Columbus Startup Wants to Make the Gig Economy Work for Students

How Uplancer wants to help young workers gain experience through freelancing

The job-searching world is challenging for everyone. From job-seekers looking for the right position to companies looking for someone with the right skills, it can seem like finding a needle in a haystack. The process is even more challenging for entry-level jobs and the young professionals looking for experience. With only unpaid roles and college degrees to go by, locking into a long-term position can seem daunting. That’s why Uplancer wants to change the way we think about early career work. The site’s creators want to change the paradigm from internships and low-level jobs to freelance gigs that give young workers experience while fulfilling companies’ needs.

“Uplancer is a marketplace that connects local businesses with students for short-term gigs,” said co-founder Abhi Chakrabarti. “The site isn’t about full-time internships and jobs. We want to figure out how we can help students build experience using short-term freelancing gigs. We also want to be very local, because that’s a missing piece of the marketplace. We have so many local businesses that have a variety of work that they need done that doesn’t fit with a traditional job. Uplancer lets them interact with the students in their local community by creating these small gigs.”

Uplancer’s mission is one that both Chakrabarti and co-founder Huy Nguyen know intimately well. The pair experienced these struggles during their education at The Ohio State University, and now they’re in a position to help others. And while several freelancing sites already exist, they don’t have the local focus and student-oriented mindset that makes Uplancer unique.

“We’ve been through this whole process,” Nguyen said. “As an undergrad at Ohio State, I still had a lot of difficulties getting work experience because the traditional route, especially for engineering is either a co-op or an internship and you really can’t get work outside of that. Students now are in the same situation and still heavily reliant on internships. So I’m really motivated to give students access to this experience. If you go onto Upworks or Fiverr, you really don’t have a shot because you’re really going against professionals and people — sometimes overseas — willing to get paid a lot less because their cost of living is a lot lower. So you’re getting more expertise for a lower rate. Even students don’t want to work for $5 an hour. We’re building a platform that is curated and tailored for these students.”

The founders have watched as internships and entry-level jobs have become more and more difficult for students to obtain. Along the way, they’ve seen that the most qualified students aren’t always paired with the best opportunities and local companies can’t always find talent that fits. For the Uplancer founders, it’s not just about the short-term goal of connecting students and jobs, it’s about creating a new infrastructure for work. They believe the job scene is headed more toward short-term jobs and gigs, moving away from the job scene that we know now.

“We deeply believe that work, as we know it today, is going to be outdated very soon,” Chakrabarti said. “Hiring still tends to go by degrees and which university you attended. We believe skills are the only things that are going to matter as you go forward with your career. So we have to think about jobs that won’t even exist for the next five to 10 years. Whether you are learning on your own or going to a great university, your opportunities shouldn’t really stop with the education that you’re pursuing. We want to open up the market and let people stand out through real work experience and real freelancing gigs. We want to put student gigs at the center of the spectrum for hiring. We don’t really want the students to think that internships are the only way to get a full-time job. That’s our big vision.”

The pair of OSU graduates are using that experience to build Uplancer from the community they know. While they can’t share many details just yet, they’re building partnerships with Ohio colleges and universities, nurturing relationships with career services departments and recruiters and using the Ohio resources at hand to let Uplancer blossom.

“Columbus has been very good to us,” said Nguyen. “It’s allowed us to build the connections we need and leverage the resources here, from the capital resources to the talent. There are a lot of very smart and qualified university students, and we’re able to practice what we preach. We have students on our platform to build out some of our own business needs. That’s important for us — being able to continually work with students and to build a much better system for them while also helping businesses too.”

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