Alex Bolton is a current Aston University student who has set up SkillBranch.
Alex, tell us about yourself…
“I am a current final year student studying International Business and Management at Aston University, having previously spent my placement year working in Brussels for the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium.
If I was stranded on a desert island I would bring a joke book, I’m a strong believer you can get anywhere with humour! I would rather fight one horse sized duck than one hundred duck sized horses, as anyone who has walked across Aston Campus can verify, those geese can be scary for their size.”
Tell us more about SkillBranch…
“SkillBranch is an online platform which helps students to translate their academic learning into endorsed practical business skills which are required for the careers of the future. At University it is possible to truly explore your passions, challenge your thinking and develop high-level critical analysis, which is essential in the workplace. However it can be difficult to decide on what comes next. For many students, they might have a ‘dream career’, for others they may be taking each opportunity as it comes and applying for everything you can. As students ourselves we know the difficulty of breaking into the careers you’re interested in with little opportunities to build experience. It can be frustrating and current student recruitment techniques offer little (or no) feedback or incentive for taking the time out to complete applications, which for some companies might take the best part of the day.
SkillBranch simulates small online tasks, similar to what a graduate might complete within an organisation. Students who complete the task receive simple feedback on how they’ve done, with the most impressive work receiving a small amount of written feedback. These projects are endorsed and listed on a student’s online portfolio, and employers can reach out to students who are repeatedly engaging with their projects. We also anonymise student data to employers, meaning the platform is purely ability focused and open to students from any background. For an employer, you can effectively embed the skills you need in your workforce to ensure you have them in future. Regardless of the size and scale of your organisation, we offer opportunities to connect with a wealth of talent who are passionate about your industry, who you can then look to bring on board!”
What made you jump at the chance of coming on BSEEN?
“The support helping me through the start-up phase and the opportunity to develop alongside other entrepreneurs were certainly key for me. When you create a business idea it can be easy to overthink and keep it bottled up away from others, it was great to work with the team to develop my idea and remove the fear in my mind.”
What do you think you have learnt the most from your BSEEN journey?
“The value of co-operation for certain, and the importance of networking. SkillBranch is all about people, and starting a discussion on skills and communication between students and employers. Opening a discussion is something I’ve always struggled with, but I now feel much more comfortable talking through my ideas and pitching the business.“
What has been your business stand out moment since being on BSEEN?
“Making it to the Birmingham final of the Barclays Local Genius Awards and presenting at the Student Enterprise Conference, 2018. Both are experiences I never anticipated I would be a part of, and the interest we received after both of these events really gave me confidence that our business can make a real difference. Plus, presenting is a bit of a thrill! Hearing people getting passionate and involved in our beliefs and our business really reinvigorates me when times are tough.”
Any advice for entrepreneurial students or graduates thinking about starting their own business?
“Do it whilst the advice is free and there’s a great network around you. People are enthusiastic about young entrepreneurial individuals and will make time to help you out, especially at University. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, you just have to conquer your own fears, talking to someone about your business is a great way to do that. Speak to your friends, your lecturers, the BSEEN team…anyone who will listen and give feedback!”
What are your next steps for your business?
“We’re launching our Beta test in September through our launch partner institutions; Aston University and Birmingham City University. So right now we’re working with employers to develop projects to populate our platform and show the difference we can make to employment and talent retention. After that, we’ll be opening the platform nationwide.”