Texas A&M University produces graduates who are qualified to be successful in the field of their choice. The four years each student spends at Texas A&M are crucial to the development of their network and skills. Many local businesses, such as The PlatForum, are committed to improving the experience each Aggie has during and after college. We had the opportunity to talk to Britney Schielack, co-founder of local startup company The PlatForum, to discuss their vision for the BCS job market, their mission to make each student shine based on their own skills and the recognition their project recently received in Silicon Valley.
MW: In your own words, what is The PlatForum?
BS: The Platform is a place that builds communities through the gig-economy. Our immediate markets right now are students, entrepreneurs and startups. Our mission is to make Texas A&M and Blinn College students shine. It is designed to expose them to skills and passions way before they have actually gotten their degree, so that they understand what it’s like to apply that type of degree and apply that type of skill into the workforce.
MW: It is definitely helpful for a student to prepare for the workforce as early as possible. How did the company come to be how it is today?
BS: This is how we have operated our businesses for years. We are passionate about making sure everyone is working on what they are best at. The obstacle is that you don’t really know what that is half the time, especially when working with students. We are in real estate and property management, and we have been doing that for over a decade. I kind of bash it into our teams’ heads, and our hashtag is #KnowYourSmart. Your “smart” is being able to identify what you are skilled at and learning to monetize that. You are basically getting your highest return of investment from each team member because everyone is working on what they are most productive at.
We started to see how this was working, and we wanted to find a way to scale and develop students at a higher level. That is when we decided to develop a product. We are not technology-minded people, so we dove into this and have been learning very quickly. We were entrepreneurs but not technology gurus, so developing a software product was a whole new game.
It started during the 2016 election season. That was another inspiration. I think that a lot of people were inspired to do things during that election season. We started to realize there are so many places, like LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter to network, but there wasn’t anywhere to come together to be productive. We watched all the complaining on social media, but where was the place that community members can come together and actually make a change?
MW: That was a crucial time in our country, and that is great inspiration to make a change and help others be proactive in being the change they are looking for. This can be done by both companies and students, and your website claims to be useful for both of those parties. What benefits do each of them gain from using The PlatForum?
BS: For the student, it really goes back to what I said about gaining exposure and understanding what your skills are in the workforce, before you go spend thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes, getting a piece of paper. That was feedback we were getting from students who were coming to work for us. For example, they had started a major in agronomical engineering and spent two years working on it but really just wanted to get back to business management.
The feedback we hear from companies comes from both ends. From a small business perspective, it allows you to outsource and scale quicker, and like I said, you are getting your highest return of investment because you are just hiring someone to do more of project-based work. The value larger companies that are involved see is being able to create projects and give them to potential applicants and see their work performance before they hire them. It also provides a competitive edge from the internship point of view. Some larger companies, especially in engineering, are really competitive about the students they want to go after at A&M. This helps them get in touch with those students at an earlier age, so instead of having them intern for a short time, they can potentially groom them and intern them for a longer time and build a relationship with them.
MW: I’m sure that really helps companies find the right student for them, and allows for a more genuine and respected work relationship, since they have worked with that student throughout their college career. In terms of LinkedIn, which you mentioned earlier, I was wondering, how exactly is The PlatForum unique to LinkedIn and other career and networking based social media sites?
BS: We see how we could work cohesively with the way LinkedIn operates. The difference is in the core of our company and our mission, which is to learn to insource within your community and offer the opportunity to be productive on the same platform. LinkedIn was mainly a networking system, and it is a fantastic software. The event we last went to was sponsored by them, but the difference is we are very community-focused and task-focused.
You are actually hiring someone for a project and paying them on the same platform. Companies can make the hire, rate performance and pay their employee all in the same place. We are creating a virtual résumé for our users.
MW: You mentioned your community focus. How does the product serve College Station specifically?
BS: College Station is a unique place because of the University. Texas A&M alumni are a unique group, and they are very loyal to one another. I did not go to Texas A&M, but I have been working here for over a decade, and it is a beautiful thing. I can see how this community of local businesses really wants to assist the students in making their future as successful and beneficial as possible.
MW: As a member of the student body at Texas A&M, it is exciting to hear of a local business that recognizes that and is working to assist in the relationship between Texas A&M and the rest of Bryan-College Station. You just got back from California, and from what I understand The PlatForum was selected to exhibit at the Startup Global in Silicon Valley. Tell me about that experience and what it entailed.
BS: It was an experience! Silicon Valley is very different from College Station, and it is very different from Austin. It is a different type of atmosphere, a different type of bubble, so the exposure we gained there was fantastic. It proved to us that we are on the right track with our mission. Silicon valley offers opportunities to people in Silicon Valley that are unable to be exposed to the rest of the country. They have these events, but just imagine if there were things like this in places like College Station. There are small innovation hubs all over the country. It just proved that type of community atmosphere needs to be applied all throughout the country. We got a lot of interest from different people and investors. We learned that we want to be local and help our community. If they can’t find a job, we can help them promote their own business.
MW: What a rewarding and humbling outcome from your trip. That is very exciting. What do you think is next for this company?
BS: Short-term I would say we are going to be very vocal and easy to spot here in College Station. Our goal over the next few months is to make our student tenants shine. I will be meeting with organizations on campus to get them involved in The PlatForum and growing our student ambassador team. We want to see what we can do with the local incubators and local Aggie businesses. Long-term, we see ourselves scaling with universities nationally, but for now we want to make the students here shine. I really would like to dive into getting high school students on board to help them start thinking about their future early.
The PlatForum is here to help each student succeed. This free system is beneficial for students of any age, no matter their career goals. Find the perfect company for you or test your entrepreneurial skills by starting a business of your own. Sign up for free at www.theplatforum.net.