iAspire is a platform that matches students looking for an advantage in their career search with students and recent graduates who already have a foot in the industry. The site, launched in September, has more than 180 users and is working on a lucrative partnership with Square.
Engineering senior Hannah Cutler has been cooking the concept for two years now. Her first idea was to create a site that aggregates events about networking and careers in order to make the information more readily available to her classmates. However, she realized this goal was not specific enough.
Working in the GovLab two summers ago, Cutler met Beth Noveck, former chief technology officer of the Obama-Biden transition team and director of the White House Open Governance Initiative. Noveck has dedicated her whole life to the idea of expert networks in government. What she realized is that policymakers have trouble pinpointing people with answers to their very specific questions, especially since government titles provide very little guidance as to what people know.
“I realized that there was a gap, and expert networking provided a bridge,” Cutler said. “While job descriptions tell you in vague terms the skills they require, they don’t tell you how to get there. And chances are, there is someone on campus that can tell you what to be in the lookout for, who to meet and how to make yourself more marketable in general.”
Although growing its customer base is iAspire’s focus for now, College senior and co-founder Jeffrey Wang does not discount the possibility of monetizing the service soon.
“We are looking for people prepared to make lengthy engagements. People that can create a substantial relationship out of which both parties can benefit,” Wang said.
While iAspire is not the only player in the market, it createsa distinct value proposition. There are companies that provide similar services: Handshake, JobStart, MentorNet and WayUp, for example. None of these sites provide for long-term, in-person interactions, and none are tailored to college students. JobStart charges close to $600 per month for six Skype chats and pays mentors around $80 per hour. Furthermore, JobStart mentors select mentees, which denies mentees the opportunity to be paired with their best match.
MentorNet focuses on STEM and health care careers only.
“At iAspire we know that you’ve filled enough forms — we do not want to classify you into a box,” Cutler said. “We want to give you the opportunity to describe yourself fully — if you are a polisci major with a minor in art who does graphic design on the side, that is perfectly fine. Our system can automatically handle responses like this and make matches, our competitors can’t.”
Cutler said they are working with machine learning experts at the Wharton School and the Engineering School to improve algorithms. She contrasted iAspire’s services with Penn’s services.
“You are placed on a bucket depending on your major and told to apply to a preselected list of companies. You are an econ major — here, apply to the Bank of America. Having gone through the recruiting process ourselves, we know that the essential information requires talking to someone with experience, not reading a job description,” she said.
As of now, the partners are working on developing corporate partnerships and will seek venture capital once their initial phase of expansion is complete.
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