Gradlancer is the UK's first student services marketplace, connecting university students to freelance opportunities so they can work, learn and earn while they study. EN talks to its three founders to see how they came up with the idea, the challenges they've faced and their plans for the future.
Gradlancer was set up by three students, Ben Alfrey, Jay Gujral and Anthony Adeloye, while they were still completing their final year of study at Portsmouth University. They were working in various placements doing nine-to-five jobs but they always knew they wanted to go into business together and were determined to make that happen.
Based on their own experiences from university they knew that no services existed to help students gain meaningful, paid work experience so the initial concept of Gradlancer was born.
"Freelancing has always been around but with so many people achieving degrees these days it's really starting to become a new way for students to differentiate themselves and get ahead in their careers," says Gujral.
"We saw that this was an area that was on the rise and as far as we could see there was nothing in the market similar to what we were suggesting, so we knew we were onto a winner."
Within a week they had registered the name and domain and were working on a business plan to get investment. Adeloye and Gujral had both been working for a promotions company in the area which had received funding from local investment business Just Develop It, so they decided to approach them and see if they could secure the funding to make their dream a reality.
In the few weeks it took to get their initial meeting with Just Develop It, they had not only finished their university courses but were starting to receive job offers. However, all three were so passionate that Gradlancer was the way to go they decided to turn away the offers and hold out to see if they could get their funding.
"Our first meeting with Just Develop It was one of the scariest hours of our lives," says Adeloye.
"They were really nice but still grilled us about the business and our plans - but in the end, they saw the potential in this idea and decided to give us the investment we needed to really get Gradlancer off the ground."
"The financial investment from Just Develop It was better for us than any investment from a bank could have been, as it not only allowed us to develop a new website and secure offices, but they also provided us with marketing, PR and technological support," adds Alfrey.
"Their financial investment was, of course, invaluable, but their knowledge and expertise will continue to be long into the future and we could not have done it without them."
The Gradlancer service firstly allows students to find meaningful, flexible work around their university courses and secondly provides businesses with affordable, skilled students to work on a project to project basis - taking the hassle out of finding part-time work, internships and placements. Gradlancer has brand ambassadors at universities up and down the country spreading the word and signing new students up on a daily basis, helping the service grow.
And there is no sign of letting up for Jay, Anthony and Ben, with big plans for Gradlancer's future.
"The first phase of the plan was to get the website up and running, get as many students signed up as possible and encourage businesses to get involved," says Alfrey.
"We've achieved that in spades, but we also want to extend the service with our Prolancer service too. This is designed to help professionals get freelance work once they've finished their university degree, or for those who just find that freelancing suits them better and want to continue on a project-by-project basis."
"The Gradlancer business has really gone from zero to a hundred miles an hour in an incredibly short period, but we have no intention of stopping," adds Gujral.
"We're totally humbled by the response to the service and so proud to have achieved this straight from finishing university at 22-23 years old. We've also been really lucky to start this at exactly the right time and build some fantastic relationships with universities and students alike, which is something we really aim to maintain and continue building on. At the end of the day, this is a service that helps people and that's a really good feeling."