Internship Gives Insight into Running a Business

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek September 22, 2023

​Aspiring entrepreneur Nathalia Johnson, a graduate student at Florida A&M University (FAMU), is a little more seasoned in running a business following her three-month internship at Allstate insurance company.

Johnson snagged the internship as the winner of a business pitch competition for FAMU students in the Women of Color (WOC) incubator program. The incubator program, under the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), encourages the development of female students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Johnson was one of 109 Allstate interns over the summer and its first participating through the incubator program. Allstate partnered with the WBENC to launch an incubator program at FAMU, an HBCU.

"This program provides the tools, the resources, and helps these [female] students build a network to help them succeed," said Ruby McCleary, Allstate director, business diversity. "We are here to make sure she succeeds, whether she's with Allstate or another company."

Allstate benefitted from having Johnson on board, too.

"She brought a whole new perspective to Allstate [as a] student, a Millennial, an aspiring entrepreneur" to customer insights and gaining marketing share, McCleary noted.

Incubator Program

Starting a business can be a daunting and confusing experience, noted Audrey Awasom, WBENC program manager and Women of Color program lead.

"The Women of Color Incubator supports NextGen entrepreneurs at the earliest stage of their businesses from business ideation, product creation, to marketing research."

Partnerships with corporations such as Allstate are vital because it ensures the curriculum the incubator program provides is what the students need, she said.

"It's really an opportunity to get that real-world account from successful business owners and senior executives and also [gives students] the opportunity to network with individuals they wouldn't otherwise [meet]."

Allstate set the tone, she noted, and WBNEC's partnership with Allstate and FAMU worked "because we knew what our core focus was: the development of the student and providing opportunities that will benefit them."


Winning the pitch competition netted Johnson $5,000 in start-up funds—provided by Allstate—and an opportunity to learn from its leaders about running her business, Essential Foods Jamaica Ltd. She is managing director of the company that produces and sells cooking oils that are infused with Caribbean herbs and spices. Distribution is in Jamaica but Johnson wants to expand to the U.S.

Johnson, who has an undergraduate degree in food chemistry from the University of West Indies in Jamaica and will graduate with a master's degree in agribusiness from FAMU in 2024, said her father inspired her business

"Because of my training in food chemistry, he asked if I couldn't find a way to solve the problem of people biting on pimento grains in their food and come up with a product that would allow them to have an easy way to add this flavor to their meals," Johnson wrote on WBENC's website.

"I took his suggestion and got to work formulating and developing the products."

But Johnson, who anticipates her business being properly systemized and organized within one to five years, knew she had much to learn.

"I was most interested in the systems they have in place, how things are organized, in order to run a large corporation" and how it's structured, she said.

At Allstate, Johnson learned about tax laws, marketing, procurement and sourcing, as well as the supplier-business relationship from inside a business and how to negotiate contracts. Allstate opened its network to introduce her to partners, colleagues and business executives.

"I just wanted to get a feel for the corporate environment and see how much I could learn from as many persons I could," she said. Her goal is to spend some time in the corporate world, noting "I still have a lot to learn."



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