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083 | Rethinking How to Leverage Student Talent at Scale with Matthew Wilkerson

EPISODE
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083 | Rethinking How to Leverage Student Talent at Scale with Matthew Wilkerson
Published on
September 14, 2020
083 | Rethinking How to Leverage Student Talent at Scale with Matthew Wilkerson
EPISODE SPONSORS
Banks.com
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Guest

Matt Wilkerson
Name
Company Name

Paragon One

You've just spent four years and student debt...to get to a point where the core decision that's being made, you didn't even invest in.
#SNYDERSHOWDOWN #PODCAST
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Summary

Matt Wilkerson is the co-founder and CEO of Paragon One – a platform providing flexible remote externships that help students gain hands-on work experience in different industries before they graduate. Paragon One partners with universities, high schools and non-profits around the world to give students the chance to work on projects for US companies across sectors like technology, renewable energy, marketing, investment and real estate.  Paragon One enables these students to build job-ready skills and a network of industry connections at the very start of their careers. Matt sits down with Chris Snyder to discuss how higher education has been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and how Paragon One is helping students adjust to an increasingly remote workforce.

Highlights

  • How a unique experience during Matt's early career in finance inspired the founding of Paragon One
  • How a well-trained intern can be a huge benefit to companies and have a massive ROI as compared to interns who don't work with mentors
  • How Paragon One was designed to re-imagine the way students transition into the professional workforce
  • Matt's experience going through the Y Combinator program with Paragon One
  • Where higher education gets it wrong when offering career services to student prior to graduation
  • How companies can create internship programs that create value for students without having to allocate an overwhelming amount of resources
  • How Paragon One creates custom training programs to match the industries and students using their platform
  • The antiquated way degrees are viewed in higher education and the importance of investing in student outcomes

Matt Wilkerson

Co-Founder

Matt Wilkerson is the co-founder and CEO of Paragon One – a platform providing flexible remote externships that help students gain hands-on work experience in different industries before they graduate.

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Matt Wilkerson

Co-Founder

Matt Wilkerson is the co-founder and CEO of Paragon One – a platform providing flexible remote externships that help students gain hands-on work experience in different industries before they graduate.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:44] Hello, everyone, Chris Snyder here, host of the Snyder Showdown, President at Juhll Agency, and founder of Financial Services Platform Banks.com. On this show, we take a no B.S. approach to business success and failure. Told you the stories of the top entrepreneurs and executives who have lived them. Join us today as we get the unfiltered backstories behind successful brands. Today's sponsor is Banks.com, the world's most comprehensive and trusted branding and discovery platform for banks and banking related products and services. Banks.com is aligning consumer core values with trusted financial institutions, bringing attention and awareness to leading financial brands. To learn more, you can go to banks, dot com forward slash partners, or you can send an email to info at Banks.com. OK, everyone, today's guest is Matt Wilkerson. He is the co-founder and CEO of Paragon One, a platform providing flexible remote externships that helps students gain hands on work experience in different industries before they graduate. Paragon, one, partners with universities, high schools, and nonprofits around the world to give students the chance to work on projects for U.S. companies across sectors like technology, renewable energy, marketing, investment in real estate.

[00:02:10] Paragon one enables these students to build job ready skills and a network of industry connections. At the very start of their careers, Matt is here with us today to discuss how higher education has been impacted by covered 19 and how Paragon one is helping students adjust to an increasingly remote workforce. Welcome. Matt.

[00:02:34] Thanks for having me, Chris. Absolutely. I'm glad you're here. Timing is impeccable because we are in the middle of a crisis or coming out of it, depending on which way you look at it. So I'm eager to learn about Paragon one and how they're helping students get through this, given a lot of these schools aren't going back in the fall. So before we kick that off, though, tell us a little bit about your upbringing, where you grew up and how you got to where you are today.

