The Online Platform that Can Revolutionize the Student Economy
Among all of the social challenges facing the U.S. millennial, student debt and career development is by far one of the greatest obstacles for this generation. When I was making decisions regarding where I was going to attend university, I trusted that the economy was going to be there for me to gain a respectable income. Graduation day 2009 presented a completely different reality, one that I know many U.S. millennials are currently living. This crisis has been likened to the housing bubble, and many experts fear that it could have serious impacts on the U.S. economy as millennials are rising to prominence in this economy.
Although the outlook is quite bleak on this issue, I had the opportunity to interview a 24 year old Pittsburgher who is challenging the nature of work for current university students – Mark Heckmann of Student InTuition. His startup provides a revolutionary approach to start chipping away at the student debt crisis.
How It Works
Student InTuition is an online platform that matches students with businesses that have short term projects that current university students can do – and pays them for it. Such a model allows current students to gain real work experience and businesses to hire students without the burden of searching for good talent. Current students simply log-on, create a profile, and Student InTuition does the rest.
How It Started
As Mark tells it, about a year ago he was sitting at a board meeting for his alma mater, Denison University, where the Board of Trustees was exploring the increasingly concerning situation facing university students: increased student debt and lack of actual work experience.
At the time Mark was studying at Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College obtaining a Master in Public Policy and Management and found himself trying to find a solution to this very serious problem. He then joined a student-run incubator at Carnegie Mellon, IdeaLab, where Mark was able to have access to a solid feedback community comprised of other start-up leaders. Then, he took a Social Innovation course where he was able to develop the framework for the company and apply for a spot at Pittsburgh’s newly established Thrill Mill’s Hustle Den. While at the Hustle Den, Mark was able to get more professional, legal, programming, and office space support that helped create the legitimate social enterprise: Student InTuition.
Having a million dollar idea is one thing, but getting the timing just right can make all the difference. As Mark said:
A big part of launching a company is timing – are the market conditions right for such a thing to exist? Oftentimes you can have a great business concept, but the timing is incorrect, so you wait for the conditions to become favorable. In our case, investment in Ed Tech companies has been very strong, and the debt issue has been a prominent part of public discourse.
Not only were the external factors in his favor, but he had the rare opportunity to develop his business while in school with the tools his institution had to offer. Using the tools available, can be the support system any entrepreneur needs to get an idea off the ground.
When asked about what are the other advantages of being a young entrepreneur, Mark said:
…millennials understand the importance of being connected. The adages about networking continue to apply, and the companies that truly make change are ones who ask questions, seek feedback and promote their cause shamelessly. Our generation is better equipped to do those things than others.
Connectedness and timing, though crucial, are nothing for an entrepreneur without this element:
…it’s critical to recognize that you can have a voice on an issue, even a big one. There are many people with far more training, work experience and expertise than me out there, but they do not share the same interest, passion and empathy on this issue with me. And that becomes a distinguishable, credible mark for an entrepreneur – which their unique skill set and interest in a sector could create value in ways that have never been thought of before. But you must have the confidence to have a voice on an issue – absent that; you cannot be serious about your business.
If you want to learn more about Student Intituion, check out their website: http://studentintuition.com/ or follow them on Twitter @studentin2ition and post below if you know of any other great efforts on tackling the student loan crisis.
As the rest of the week unfurled, other historic events took place in the marble halls that house our federal government ranging from removing the protections of minority voter rights in the Supreme Court to immigration policy reform in the Senate. All of these momentous decisions will have direct impacts on our daily lives….eventually. What actually impacts us today didn’t even get discussed before Congress took off for their summer homes: student loan debt.
Caring about what happens in D.C., let alone our state capitals, is time consuming and often so depressing that it is just better to find more funny cat memes (guilty!) But, sparring with your Facebook frenemy over the role of government in our lives isn’t particularly helpful either. What happened to the book burning, thunderous protesting, in-your-face statements of how we feel about our government? Are we unknowingly living in scarily realistic version of the Hunger Games? Or is it that we have given up on the system before we even tried to change it?
I always think back on what a friend of mine said when John Mayer came out with “Waiting on the World to Change.” While I kept turning up the car radio whenever John’s magical voice would grace the speakers, my friend Amit would turn it down in disgust and say, “Why do we have to wait for change when we can make it happen now?”
As this is something I struggle with, what are the best ways to get involved in changing the world? How do you even pick which one to devote your time to?