Get to know a Toronto startup: SpringTern
With over 31,000 hours of your life spent studying or sitting in class, you would think that all of your hard work as a student would logically lead to securing a high paying job. After graduating in Canada, it's estimated that one in three grads will end up in a low-skilled job. Add that to the ever mounting student debt and the odds are definitely not in your favor once you graduate. Trying to find a way to get ahead, students have been turning to sites like SpringTern to stand out.
SpringTern is a website that connects students with small businesses, start-ups and non-profits to complete volunteer work projects. This benefits both sides, by offering students the opportunity to get real work experience, and providing resources to companies that could use some extra help.
I met up with Ben Wise, one of the co-founders of SpringTern, to get his overview on how SpringTern is trying to help recent grads break into the workforce.
Where did the idea behind SpringTern come from?
The idea for SpringTern came from a combination of personal experiences. Going back 10 years to when I was an undergrad student, like many of my classmates at the time, I struggled to get my first job because I had no real experience. Apparently working as a summer camp counselor isn't very impressive to managers at big companies.
Since joining the workforce, I've had the good fortune of working with a lot of great student interns and have been continually impressed at how motivated and capable they are. So I could see the need from both sides, where students are trying desperately to break into the professional world, and small organizations can greatly benefit from their help. It made sense to me to try to bring those two sides together, and that's how SpringTern came to be.
How does SpringTern actually work?
The website itself is straightforward and works in a similar way to a traditional job board, but with a focus on short-term projects that can be done remotely. As a company looking for some student help, you create a company profile and submit your work-project to our public listings page through the online form. This is like a regular job description, where they set out the expectations of what the project will require and when it needs to be completed.
Students simply browse through the project listings on our site and apply to any that offer the type of work experience they are looking for.
Once a company and student connect, it's left to them to manage the project in a way the works best for their specific needs.
Who pays for the service? Or is it free for everyone?
It costs $45 for companies to post a project listing on SpringTern, while non-profits get a reduced rate of $25. We also offer bulk discounts and free credits for referring other organizations to the site. At the same time, SpringTern is completely free for students.
Who do you feel is SpringTern's biggest competition?
There are a lot of sites out there that target students with career resources and traditional internship opportunities. This includes other Toronto-based companies like TalentEgg and CareerLeaf, multinational giants like LinkedIn and Monster, and local career counselors at universities and colleges across the country. But we believe that our focus on short-term, remote projects offers a unique proposition to both companies and students. In fact, many of these organizations see the value of our unique approach and are willing to partner with SpringTern to help their users take advantage of this extra service.
Why would companies use SpringTern instead of one of these other sites?
Many companies don't have the need or the resources to bring on a full-time intern. SpringTern gives these companies an easy way to get the help they need for a specific project. Also, since most projects on SpringTern are done remotely, companies don't need to go through the hassle of setting someone up onsite and are able to tap into a much larger talent pool.
There seems to be fairly passionate opposition against the "unpaid intern" or "work for free" mentality. What's your stance on the whole debate?
This is a very tricky debate and I don't think there is a clear 'right' answer. Whatever you may think of it, the reality is that lots of companies offer full-time internships (i.e. 9-5 for 3-4 months) that are unpaid and students regularly take on these roles in order to gain work experience. In some industries it is almost expected that entry-level employees have done one or more unpaid internships as part of 'paying their dues.'
But, given the financial hardships that most students face with the rising cost of tuition, taking an unpaid internship is an awful lot to ask of them. I think this is actually one of the advantages of SpringTern. While the roles are unpaid, they are generally pretty short so that students can get that professional experience they need to break into the workforce full-time, without volunteering too much of their time.
What are the next steps for SpringTern? Any big plans you can share?
I know a lot of startups talk about getting investment and new funding rounds, but our priority is really just to reach more and more users. We think we offer a service that solves a real need on both sides - small business that need help to get more done and students that need real world work experience.
Over the next 12 months, we will be focusing on making as many people as possible aware of SpringTern as an option to overcome these challenges. As long as we're able to reach more users and make them happy, then I have confidence that success from a business perspective will follow.