[00:03:01] Sure. I'm originally from Atlanta, Georgia, and was very enamored with art. When I was young. I was obsessed with drawing and sketching and entering art contests. And somewhere along the way, as I entered high school, I sorta went from right brain to left brained and suddenly started getting into math and computers and got enamored with the Internet, which had sort of come out when I was in middle school. And I the funny thing is I originally hated math leading up to high school and somehow got inspired by a teacher that I had. This is where I think teachers are and mentors are always very important. I had a math teacher who really kind of. I would say stoke the creative aspect the mathematics could could bring and people have heard the term mathlete. I was a mathlete, a math team, and I was a big nerd, of course. But for me, math wasn't so much about numbers as it was what you could creatively do with it in terms of problem solving and how that kind of turned on a part of my brain that I think was the same part of my brain that was stimulated by art. And so I think this combination for me of always being able to live in the right side, that the left side created the logical shaped a lot of my own career path and my own interests. So I decided I wanted to apply to technical schools and I applied to M.I.T. and Caltech and others. I also applied to some labor or liberal arts school. And I remember that I got in to Brown University and I actually accepted going to Brown. But then I also got on the waitlisted M.I.T.. And I ended up sending in some additional information that they didn't ask for. Because at that point, I thought, well, let me just see if I can get off the wait list. And I later learned that I was one of the 11. I think wait list candidates that ended up getting an offer finally to go to M.I.T.. And I think the big lesson for me there was just not letting the status quo tell you you couldn't do something or not letting you know, not thinking something's over, thinking you can't do something just because you might have not gotten there. So once I got into my M.I.T., I decided to go almost just to see if I could do it. I felt a little intimidating. I didn't have to tell Brown sorry about coming after all. And I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. And it really changed my life, my experience there. I met a great group of people and network people that I keep in touch with friends. My co-founder and I for Paragon, why do we met when we were at M.I.T., as well as the co-founder of my last company. And while I was there, I initially wanted to do special effects for film because I was a big film nerd that turned into not knowing what I wanted to do because I was introduced to so many different things. And by the time I was graduating, I was actually quite lost. I didn't have much of a direction, so I kind of jumped into an area that I think a lot of ambitious young people jump into when they're ambitious, but they don't know exactly what they want to be ambitious for. And that's finance, investment banking. I got an offer from Morgan Stanley to go into banking, and I wasn't particularly interested in finance. I thought it was somewhat intellectually interesting for a while. And if I maybe a private equity sounds fine. I read Barbarians at the Gate at the time and this was back in two thousand four and five. So this was pre the 2008 financial crisis. So finance was a huge attraction for students. I moved to New York with a bunch of other my friends who got into finance. And the next year my life were I really didn't see New York City at all because I was sort of chained to my desk as an analyst in banking. And I actually worked so much, typed so much that I got tendinitis in my hands. And it was it was so bad. It was literally for a couple of days I was typing with one hand and it yeah, that's kind of another crazy story. But I ended up going to a bunch of doctors, bunch of therapists. They couldn't do anything. I couldn't type for almost a year. And, you know, I doctors told me to really just lay off of the typing. So I what I did was I made myself useful by sitting behind interns during the day and coaching them and teaching them how to do their jobs better, how to be better investment banking analysts and be more productive with PowerPoint and Excel. And by the end of the summer, that first summer, there were so good at what they did. They all got full time jobs to come back in as full time analysts. And that was rare. You usually cut a lot of the interns. It was a sink or swim environment.

[00:08:18] Normally you get two or three out of a hundred or whatever or added exactly like you. They get hundreds, especially the big firms. There's hundreds. Right. And they take, you know, 20 across the whole country and the and.

[00:08:35] Exactly. And, you know, the attitude is generally that you're supposed to get the, you know, kick out. You basically, you know, there's not really this idea of of supported mentorship. And so I think a lot of the students, when they got that, it really changed their experience. And it even shaped my own thinking. Later on when we started Paragon, one of what could have been, if you leverage the resources of companies to be able to train and educate students while they're not the kind of Arawa that could actually happen. For a student. And for the company now fast forwarding again after parad sorry, after Morgan Stanley, I went to work in venture capital for a bit as an associate technology crossover ventures. And you know, that was great because I got to really spend a lot of time studying entrepreneurs, studying people that were building companies. And I ended up after that. This is when I was there, the financial crisis did happen. We weren't doing any deals for a while. And I just got enamored with some ideas, with a few different friends. One in particular had an idea for a luxury e-commerce marketplace. That's kind of like a high end at sea. So that artisans and people that we're producing really high quality products, whether it's accessories, food, home decor, fashion, they could have a platform to launch. And so we did. We launched PR.. All right. Relaunched. Aha. Like dot com. This was in 2010. And that whole experience really taught me a lot. It taught me a lot about what it was to be an entrepreneur. Hiring management. I mean, I look back and there was a lot of things I did not know at the time that I kind of think back and think, wow, you know, how how to do that over again. And it was a great experience. We built a marketplace for thousands of artisans, raised a lot of inshore capital money, and eventually had a listing actually on the Australian Stock Exchange. But it was it was rougher for a little bit because we had had this new business model where we were doing B2B e-commerce management, we doing white label e-commerce management for media companies. And one of the big media companies we were working for was NBC Universal. And they had they had bought a property that I don't know if anybody remembers this if in the women's media space called DailyCandy.

[00:11:18] Yeah, I do remember there were an email newsletter, actually. Yeah. I actually was a I was a media buyer. That was a long time ago. But we used to place ads in DailyCandy.

