The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Center for Innovation and Commercialization (CIC) is offering paid internships to students in the UTRGV Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship to help out small businesses that have had to cut staff because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The program is being made possible through a $300,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration.

CIC Director Laurie Simmons called the internships “a really great opportunity for companies as well as for students to get experiential learning.”

The way it works is students will apply for the internships and businesses will apply describing the type of help they need. A review committee of business professionals from the region will review all the applications and serve as matchmaker between interns and companies, she said.

“Based on what the company needs and based on what the students’ expertise is, we’ll match make them, let them interview them to make sure it’s a good fit,” Simmons said. “We’re not going to try to put a round peg in a square hole. … If we don’t have somebody that fits, we’ll open it up to others. But we’re looking at our Vackar students first.”

The program covers UTRGV’s entire market area: Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy and Starr counties. Simmons said each intern will receive a one-time stipend of $1,000, which works out to $10 an hour since each intern will be required to devote 100 hours of assistance. It can be in-person help, virtual or a combination of the two, based on the company’s needs.

“It’s not based on semester,” Simmons said. “It’s open. If they provide 100 hours in a month because they need a project to be worked on, they can do that. Or if they just need 20 hours a month or whatever, it’s up to them. Whatever they need.”

The program will begin accepting applications within a few weeks. In addition to the internships, as part of the EDA grant the CIC is offering free marketing and social media professional services to help businesses make the transition to online when neededappropriate, and refocus their marketing strategies to meet the demands of the pandemic.

The CIC will also make available “co-working space and team rooms” for up to 20 businesses that have lost their workspace or can’t afford office rent and utilities. Selected businesses will be able to use the facility for up to 20 hours per week through August 2022 and have access to wi-fi, printer, copier and meeting rooms upon request, up to four times a month.

The CIC was able to apply for the EDA supplemental grant after previously winning a five-year University Center grant from the EDA, Simmons said.

“In May the University Center grantees were given the opportunity to apply for a supplemental grant through the CARES Act to be able to provide additional services through their programming,” she said. “If you were a University Center grantee you could apply.”

The supplemental grant was non-competitive, though the University Center grant was highly competitive, Simmons said. The Weslaco-based CIC has been very successful with grants and gifts, racking up more than $2 million so far, she said, adding that the entity is always on the lookout for grant opportunities.

“Actually I’m working on one right now,” Simmons said. “I feel like I’ve become the grant lady. … We’re really excited about all this and hope that we can help some people.”

For more information or to apply visit utrgv.edu/cic/covid-19-business-support/index.htm.