My name is Ryan Bartels and I am a senior at Chapman University. I am studying Communication, with a cluster in Leadership.  I was looking forward to my final three semesters at Chapman University, with my study abroad program the second semester of my junior year, then a great summer internship. However, the world took an unexpected turn in March of 2020 when the study abroad program was cut short by Coronavirus. Upon my return to The United States, things continued to go downhill and my summer internship notified me that it was now cancelled.

I searched frantically for another internship so I could graduate on time. Sadly, so were many other students.  With unemployment levels high and most people working from home, I was running out of opportunities.  Finally, I was fortunate to secure a job through a family friend who is an investor in startup firms.

Van being used to travel

The name of the company is Owl Vans ( This company specializes in after-market products for Mercedes Sprinter Vans. Owl Vans completes customization of everything from lifting the body, changing the wheels, changing the rims, customizing interiors with beds and sinks, and customizing the exterior with racks, tire carriers, ladders – you name it. Each van is customized, inside and out, to meet the unique needs of each customer.

This company is less than two years old and is already doing well.  I knew this internship opportunity would be good, and I could potentially be invited back upon graduation. I was hoping to gain a lot of experience in the communication department, such as developing the website, creating Instagram posts, taking pictures, to name a few. Unfortunately, because they are such a small startup and they lost some employees to illnesses, I was put in a position where no two days have been the same. The owner had me doing a lot of different jobs. The small size of the company meant all hands are on deck in each position to get the job done. Further, the owner had not had sufficient time to train me on some of the more intricate job duties.

On a positive note, the owner, John Willenborg, is one of the most brilliant guys I have ever met!  He is in his mid-30s and is a Berkeley School of Business graduate.  He has started a few other successful startup companies. He was amazing to work with because he has a great vision for the company, and he is also a great leader. His drive and determination were so great that every team member felt the drive right along with him.  I enjoyed learning a lot about what it takes to be a good leader and to manage a new company.  Since he is the founder, he is very busy.  Running a business is not for the faint of heart and requires a ton of work.

Picture of friend in van

Though I did not get to do everything I was hoping for, and the job didn’t require a heaving dose of intellect every day, it taught me a lot about grit and determination.  I learned so much about what it takes to run a new business.  I have experienced everything from web development, to social media support, to welding, shipping, and running van parts up and down the coast. John just announced they are now moving to a 12,000 square foot facility, five times greater than what they are in now! I am excited for the growth they are experiencing and I am thankful I was able to join this company, especially during the current crisis. I will keep in touch with John over the next year, but sadly, for now, my time at Owl Vans is coming to an end. It was a great experience and I am thankful for the opportunity.