[00:11:30] Right. Yeah. They were the they were like the de facto women's media property. And so they had they wanted to launch their own e-commerce store and they wanted their editors to be able to select the products and write about them. And we were really good at sourcing these unique products. And they had real ideas. Right. They had the audience.

[00:11:51] You had you had the product. They had the audience. So it seemed like a great that's a great idea.

[00:11:56] Exactly. So we built up, hired, built this platform. And then at the end of 2013, we captus the head of the head of the division at the owned Daily Candy, told us that NBC was shutting it down. NBC forecast. And I just like, why didn't we just license Shopify? I well, this was when Shopify was actually getting really big. And, you know, some of these ideas and concepts we had, you know, at the end of the day, a lot of this is, of course, some of it's timing, some of it's like some of these people, a lot of it's execution. But then we just had made a tough bet with that very first partner. And we later on went to launch something with Clammer and while magazine. But the daily candy deal really, really hurt us and we had to make some lay offs. That was a rough period. But yeah, anyways, what happened was I, I decided. Look, I don't want to necessarily work in the fashion industry in the long run. I co-founder who who came from that space and really knew it a lot better. Shauna. She continued to run the company at that point. But I had really this had this fascination with education and rethinking it from a standpoint of like he said, could you really bring in the professional world? Could you bring in people from companies to do education and deliver education and a more practical way for students? And so our first our first idea when we came out of the gate with Paragon One was we would help students get internships and jobs through an on demand career center. We called it a career center as a service. And it was a three to six month program where we would match students with industry professionals from different backgrounds who would act as these on demand coaches add whether you need to help with your resumé or you needed to get interview prep before a big interview, or you just needed to learn more about an industry and what it was like to work there. We had the people to match with you. And we went through Y Combinator with that. That was a great experience. We raised a kind of a small party seed round and we spent two and a half years working on that. How this.

[00:14:33] Did you launch did you actually get to launch the product? I mean, seed rounds are relatively small. You must have had, you know, a small team maybe raised five hundred K or, you know, maybe a million. But did you get the product market fit?

[00:14:47] We did not get to product market fit, I would say with that pretend idea. With that particular idea. We had a very strong niche with the international student market in the United States. And our goal was we wanted to expand this On-Demand Career Center model and bring it into universities. We did get it. We did get eight universities to be clients of ours, but it was through their international student programs because international students have generally been neglected. And when they come to the states to study just the whole idea of getting an internship. Most companies don't even want to work with international students or Zaitz ones.

[00:15:32] And Visa is actually language barriers and cultural barriers. It's just really hard. Yeah, it is.

[00:15:39] It's rough. So it was a it's a it was a great place. There was a real pain point, a real need. But one of the things that we found was so there's three things. One is there are some competitive issues. A lot about there are a lot of other people starting to do this kind of career coaching mentorship on demand. Some of them are all the cart models or you just book someone's time and hour of someone's time. We felt that was too commoditization of just labor time and was very hard to replicate, all very transactional, whereas we wanted we wanted the students to invest a number of months to improve themselves. Yeah, that's that's honestly a tough. I think when you're a student. It's easy to say this now. Right. I mean, I'm a huge fan of coaching. And you can look back and say, well, I when I was in school, I wish I had someone coaching me. I wish I had someone giving me advice. But when you're in college, you don't know what you don't know yet and you're sort of figuring it out as you go. So the idea of, well, let me talk and get help with my interviews. You don't know you need help with interviews until you feel five or six of them.

[00:16:49] Not only that, I mean, you just described your journey and what ended up happening with you. It sounds like is you kind of took the first job that someone offered you because now you're out of college, your student debt, your student loans start to look like there's a whole gaggle of things that candidly, there's four years of college or three if you're super smart or five if you party too much or maybe take extra. I don't know. But the end of the day, you're right. If I had someone that said, look, Chris, this semester you're going to do a three three month thing with an insurance company or whatever, this semester you're going to do another three, or this year you're going to do another three month thing in these broad categories, like you're going to go down to the police department and you're going to if you really want to think about a criminal justice program or you're gonna go to a law office. I was a poly sci major. We're gonna send you to a law office for three months. You're going to go. Imagine the number of spaces that we could have explored in four years instead of being thrust into. Two. OK. You guys better get your shit. You're an adult now. You got to get a job. You got to get to work. And I usually find people just stay with that kind of for the rest of their lives, you know?

[00:18:09] Well, it's partly because when you go to college, you expect university. You expect that institution to sort of tell you this is what you should do. Some things do these things. We're going to give you this piece of paper and then that's going to prepare you. Yeah. For the world. And I think that is the mindset a lot of times. Right. With a lot of the students we would work with. It was, well, OK, I could do this, but I've got all this homework about the tests. I got it. Perfect. All these things that the university is telling me. And by the way, they're gonna give me a number and a grade that a GPA that I'm being told is very important.

