Education tech startup Intersective has partnered with the South Australian government, using its machine-learning enabled platform Practera to help get international students into meaningful work experience placements.
Intersective co-founder and co-chief executive Beau Leese tells StartupSmart the state government provided a $90,000 seed grant for the project as part of its bid to attract more international students to the state.
“Getting real work experience for international students is a big part of what they’re looking for,” Leese says.
Founded in 2010 by Leese and co-founders Suzy Watson and Wes Sonnenreich, Intersective is a ‘deep-tech’ startup dedicated to helping students gain life skills that can be difficult to pick up in the classroom.
Through the partnership, the government’s Adelaide Engage Work Experience Network has used Practera in a pilot project to connect local government organisations, not-for-profits and small businesses with international students, helping the network to run as efficiently as possible.
The pilot cohort saw 143 students from four Adelaide universities — the University of Adelaide, Flinders University, UniSA and Torrens University — working with the local partners in small teams to deliver a project for the employer over a three-week period.
Students work with a mentor to learn the basics of a real-life business problem through an “experiential learning process”, Leese says.
The Practera platform is designed to take teams through the stages of project management and team formation, project delivery, and then reflection and feedback, helping participants to get a better experience.
“We help structure the experience so students are working through a very disciplined approach,” Leese says.
Selected through Practera, team members have different backgrounds and different areas of study, and come with different skill sets, providing a “diverse perspective to the client”.
As well as getting the project in question done, the businesses involved also get coaching experience for a staff member, and access to some of the talent coming out of the universities.
In fact, Intersective has previously launched similar projects in other states — including Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland — and has seen a handful of students employed by the companies they were placed with, Leese says.
The project “definitely accelerates [students’] development of employability skills in short period of time,” he adds.
On average, participants rated the experience 9.4 out of 10 for helping them meet new friends and build new connections, and this is an important part of the initiative, Leese says.
While some of these students may go on to work in Australia, building connections could lead to trade with Australian business “in the future, when they’re leading companies and governments in their own countries”.
An international mindset
The South Australian government’s support for Intersective follows a $3.75 investment from Main Sequence Ventures in June, intended to allow the startup to focus on R&D.
According to Leese, a lot of the focus has been into development of Practera’s artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities.
While this work is ongoing, the platform already has “early-stage capabilities” to provide insights and help keep projects on track, “increasingly, through predictive improvement and notifications for students”.
In the future, however, the startup has plans to use AI and machine learning further, to “improve the average capability of the average team”, allowing both students and the businesses they’re working with to “do more with less”, and to help the solution to scale, globally.
Intersective is working on “a whole range of things in Australia”, Leese says, but the startup has also signed up clients in the US, Vietnam and India.
“We are taking this around the world,” he says.
While the founders are not seeking any more funding just yet, they are looking to “build the world’s first platform for experiential learning”, Leese says.
“That’s a global aspiration that will require new investment and fundraising,” he adds.
High profile partnerships
For other startups hoping to partner with institutions such as governments and universities, or with any organisation at all, the most important thing is to understand the customer, Leese says.
Intersective has always focused on “a big, valuable problem”, but also “very tightly on customer need — understanding the drivers of our industry”, he says.
“We’ve had to be very clear with very large companies what we can do for them.”
As a startup, taking solutions to large organisations is inherently difficult, as larger partners can take a long time to make decisions and may have governance and compliance aspects to consider, Leese says.
“Be clear on who your customer is, and what value you’re creating for them,” he advises.
“Your value proposition has to be really, really clear, and quite significantly better than what they have already.”
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