run by Texas Career Engagement in partnership with The University of Texas at Austin’s IC² Institute and the School of Undergraduate Studies, pairs first-year undergraduate Longhorns of all majors with well-paid summer internships and research experiences in their hometowns across the state.
What did Ethan bring to this internship?
Initially, I was a little skeptical because Ethan is a computer science student. We have software engineers who work on our team, but they are currently looking for people with more senior skill sets. So I was wondering, “Okay, well, how are we going to keep this intern engaged when we don’t have something that might exactly fit his interests?” But Ethan put that all to rest. On the marketing side, he’s been very helpful in combing through some of the social networks where people are talking about space [and] investing. Spaced Ventures is an equity crowdfunding platform for space startups, so we allow essentially anyone who is interested in learning more about space and technology and what’s coming up next in these industries to get a little bit of that upside. Our job right now is to attract those people to our platform and let them know that even if you couldn’t invest in the company like SpaceX, there are lots of other options out there.
Ethan has been really good about using his technical skills to scrape the internet and find contact information and other information which we’re using in our branding. Then also on the Space-Space side—Space-Space is basically a huge database of information related to space companies. He’s been very helpful in organizing our information on that front—writing scripts to better comb the internet to continually update and maintain that. A lot of the stuff that he’s done are things that we are going to be using for months and years to come because he’s laying the groundwork and set it up very well.
What is the appeal of having UT students as interns?
What I’ve tended to find with [our Home to Texas] interns as that they’re really just passionate about learning and being helpful wherever they can. Ethan and [last year’s Home to Texas intern] Anakin both were very proactive in terms of, “Okay, I have time available, what can I work on? Does this person need help or can I reach out? I have this idea!” It’s been really helpful to work with people who are not afraid of hard work and want to make the most of their experience.
UT has a certain level of quality that [Spaced Ventures is] looking for. We also have a local office in Brownsville, Texas. Both of our interns were based out of Brownsville—local to the area—and we actually have a mandate to hire local talent, so this is a great way for us to build out our talent pipeline.
What kind of skills do your interns take away from their experience?
It depends on what specifically they’re working on. Obviously, Ethan in particular has been able to—he’s mentioned this to me a few times—apply lots of things that he’s been learning in these classes to real-world applications, specifically in space. He’s learning a lot about the space industry—also about finance and investing. Equity crowdfunding is a niche way of investing essentially. It is a high-risk way of investing, but because you can invest much smaller numbers, that negates some of that risk. For students who are saving up and saying, “I have $50 and I really am passionate about technology”—they have an ability to get involved.
[Spaced Ventures interns] gain lots of skills to do with working at a high-growth, fast-moving, dynamic startup. We’re all remote, so I think understanding how to navigate and organize and structure your routine in such a way that you’re productive and feeling like you’re engaged—[it] falls to the student, to some extent, to keep pursuing projects and tasks that keep them engaged and motivated to keep coming in every day.There’s that, and then also learning how to navigate different styles of communication that we see from all members of the team. When you’re working remotely, when you’re working in a startup, things are always changing. You have to be adaptable and one way of getting ahead of that is to overcommunicate and keep people in the loop. Make sure that you are checking in, make sure that you’re sending progress reports. Make sure that you ask clarifying questions. All of those skills are the intangibles that we really try to emphasize. That’s something that I’ve actually found has been more of a strength of the UT interns that we’ve worked with compared to interns that I’ve worked with from other universities.
How do you and your team at Space Ventures think about this internship as a route to developing future leaders in the space industry at large—and in the communities that you are a part of, like Brownsville?
I don’t think we treat our interns necessarily as interns. We treat them as, “Okay, this is someone who is excited about either the company, the mission, or maybe it’s finance, marketing, business development or content writing.” So we test them out in the beginning. We give them a couple of tasks and, depending on how they perform, we keep hitting them with tasks that are more challenging, with greater responsibilities, and just see how they perform and try to keep the scaffolding in place so that we can support them however we can and we need to.
We try to put them in situations where they are able to stretch and grow because that’s how they’re going to find the most meaningful learning experiences. So we always encourage them to speak up. We have weekly stand-up meetings, which are all-staff. We treat [the interns] like any other employee. Everyone goes around the room, talks about their weekends, talks about what they’re focused on for this week, and then we have the back half of that hour to bring up the issues that people are facing or ask for feedback or brainstorm new initiatives or projects and just open up the floor. We’ve had interns make contributions there or bring up ideas that they’ve had. Sometimes we’ll say, “Oh, that’s a great idea that you brought up in our one-on-one. Ethan, can you share more about that? Let’s hear everyone else’s thoughts.” I think those opportunities—where they have a floor and can really feel like they’re being heard and listened to by the CEO of the company—are really important.
There isn’t really that much distinction, so something that they gain is the ability to talk to people at different levels and communicate cross levels. We want to create an atmosphere where it feels like everyone can have a seat at the table. We’ve seen good ideas come from everywhere, so you never want to create this sense that there are certain requirements before you are able to contribute fully. So I think giving people a lot of responsibility and seeing how they tend to grow within that—that’s a way that we can prepare the next generation of business and community leaders.