[00:18:47] I think a lot of that causes the, you know, basically restricts the time and restricts the prioritization for this other type of exploration.

[00:18:58] Yeah, no. So you. So how did you figure out with these ideas? Because it sounded like the idea started out Y Combinator and you're you're trying to figure out this product market fit. When did you land on the model you have today? What is the what is the problem that the new model really addresses? And like, how do you how do you make money doing that? The problems that you solve. How is this beneficial relative to the other things you tried?

[00:19:26] Right. Well, one, I think the big insight for us is we learned that the really big reason the students signed up for our coaching program is because they wanted to get a great job or a great internship. That was really the reason they did the coaching. And while the value of the coaching, they certainly appreciated it. It wasn't like they wanted to do the coaching for the sake of just learning or doing the coach. There was a clear outcome they wanted to get out of this. And so most of our product was judged on that outcome. Not so much. OK. What was the quality of the coaching and the instruction and the curriculum? It was. Did you get that? Yeah. And I think for a lot of the students, more or more immediately was did they get a great internship that following summer?

[00:20:17] And when we started to do as we started to help them at the end, we would try to place them in in interviews and in source companies and start ups to interview our students to try to help them get internships. And it was a lot of work. It was high touch, labor intensive. One of the things that we unsurprisingly learned was students that already had some work experience on their resume. They got an interview faster. Now, they also did better in the interview because they had something to talk about. Right. And it was a little bit of this feast or famine where if you were a student that already had a resume, a built out with some work experience, you were just going to do even better. The ones that did it needed just really I really had to struggle. And so that was an that was an aha moment for us. And we started to talk about, well, what if we just cut straight to the chase? What if we just cut to the to the thing that students really cared about? And it was that internships are actually this inventory constrained issue in the marketplace, internships in the US cities and in the UK, they have apprenticeships, which actually is a more developed market where companies are incentivized by the government to to get students into apprenticeships. But in the US, it's a little bit of a free for all. And if you are a company, you do internships usually in order to recruit students early, get the best students for your full time programs. So you're looking for the students from the Ivy League schools. You're looking for the students that have, you know, three internships already and that are really well spoken. Interview? Well, that's the Facebook, the Googles. The Morgan Stanley's right. You're you're really well established. One percent. Yeah, it's a small number. And so for most students, though, right at the same time, when you graduate college, if an employer looks at your resume. What's the first thing they look at? They look at your work experience. It's just something they go to. I mean, yes, they look at your school, your GPA, because it's at the top. But what's filling up most of that resume? It's got to be work experience, right. And so if you're a student and you're graduating and the majority of the resumes. That's most important for the company. Interviewing you is empty or it isn't very impressive. You've just spent four years and student debt and whatever to get to a point where the core decision that's being made, you didn't even invest it.

[00:22:48] It seems it seems a little bit. Not a little bit a lot odd to me. And as I think about it now, I've not really thought about this until I did a little research before this. Call an email talking to you. The schools should do just. You would think the schools would have had this nailed a long time ago because you could easily say, hey, if you come to our school, you have a ninety nine percent chance of getting a job on the day you graduate, because we have programs in place that introduce you to the local community, introduce you to parts ribbit. And I know I think some schools claim that they have career services. I think that's the claim. But it feels like. So two things. Do these schools have career services? Do they do a good job? I know might not be as binary is that maybe they don't do the best job that they could do. And then the second part of it is how equipped are instructors really professors and people in pedagogy in general? They don't. They have a job, but their job is to just kind of teach students. Their job is really not to be accountable, that the students that they're teaching get jobs when they leave. Right. I mean, so it seems a little bit odd. Can you address the career services aspect? And then also are are the professors and I'm categorizing broadly, are professors really equipped or should they have some support from some outside people that actually are working every single day to come into some of these classrooms and help out a little bit?

[00:24:23] Yeah, great, great questions. So let's talk about career centers first. Pretty much every school, every university, college and even some high schools these days have a career center. The problem is they are an afterthought. Typically, they do not get budget. The people that work at career centers are great people. They don't have a budget. And so there's really the goal of a career center is a few things. It's make sure employers are showing up on campus to interview our students, make sure career fairs are happening, to connect employers and students, and then facilitate info sessions and then maybe.

[00:25:03] Have someone they can review residents, so they'll generate some demand right there, like a library in a resource in general for career stuff.

[00:25:14] Right.

[00:25:16] But it's it's not there's nothing about the career center that helps the student actually improve their resume, and I don't mean spellchecker resume.

