In Profile - Portfolium

All Innovate How this Downtown ed-tech company lives collaboration

Years ago, Adam Markowitz, a recent college graduate, was having a hard time even getting to the interview stage in the job application process. As a talented student who had dedicated countless hours to projects that gave him experience, this was undoubtedly frustrating.

This story can feel a little too familiar – the graduation, the impending need to figure out “next steps,” the exhaustive number of job search website passwords to keep track of.

Perhaps most perplexing, is how to translate the hours of class-time, projects and internships into experience potential employers will actually value.

And that’s how it started – recognizing a problem and in the absence of available solutions, becoming the change he wanted to see in the world, as the phrase goes. The answer, Adam decided, was to create a portfolio that showcased his skills and experience better than a typical resume could.

“Traditionally, hiring college talent was done by either (1) posting a job online and hoping the right person happened to apply, or (2) targeting students at specific universities, in specific majors, with specific GPAs.” Markowitz said. “The majority of job boards and tools out there cater to these outdated methods, and unfortunately contribute to the widening entry level skills gap and resulting underemployment rates for recent grads.” (more than half of all recent graduates are underemployed)

So, in 2013, Adam built and launched Portfolium to allow all students to showcase proof of their skills to employers. By 2014, there was a team of three entrepreneurs, university partnerships resulting in tens of thousands of student users, and nearly $900,000 in seed funding from San Diego based angel investors.

“Portfolium uniquely launched as a tool for students, but quickly saw the value it was providing for the universities these students attend and the employers looking to recruit them,” explained Sara Silva, Portfolium’s Strategic Recruiter and Office Manager. “Portfolium guides students as they easily build their profile and upload work samples. It even smartly suggests skills they might be showcasing in their projects, so by the time they’re sitting in front of prospective employers, they can say, you’re looking for these skills …and I can prove I have them.”

In a nutshell Portfolium partners with colleges and universities to help students connect their learning with opportunity, by showcasing the skills they’re acquiring and launching their careers. Portfolium provides educators and employers with the tools they need to assess learning outcomes and recruit talent.

Now, just three years after Adam and his small team hit the ground running with startup incubator, EvoNexus, Portfolium stands at 30 employees. There are nearly 4 million profiles on Portfolium from over 2,500 colleges and universities, making Portfolium the largest and fastest growing network of young professionals showcasing evidence of their skills and competencies. Business appears to be doing well.

A trip to the office in the Symphony Towers building Downtown boasts some of the same scenery you might expect in a startup office – transparent offices, ideas taking shape on whiteboards, a ping-pong table, casual dress. But Portfolium is no tech startup hidden away in a heater-less warehouse somewhere. A conference room boasts fantastic views of the bustling life of City Center below and the rest of the city beyond.

“It’s the energy – there is so much to do,” Silva said of the Downtown working life. “I love that you can walk outside and there is so much at your feet.”

Getting here happened by having more than just a great product by itself (though a great product is certainly vital). The same problem-solving and bridge-crossing spirit that motivated Adam in the first place is still in Portfolium’s genes, even as the company expands and changes. This collaborative nature finds its place both internally, among Portfolium’s team and externally in the way the company interfaces with the Downtown startup tech community.

The San Diego ed-tech space isn’t particularly particularly robust (yet), so Silva has found it necessary to take the lead in building an infrastructure of resources that will be helpful not only to Portfolium, but other companies looking to get started in Downtown.

“If there is something missing, then you have to create it,” Silva said.” [We are] becoming that change agent within Downtown and the startup scene.”

Getting a company started and out into the world can be cutthroat at times, characterized by long hours and a do-whatever-it-takes mentality. Instead of being defined purely by the struggle of getting a young company off the ground, Silva said the word that best describes their company culture is freedom. The strategy is to hire well and give employees the freedom to run with their ideas and grow professionally.

And in the process, no one gets left behind.

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