TECHCITYINSIDER100: Rajeeb Dey is the 26-year-old founder of Enternships, the pioneering Shoreditch-based service matching graduates and startups with ‘entrepreneurial work placements.’ He’s also just been named the planet’s youngest global leader by the World Economic Forum. Julian Blake spoke to him about tech, work and the benefits of youth.
There’s a battle going on out there for Britain’s young tech talent. It’s a battle being waged on two fronts – between firms in the UK and abroad, and between big-name corporates and new tech startups.
The problem, simply put, is that demand for skilled tech talent outweighs the supply of graduates coming out of college. According to a 2011 CBI survey, nearly half of UK companies are struggling to find graduates with adequate skills in science, technology, engineering and maths, with even more anticipating shortages of employees with those skills in the next three years. What this means in practice is that graduates are snapped up fast by big corporate players, leaving tech startups to scrap for the few graduates left out there. Meanwhile, demand from abroad leads to the outward migration of domestic talent to the US and elsewhere – adding to the supply problems for tech firms here. Tech firms increasingly recruit now from overseas.
For Rajeeb Dey, the founder and chief exec of Enternships, sourcing graduate talent is a particular challenge for tech startups. “Graduates can command high salaries in the corporate world, and startups have to compete against that,” he says. “The problem is that we’re struggling to develop sufficient home-grown talent. The war for talent is going to need a wider cultural change, especially around computer design. We also have to be wary of how we retain British entrepreneurial talent and avoid a brain drain to places where it may be easier to source funding such as the US.”
The talent shortage is compounded by the rise and rise of the tech sector. “We’re seeing an increase in the number of tech startups,” says Dey. “With the economic crisis, with unemployment and redundancies an all-time high, a lot more people are going to starting their own businesses. And London is starting to assert itself as Europe’s startup city, with more startups from abroad basing themselves here.”
One way UK firms are addressing the situation is through internships – white-collar work placements that offer graduates the valuable work experience they crave in the field and employers a low-cost, no commitment solution to their labour needs. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, there are now between 50,000 and 70,000 internships a year in the UK. Tech City-based Enternships is promoting its own distinctive approach to internships – providing “entrepreneurial work placements”.
“Enternships is a platform to connect students and graduates to work and startups,” Dey explains. “We also work with SMEs and organisations worldwide. We connect graduates to exciting companies that don’t have the time or the HR to come up with all the brand awareness to attract talent directly from universities.” Since its launch in 2009, more than 4,000 companies in more than 20 countries have used Enternships to find graduate talent. While the tech sector is a clear focus, the company also arranges interns for fashion, finance, PR, law and marketing.
“The concept came about when I was in Oxford University’s Entrepreneurs society,” Dey recalls. “I kept being approached by startups wanting to advertise jobs to our members – and I realised that there wasn’t really anything to connect the world of startups to campus talent. Also, there wasn’t really anything to highlight entrepreneurship as a career path. So we decided to create a word called it – enternship – and raise the kudos of working in a startup or starting your own business.”
Dey, just 26, already holds veteran status in speaking up for young people. He was the founder of the English Secondary Students’ Association, a national organisation working to give students aged 11-19 a voice in education. He worked on ESSA’s Campaign for Change student video competition backed by NESTA & Channel 4. And in March, Dey became the youngest member of the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Young Global Leaders, a community of young people giving time to tackle global challenges.
So how does Enternships work in practice? “As a startup you go on to the website, set up a profile and then get the basic listing,” Dey explains. “We have two levels right now. It is £80 for a base listing and £140 for a more enhanced listing which is featured on the home page. Instead of posting on sites like Gumtree or Monster, you have one place to go and post your vacancies, and you can manage applications and respond to candidates in one place.”
From a candidate’s perspective, the site allows search by location, industry type – and by the nature of the wage. A common criticism of internships, from unions and others, is that it is a way for companies to bring in talent at the minimum wage (£6.04 an hour) – or lower. For Dey, it’s down to both employer and candidate to decide if it’s right for them.
“We’re a marketplace and it’s for companies to decide whether its voluntary with expenses only, or paid at the minimum wage or above,” Dey argues. “The remuneration for each role is stated clearly in our ads, so its up to the candidate to decide whether it works for them. In many cases we’ve found that short-term work experience or voluntary opportunities convert to full time paid work as the candidates make themselves indispensable.”
Firms using the service in Tech City include Huddle, Just Eat, Soundcloud and Skimlinks. “Given that many of these companies are growing fast,” Dey says, “they usually have multiple and recurring requirements for interns. In these environments interns provide a great way of effectively trying out a potential recruit before deciding – on both sides – if there’s scope to make the role full-time.”
Dey agrees that there’s an undeniably upbeat buzz in Tech City that defies the wider economic gloom. “That’s the nature of entrepreneurs in general and startups in particular,” he says. “They’re always finding opportunity in a crisis and being optimistic, and a sense of community amongt most startups, working to create great things.”
Another characteristic of Tech City startups is that a lot of startup staff are young – and not very long out of college either. “If I just think about the startups based in our own building, we have one above us where the founder graduated a year or so after me, and the guys next door started pretty much at the same time. So yes, we’re all very much in our twenties.”
You could argue that startups are hampered by a lack of life experience, missing the wisdom needed for genuine business success. It’s not a view Dey shares. “I don’t see dangers because in a way it’s a benefit,” he says. “If you follow a career in the City, you get used to being on a steady salary, then you start living a lifestyle which, if you then give that up and do a startup can be quite difficult. So I actually think it’s better that you start when you don’t really have much to lose. Plus the things you learn in a corporate or in another environment aren’t necessarily what you need in a startup.
“Obviously you don’t have that financial cushion of having money somewhere else, so you need to support yourself. That’s probably the only downside. But again, by not having a regular salary you are kind of used to it because you’ve just been a student, so you live more frugally and you bootstrap your own venture.”
Rajeeb Dey – CV
Since March 2012
Young global leader, World Economic Forum
Member, UKTI Sub-Saharan Africa Taskforce
Co-founder, StartUp Britain
Education advisory board, Channel 4
Trustee and investment committee member, UnLtd – £100m endowment for social enterprise
Founder and CEO, Enternships
Founder, English Secondary Students’ Assocation/Student Voice
Advisory board member, UK India Business Council
President, Oxford Entrepreneurs