[00:25:25] I mean. And like, is it aligned and lets it look pretty? That's that's no easy stuff. When we say improve a resume, it's like, how do you get actual content on your resume about a really good work experience? You tell that story. And you need experiences to tell that story. And so I think that, look, I think a lot of care centers do absolutely the best they can with the budgets they're given.

[00:25:50] But there is sort of this there's this belief that just getting companies to post internships on a job board is helping the students. Yes. And if you talk to students, though, they're thinking they also don't know. Right. They're just OK. There's an internship. Let me talk to someone. Oh, I didn't get the internship. Well, why didn't they get the internship? What do they need to know? What do they need to be competitive for that internship? And I think the most important thing that you've taught, you're touching on with professors because some professors do this where they'll they will kind of have connections to industry. They might help students get internships here and there. But it's very ad hoc. And like you said, they have other responsibilities. I talked to a professor the other day at a university that had been sort of thrown this program. He's trying to figure out how to execute on it with covered. And we might be working with them. But that's again, it's an ad hoc. Some universities like North-Eastern Waterloo, Drexel, they have very well established co-op programs. And this is where they go to industries and companies and form a program where the students get academic credit. They might take a semester. Now they get North-Eastern students can take an entire year. And those are great programs, but not a lot of colleges do that. So the bigger question is where in the university system is the responsibility for students to come away with experiences that you should, I believe, still call education. But just what they've done is in the real world, it's real work. It's actually being used. It's not a course. It's not a simulation. The ambiguity, everything you have to deal with, it's messy, doesn't have the right answer. What's the what? How do I study for the test dancers from last year? All that stuff doesn't matter here.

[00:27:46] Let me throw up a little bit of friction on the employer side, because I think you and I both we've hired a lot of people, we've run companies. But it's it's it's not it's really difficult, especially for a smaller company to have interns in the office. I'll just be point blank. It's like they don't know much here. You know, you pay him 10 bucks an hour or 20 bucks an hour. I don't know what it is. And that's not the issue. The issues, the amount of time that you have to dedicate to interns. So how do we get through that? Because candidly, you know, if I had someone come to my work or if I had someone that could shadow me, that was a decent human being and it felt like I was helping them out. But I still have a lot of my own work I need to do. How do we account for that? Is this the coaching component or how do we account for that? Because we do want to help. But we also got a job to do. We got to make top line, bottom line revenue profit. There's stuff that happens. We've got to be accountable. How do you account for that amount of friction? I think.

[00:28:50] Absolutely, this is sort of the the bottom line with this entire problem is there's only so much company and manager type, right? That's the constraint. Yeah. Straining force here is that we've we've created this expectation of a learning system that we do want companies to take part in and and deliver that experience. We call it in the US, their internships and the instructors, the Kias, the professors are people working in companies, staff, and they have limited time. They're not and they're not set up to deliver an experience, certainly at scale that can impact a lot of students. Many of these companies are not unless unless they have large budgets that they're devoting because they're trying to get the best students. Right. Exactly. That that's the thing. And so I think what this is, when you talk to some companies, they will say, well, yeah, we've got an internship program. It's working well. Great. So from the company standpoint, there is not an issue. But when you have to look at a society standpoint there, there's very few people that are taking ownership o- over this problem because educators say, well, this is what we do. We have academic standards, we have academic goals and needs that the students accomplish industry. That's OK. Go get an internship. And then industry is sort of saying, well, yeah, well, we're gonna get the best students, but we're expecting the higher ed institutions to produce enough of them, of these good students for us to even want to spend the time. Yeah, right. Because if you're going to spend some of your time with an intern, you wanted to be good, you wanted to be trained.

[00:30:30] And I mean, you know what's interesting about what you're saying? It's a very the comment that I made, which is a true comment, but it's very myopic and selfish on my part to make a comment that would suggest that, hey, if these people can't come in here and immediately give us something, then we're not interested. Right. I mean, if you really want to boil it down. Yeah, that's sort of what I was alluding to in an in. And instead your comment is, I think the society needs to rearrange their thoughts around future generations and giving back like you, you'll have to look at, you know, every single thing that you're doing on a daily. So maybe there could be a way for us to have better incentives as companies to give back tax incentives and things of this nature. And maybe there is I haven't looked into it recently, but I just think for smaller and mid tier companies to have programs, I think the difference between coaching and having a real program is a that would be a huge difference. And maybe you found a niche there. Actually, let's go into that. How does Paragon actually work? Like, what is your Tobor? Tell us about the program and how it works.

