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STARTUP

Can't Hire? Rent a College Student

Students need work, and real on-the-job skills. That's just your luck. This start-up hopes to help you find the right matches for your task, and your price.

Students UGA campus

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Are you cooking up a small business in you garage, coworking space, or dorm room and in need of a helping hand, but can't yet afford to hire established pros or full-time help? RentAStudent might be a perfect answer. And interestingly, it's also the perfect solution for a problem you may have faced in the past.

Remember the classic student-experience Catch 22: You need skills to get a job and you need a job to gain skills, so how can you begin? The traditional answer to this problem is the internship, but issues with low (or no) pay, menial tasks and lack of mentorship in many of these opportunities are well chronicled.

RentAStudent aims to help both students stuck in this paradox and fledgling small businesses in need of low-cost, skilled help that doesn't entail the communication and logistical challenges of hiring inexpensive workers overseas. How does it accomplish this double act? By matching cash-strapped firms in need of project-based work to students hungry to earn cash and gain experience. That's happy news not only for students struggling to keep themselves in ramen and textbooks while building their professional portfolios, but also for young entrepreneurs looking to bootstrap their enterprises

"Students, when they get to the interview to land their first job, want to show that they have a portfolio of experience," explains CEO and co-founder Morgan Dierstein. "Because what happens today is you arrive at your first interview and you really have nothing to show—you were a waiter and did a summer internship, which is usually meaningless. You just photocopy things."

To remedy this problem, Dierstain and a friend first started RentAStudent in Dierstein's native France this January. In October, Dierstein brought the concept stateside with U.S. co-founder Guillaume Truttman, launching an American version of the site. How does it work? Businesses post details of a project that needs doing along with a price range for the work and then interested students bid on the project. While the site caters for a broad range of student interests, those with web skills will find the richest selection of projects, according to Dierstein. Web development, Internet research, and SEO are all big on the site.

The site's model is particularly well suited to entrepreneurial students, according to Dierstein:

I think it's great for people to learn how to work for themselves and to work for something they love and are passionate about. We have stories about students who started their own consulting company because, basically, when you’re a student working on our platform you become an entrepreneur.

And lest you worry that RentAStudent will just end up an online extension of the unpaid-internship phenomenon, with more and more students working for "experience" alone, Dierstein says checks are in place to ensure companies give students on the platform a square deal.

"We pre-screen every single project on the platform and we validate them," says Dierstein, who explains that the company calls back each firm posting work on the site to check the details of the project and the price range on offer. (The company also verifies the student status of potential workers by checking student IDs.) "If the budget range doesn't fit what we've been experiencing on the platform, we're not going to be able to post the project, because we don't want students to work for these amounts," says Dierstein. So forget companies trying to exploit desperate students with a cheeky proposal to get a logo designed for 20 bucks.

With unemployment so high among young people and so many struggling to get a foot on that first rung on the career ladder, RentAStudent seems like a winning formula for budding entrepreneurs to start gaining skills in a tight economy.

IMAGE: Stephanie Schupska/UGA
Last updated: Dec 8, 2011

JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.
@EntryLevelRebel




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