By Tom Lawrence, ’02

Let me start by being honest. Running your own small business is not for the faint of heart or those lacking in energy or ideas. Our firm, GroundWork Design, is no different. We began with the camaraderie developed between two [now] UR alums on a 2001 service trip and turned it into a startup.

We’re very small — only six full-time employees — but we make software used internationally by educational institutions governments, nonprofits, and businesses, and used by millions of people. (You may have seen the U.S. Capitol’s virtual tour or UR’s new maps.)

For the sixth year running, we were fortunate to host interns from the University. The work we do benefits from and is renewed by the new ideas and fresh eyes that student interns bring to the company. Their perspectives have shaped how we explain the company to new ears and the insights they bring to the table are substantial.

By all rights, we’d be ill-advised to bring on interns if short-term productivity was the aim. Of course, for us, it isn’t. We don’t have a structured internship or an internship-to-hire program. Instead, we’ve always tried to create what we call a “curricular experience,” where education of the student is prioritized over pure productivity.

Selfishly, as employers, this gives us new ways to test training programs for new employees, validate or reject our procedures, and flex our storytelling muscles by building experiences with students that help them form and retain great stories and explanations of their time with us.

Our work is pretty specialized, and it’s exciting to be able to co-create experiences for students they can’t find elsewhere. Mechanically, we provide interns with a menu of possible project options, then work together to assemble a week-by-week or even day-by-day learning and action plan to get through the internship period. It’s been relieving and exciting that the UR Summer Fellowships program has enabled students to come to us and for us to be able to provide a home for their curiosity and talent.

An internship would be wasted if someone can’t “tell the tale” to others in the future. Part of any good storytelling is the synthesis performed by the teller when delivering the tale to the next audience. Knowing what happened during an internship is critical to explaining a résumé line-item or having a networking conversation.

Each intern with whom we work also provides a connection back to the current state of a UR education, helping us to understand where a much larger institution has set its sights and how it is carrying out plans we all hold in common. Keeping aware of those priorities helps inform the work we do with our higher education clients, too.

And for me, personally, it’s been a rewarding way to give back. As a student at Richmond, when I concocted the next cockamamie and worrisome idea, faculty, staff, and administration supported me time and time again. Their support benefitted me as I started to walk the path of my own future and took my next steps. I wouldn’t be who I am today or approach the world as I do without someone saying “yes, and” or “what if” and without requiring me to coax out answers to hard questions like “why” or “to what benefit.”

So it’s endlessly gratifying to be able to lend support by responding to student ideas and interests with the same level of respect afforded to me as a student.

Hopefully, we’ve done well along these lines for our interns. After all, we believe there must to be someone waiting in the wings with the next generation of ridiculous but noteworthy ideas to produce.

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Tom Lawrence, ’02, is a principal and cofounder of GroundWork Design. In November, he transitioned from his post to the Catholic Diocese of Richmond as a seminarian preparing for the priesthood.

Recent Interns Hosted

GroundWork Design and its subsidiary NimblePitch, an online storytelling platform for businesses, have hosted several Spider interns over the years. Some have become employees.

  • Kaeli O’Connell, '15 (NimblePitch)
  • Shirisha Mudunuri, '13 (NimblePitch)
  • Elizabeth Sims, '14 (GroundWork Design)
  • Brett Csorba, '14 (GroundWork Design)
  • Tyler Stephensen, '11 (GroundWork Design)
  • Laura Coutts, '08 (became an employee) (GroundWork Design)
  • Natsumi Oba, '08 (became an employee) (GroundWork Design)
  • Stephanie McBride, '08 (GroundWork Design)
  • Michael Scott, '06 (became an employee) (GroundWork Design)