[00:31:45] Sure. So the general idea is we wanted to create a turnkey alternative to internships by turnkey. I mean, for as a school just needs to have students that are interested to explore an area for companies. They just need to have a project. And there are certain projects we we've focused on what we call project templates. There's like 10 of what we do right now. And they're in areas like marketing, business development, data analytics, product strategy, content. We don't do highly technical work and the software work. And the reason for that is these prêt these projects we call externships, we call them remote externships. They're meant to be six to eight weeks long. And in areas that a student could learn without a prerequisite skill or experience. So excellent in the time that they devote.

[00:32:36] They learn what they need to do the work. And what we give the students are three things. The first is structured training, so they learn. Let's take an example. We've got projects with venture capital funds. They'll learn how does venture capital work, how to ensure capital funds make money. All the big picture stuff. And then they'll get into the project training of how. And one of the cases, the projects deal sourcing. So they're actually going to do deals sourcing for the D.C. firm as an investment analyst. And they're gonna learn how to spot startups, how to analyze them, where to research them. We have a whole user interface for this. The second thing we offer is the live components. We facilitate webinars between the company and the students. And it's said enough of the cadence where the copies can rotate through individuals and their team. And so no one's spending too much time. We also have our own coaches and teaching assistants who act as extensions to the company and help the students in office hours. So they'll answer questions. Sometimes students don't want to raise their hand and ask a question that a company or there's just something in the weeds that the company doesn't have time.

[00:33:48] Really. Right. This is what you're talking about. Like, how do you have time? Especially if you're trying to work with 20, 30, 40 students, which is which is our goal. We want to scale these projects to handle large numbers of students. And then finally, we'd credential. We. Will the students can earn credentials on LinkedIn through a credible that the companies will sign off on? Some companies give letters of recommendation to the best students, which our platform can facilitate because we track student performance and it becomes for the companies, it becomes a really interesting way to hit diversity and inclusion targets because we can reach students in a more accessible, equitable way. They can assess students at scale on real projects and hopefully save their team time with interviewing. So we're finding that there is a lot of interesting things that that this can actually provide, too. I would say the larger companies like the corporates and we do we work with Facebook, we work with Zillow, we work with some corporate venture funds. So we're still I would say we're still at the early stages here of learning this new model that we've created using technology and using content, how it can not just help students, but also be of great value to the companies.

[00:35:09] So do the students get paid in these internship relationships? I'm assuming some might be paid, some might not. So I'm assuming it's it's the employer pays for the both the potentially hourly wages of these students, plus access to the platform, which gives them access to the students and all the tools to manage the students in the externships. Is that accurate?

[00:35:36] So part of it is the companies can choose to pay the students, but we found that that was actually harder than we thought. And we. So here's the thing. Our mission with Paragon one is we want students to come out of their educational experience with something on their resume that makes them more marketable and it builds a skill set. And that's why we don't set these up to be full time 40 hour week programs. They're usually about 10 hours that students will spend. It's meant to be flexible. They're getting a credential. And so it's technically set up as an educational program for the students with the kicker that they can put this on their resume under work experience, the kind of a new thing that we've invented and we've set it up where the companies and the students technically don't have a legal employer employee relationship. So it makes it a lot more streamlined where we're working with the student in this program. And separately, we'll have an agreement with the company. So it's actually helped. It's way easier for the companies. Now, on your other point of how we make money. We've been experimenting with a few different things. But when kov it hit, we mostly earn. We saw a huge spike in demand and we mostly on our revenue from the education side, actually. So schools and tutoring companies and international high schools and we work with domestic high school in Kentucky called Owsley County Schools. We also work with International Student Pathway Program. So a lot of different. We work with an NGO called the Opportunity Network, talks with underserve students. They'll sponsor students and integrate with their programs. Now, we are some things are in place where we are very close to launching a model where companies can pay and sponsor for some of the things I talked about, helping them with DNA targets, diversity targets, helping them with assessing students at scale. But for now, we'll go to companies and run these as sort of pro bono projects just to get initially get more interesting projects on the platform.

[00:37:53] So I'm looking at one of the programs now, social media, market intelligence or SVO marketing and content creation. You'd mentioned investment research, business analytics, like there's all these different things. That you said earlier that you can come to the party with just baseline skills. It's not highly technical, but it's things that you can learn and do. And I think about, you know, SVO marketing, content creation, like you don't know, you can get on Canberra and start creating right away. So are you guys creating all this content? You have a team of people doing this. Are you curating lessons from, you know, in integrating the lessons in your platform?

