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For this startup, students are the new consultants

Updated December 02, 2018

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CEO Khurram Lalani hopes to make Consuldents a one-stop shop for university students.
CEO Khurram Lalani hopes to make Consuldents a one-stop shop for university students.

Since time immemorial we have been hearing from students how there are no jobs while employers talk about the lack of talent in the country. Clearly there’s a mismatch, and that’s exactly what Consuldents is trying to bridge.

Based out of Islamabad, Consuldents.com is a university education platform trying to bring everyone — students, employers, academics — to a single place. Simply put, think of it as a freelancing website. But that’d short selling these guys. So while websites like Fiverr will have remote tech or academic writing projects where you can develop an app or write someone’s thesis, Consuldents claim to offer much more. The name says it all: students who are consultants.

From a graduate student working out a financial inclusion strategy for a non-governmental organisation to a soon-to-be an engineer finding an internship at a textile factory in Faisalabad and developing a tech solution for them, the startup is trying to do it all.

How exactly does it work? Create a profile on the website, adding your level of education, school attended, languages spoken etc. Then you can look for the projects and submit your expression of interest along with your résumé. The poster will then review and notify if you got the gig or not. The payment and other details are between the two parties then, without any input from Consuldents.

It’s a fairly common practice globally for big firms to hire graduate students, often through university organisations, rather than going for the outrageously expensive management consultants. The thing, however, hasn’t really kicked off in Pakistan but Consuldents CEO Khurram Lalani hopes his platform can change that.

Lalani was a Fulbright scholar, pursuing his Master’s in the US when he first conceived of the idea. It was put on the side once he returned, but finally in 2016, Consuldents was launched.

But there are a lot of websites already on it: local job websites, freelancing portals etc. Plus, even the major universities have their own jobgates so why do we need a whole another platform in the first place?

“There are plenty of content writing jobs available for students already but proper industry experience is clearly missing there while LinkedIn focuses more on professionals than students,” says Lalani. “As for the individual university portals, sure, IBA or Lums might have them but there are many universities and institutes in Sindh or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that won’t. We want to target students there.”

“Even these elite universities restrict themselves to a few organisations in big cities while we want to bring it all on one place, from multinationals to that sports factory in Sialkot,” he adds.

That’s not all though. Consuldents is already building up a live database of final-year projects (FYPs) from across the country. So STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) seniors can upload what they are working on and gain some visibility from industry or even academia.

“These FYPs are startups in the truest sense; if they are mentored right from the beginning, then a lot of them can go big. That’s what our innovation depository aims to do,” says Lalani, adding, “Also, a lot of students from different universities work on the same tech/innovation so if there’s directory, they can check what already exists/is being worked on, and then perhaps focus on further refining it.”

The website will now also be entering into a lot of content creation, from details about scholarships to career tips from industry experts (in its blog feature series). Currently most of it is focused on tech and engineering students, but Lalani says they will soon be bringing in more subjects.

As of now, there are over 6,000 student sign-ups, with the majority being from undergraduate. They also have the National University of Engineering and Technology and Bahria Univer­sity Islamabad on board, as well as some 50 industry partners with a current monthly flow of around 30 projects. “We are presently just focused on Islamabad, trying to test our model and website. Hopefully by the end of next semester, we will expand to other cities as well,” he says.

The website has been free for students up till now but Lalani is planning to move away from that by coming January. The new model will be a sort of freemium: you can create your profile (very similar to LinkedIn) and view the listed projects for free, but will have to subscribe in order to apply for them and avail all other services.

As for the source of funding, Consuldents has largely banked on grants from development sector and other non-governmental organisations to stay afloat. “We would like to roll out a sustainable source of revenue and rely on that, rather than grants,” Lalani says.

The idea is to make Consuldents a one-stop shop for everything university-related, from career fairs and internship postings to networking events and feedbacks. And not just limited to Pakistan, as evident by their dot com domain. Only time will tell if we’ll have a Glassdoor for universities.

The writer is member of staff:

m.mutaherkhan@gmail.com

Twitter: @MutaherKhan

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2018

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