On the up · 24 August 2018

These founders have launched the UK’s first virtual internship business

Ed Holroyd Pearce and Dan Nivern

Virtual Internship Partners offers students and graduates the chance to gain invaluable CV-boosting work experience anywhere in the world from the comfort of their own home via virtual working.

Around 80,000 internships are undertaken each year in the UK and going virtual will increase this number and make them more accessible to everyone.

Ed Holroyd Pearce and Dan Nivern have already sent 8,000 students on work experience placements to China through their first business together CRCC Asia

Host companies include British and international firms, from start-ups to blue chips, across all sectors, in the UK and USA to China and Japan. 

Interns can work full-time for two months, or part-time by spreading the equivalent hours over six months. They are “matched” to virtual positions within companies who are vetted beforehand.

Business Advice caught up with the education experts to find out how it all started.

What is your business?

Ed Holroyd Pearce, co-founder of Virtual Internships (virtualinternships.com).  I have been in the education/training/employment industry for over a decade, and am passionate about connecting young people with opportunities and improving their employability.

We arrange internships for candidates from around the world which can be conducted online – we ensure host companies and their projects are suitable and that the participants will gain new skills.  We also run fortnightly coaching sessions during the internship for participants (with feedback from their host company), so they can see a tangible improvement in their skills.

Where did the concept come from?

In 2006, Daniel Nivern and I set up CRCC Asia (crccasia.com) which has become a leading provider of internship programs in which students travel to Asia to gain work experience. We felt that a virtual offering could be equally valuable to students, bring different skills and experiences, and reduce barriers for key groups of people (those who are mobility impaired, cost sensitive, etc).

How did you fund your business?

We raised £70,000 in March 2018 to get the business to phase 1.  We have now proved the concept and can operate the business sustainably. We will open a second round later this year to invest more heavily in tech which will make the service scalable.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when launching?

We needed to educate our audience – what is a virtual internship, how can it benefit your career and employability, why do we need to charge for such a service?  

There are a lot of questions – finding the right balance between educating potential clients, but not losing momentum on business growth has been quite challenging.

What’s your biggest achievement to date?

Between June and July, we received 300 more applications than the month before, and increased our sales by 200%.  

However the most rewarding thing was sitting in on our first coaching call and realising that our program was actually making a difference to our very first candidate.  

She wouldn’t have been able to do an in-person internship, and without us there as intermediaries, she wouldn’t have learnt nearly as much from her experience.

What marketing strategies have you used?

We’re lucky to have the know-how of CRCC Asia, which has been successfully marketing services to thousands of students across the world over the last decade.

We use a mix of social media, recruitment and employment platforms like Prospects and their global equivalents. We also rely on universities who see the value of our programs and are willing to help us reach students.

In five years’ time, I’ll be…

Working smarter, not harder delivering even more life-changing experiences to even more students around the world.

And we hope to be recognised in some way for reducing the barriers to internships and work experience which currently hinder students (and universities) achieving their employability potential.  

Who are your business heroes and why?

It’s a cliché I know, but people like Sir Richard Branson who have multiple businesses and are able to delegate, juggle, and still be a figurehead for those businesses are a great role model for me.  

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

I’d encourage people not to try and do it part-time or half-heartedly – if you are serious about building and growing a business, then you will need to be ready for it to take over much of your life.

Having said that, recognise behaviour and phases which are sustainable and those which aren’t, and try to get the balance right!

What’s your favourite way to spend downtime?

I love travel, and good food (like most people, I guess!).  

I have two-year-old twins who are the most entertaining people I know, and I love spending time with them and my husband – while still being incredibly grateful to grandparents who take them off our hands occasionally allowing us a nice meal or a weekend break!

Last series you binge watched?

I’ve been doing an Executive MBA at Cass business school in the evenings for the past two years, so it’s pretty hard to fit in more than a single episode of anything…..but I guess The Good Wife is probably the closest I’ve got.  

What three things can’t you live without?

My husband and the twins (and if I’m allowed one more…holidays).

What app do you use the most?

Our team uses Slack to communicate, and it’s linked to Stripe, Trello, Google Drive, so you really can stay on top of most things that are happening within the company. Otherwise, I’d imagine a news app like the BBC.

What song is always on your playlist?

For the last couple of years I’ve really been into Latino music – I love Flavia Coelho’s Bossa Muffin album for example, and particularly O Viajante. Before that it was French rappers such as MHD and Maitre Gims.

 

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.

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