[00:38:38] So we actually create most of the training right now, although we will. Wow. We will see if there's something out there that we think is directly relevant to the work. We'll bring it in. Now, the goal the goal, though, is that we're trying to not overwhelm the students. We're not trying to treat it as like a class of on its CEO. And let's just teach you everything about us. We want to teach you enough where you can go because the students are busy, everyone's busy where they can get in and start doing the work like doing is learning. Right. That's our whole philosophy. So we do create the training. So the companies just have to spend usually a couple hours with us to really make sure we understand the goal, the project that we've created enough of these different projects and templates. Now, we've gotten pretty good at a number of them and really understanding what's the right amount to teach a student and when. Right. Not make them read everything up front. But maybe it's pace it out as we go along and divide the project up into subprojects. So, yeah, there is a bit of an art and a science to this that we've just learned from working with so many students and companies.

[00:39:50] So on the on the demand side, you're it feels like a marketplace model a bit because you've got students and then you've got, you know, the the employers and maybe even universities is is part of the model as well. So how would a university given covered 19 since universities are now saying, hey, we're not going back to school until next year or even like I've got a 10 year old and an eight year old or, you know, our elementary schools are shut down. How could you may have touched on this a little bit, but how could these schools, if they're not just thinking myopically about externships or internships, how would they leverage your platform to help them through like the next six months or even thinking about innovation and transformation moving forward as we push through this?

[00:40:49] Yeah. We've seen a few different personas here. So there's institutions that already have some kind of requirement. Like you see this lot with business programs where students have to get X number of hours for an internship or go up. And maybe those relationships have been disrupted because of Cauvin and there's less internship time. So we can come in and create these programs that help fill the student requirements for credit during the year. Got it. And because they're flexible, we can go the hours and a number of different variables we can change. It can fit in quite well with their programs. Others are some schools are just interested in providing kind of extra curricular. And enrichment opportunities to help the students because they know the job market's tight. They're going to need extra help with boosting their resumé as other schools are just looking for things that can be engaging in a remote environment. Right. Because now they have. And I would say this is where. So the more forward thinking schools that realize, of course, going remote, going online and virtual commodities is your brand. A little bit. Come on. Yeah. Right. I mean, most of the students really paid for that housing and on campus experience and all those little things you get from building a network in person that's challenged. Now, it's it's it's in some cases, it's gone. So how can they provide other student outcome driven, student outcome driven pieces of value that work well in a remote environment? So we're starting to see that as well.

[00:42:33] Got it. Got it. So if you had to look into the future, if you had a crystal ball and you had to think about, you know, maybe what your your bigger biggest point of leverage is or the biggest constraint or, hey, if the world just looked, we know what it looks like now. Right. But in your vision, what the world will eventually is into, like, what does that look like in a year from now? I know it's a crazy, crazy time. So certainly this could change more rapidly than a year. But if you had to envision this business, this company, how universities are acting, how students are working, going to school, what what is the ultimate vision that you see in the next one or two years?

[00:43:19] It's basically that higher education, even high schools are. Plugged into companies and companies are plugged into schools. And there is a symbiotic relationship there. Right now they're in two completely different worlds, their travels. And there, you know, again, there are exceptions. There some some great examples of schools doing things right now.

[00:43:44] But by and large, this is something that I talked about before. One thing to understand is that higher education was developed originally to produce PGD and researchers. Now the academic institutions, what people call, quote, I ivory tower was to produce really great research work and new discoveries. And so in order to do that, you had to become a. Well, OK, in order to come. There's all these things you need to learn. We need to test you on. And some people will make it. Many people won't. And so if you don't make it up that ladder, they had consolation prizes, masters degree. You don't get that far. You get a bachelors degree. It's basically what it is. And they said, OK, well, you've learned this stuff. Let's at least recognize you for spending four years of your life. And a lot of money and go out into the world. And here is this bachelors. Good luck. And guess what? That bachelor's degree was designed around a path to become a researcher, not surround Brustein path to go into industry. And the requirements and all these things were created by those that are setting standards to go to the next level. What do you need to go into Masters and.

[00:44:54] So that's and this hasn't been rethought for, what, 50 years? One hundred years.

[00:44:58] Oh, has it been? I mean, you know, you have exceptions here and there. I think engineering departments tend to maybe be a little bit more industry focused. But even still, I mean, M.I.T., where I want to pry the most the most forward thinking here. They've since changed this, but when I was in school, they taught us my first programing language as a computer science major. This language called scheme, which is a variation, variation of lisp, and no one used it then.

[00:45:31] It was for a library card catalog, ladies.

[00:45:34] There was some, but, well, there was some. I think one of the professors there is some belief that, you know, this helps you think in a better way. And look, I'm sure there is definitely value in that. But at the end of the day, you're spending no practical semester. Exactly. I'm a computer science major. I remember right after that.

[00:45:52] I mean, I tried to teach myself some stuff on the side, but I just remember after taking that class, I still can't do anything practical as a pro grabber. And and so you find situations like that in higher education where there is just no thought towards pragmatism? Well, there is no competition.

[00:46:15] Right. Especially in the schools like the ones you're suggesting, like the ones you went to or any of the other ones that are in the top 20. There is no competition. It's them and everybody else. So they kind of do whatever they want because you get the network and get the cachet. You get the on campus experience. That is what you pay for. We do what we do.

[00:46:35] That is true. That is true. I have found some universities that are not, quote, top ranked, doing some incredibly pragmatic stuff. And the students come out learning things that can be applied to industry. So what I'd think of the future, I think of this continuous bridge that exists between higher ed and and companies. And I think that we want to be a part of that. We want to be a part of create that infrastructure. A lot of infrastructure needs to take place. And I do believe, you know, if anyone has listened to Scott Galloway. Oh, I. Or no malice. No mercy. But he he's you know, he writes a lot about this and I'm sure he has cause to rub his purees ruffled some feathers at some institution.

[00:47:19] Well, he can because he's a he's a professor at NYU, right. Yeah. School of business. So.

[00:47:25] So I do think there is something there where you're going to see a lot of universities, either the ones that are set up for success and make the decision can decide they want to be student outcome focus. And so I think when we talk about what has to change on the company side, you have to have an investment in education and training for students, even if those students aren't going to join your company and see that there is going to be a benefit that will come back to you in the long run. Now, there there's a community benefit, right? Students having learned a skill from your company as a brand, that's actually enormous. And on the institutional side, it means that leaders that have budget, that have decision making capability bring the community of the institution around the idea that working with the real world. And even if it doesn't hit all of the goals that you think a biochemist needs to get, that bachelors or masters, that they're going to invest in student outcomes and and outcomes might mean an internship, a co-op and externship, an apprenticeship, whatever you want to call it.

[00:48:40] But that's a part of the credit baring experience. So there's a lot of great tools out there to do this besides us. But where we think we're one of the few that are really trying to make it work for real work experience, that's not just a simulation. So, yeah, that's where we see the future.

[00:49:00] I love that bridge visualization that's going to stick with me for a long time. I think it's just super important. So I want to keep you on time here, Matt. Last question. If you had to give any of our listeners or audiences, executives, founders, CEOs, you know, mostly mature folks who run companies and do what you and I do fear to give any words of advice as we close this thing down. What would you say?

[00:49:30] Well, I would say to rethink your relationship with student talent. I think if you're a large company executive, then it comes down to at least thinking beyond just how do I get that talented person in the door right now? But how can I impact students in a way where one, two, three years down the line, they're going to have a deeper relationship with your brand because they didn't just submit a resume and interview, but they maybe they spent a few weeks working on something for you. And and think about how you can do that in a way that saves your team time because it guides. It's not there's not enough resource to go around. But I just, yeah, kind of challenge a lot of executives to to rethink the relationship with students and to rethink how you can provide diversity and inclusion as well. It's it's one thing to tweet about it and put it on social media. But how are you actually reaching out to young people, to schools and to not just the Ivy League institutions, but how are you making sure students from underserved backgrounds are getting a chance to learn something? Those are the things I'd say for founders. I know that I would just say keep keep at it. Right. We've we we've pivoted a number of different times. We're. We're still learning a lot right now. And don't get discouraged if your first one, two, three attempts at that. Don't knock it out of the park. We're working on a problem that I think is incredibly hard, incredibly complicated. And it's not something that's going to take a couple years to to launch it, do it sort of food, food app. You know, we're we're working with some really complex social issues and economic issues and institutional issues at the same time. So timing is a big thing. I would say that people, markets and timing and I do think right now timing is is on our side, even though Cauvin is obviously a horrible situation. There are opportunities that come out of great disruption and great challenge and friction. And that's what we're seeing now.

[00:51:56] Well, executives, you have no excuse. Just go to Paragon one and frickin try it out. It's not that hard.

[00:52:03] All right. We'll do it. We'll do it again. We'll work on a project for free right now. We're just managing projects.

[00:52:09] Just just try it. So these guys can get problem research feedback. Right. Get the students in there. Get get the feedback going. So. So we can solve this problem. And then for you founders out there. I know it's really hard. No matter if it's covered or not, it's still frickin hard no matter what you do. So just keep stepping up to the plate. Might even get whacked by a few fast balls, but you got to get make sure that your helmet on and get ready to swing again. Everyone, this has been Matt Wilkerson. He's the co-founder and CEO of Paragon One, a platform providing flexible remote externships that help students gain hands on experience in different industries before they graduate. Thank you very much, Matt. I really appreciate your time today.

[00:52:52] Thanks. Chris was great being here.

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