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Hire a student, grow your startup: Interview with OPEN

Posted on April 22, 2019

The Innovator Skills Initiative (ISI) grant program is helping startups hire students across BC. How does it work? Startups get funds to grow their teams, while students get hands-on work experience and entrepreneurial training before they graduate.

What’s it like for participants?

We interviewed grant recipient Jenna McNeil, Project Manager, OPEN, and their student, Arjun.

Q: Tell us a bit about OPEN

A: OPEN exists to reduce the energy and carbon footprint of buildings. Our data aggregation and analytics platforms provide regulators and building industry participants with the knowledge tools they need to shape a low carbon future.

Formerly the Open Green Building Society and Regenerative Applications Inc., we became OPEN in 2018 to streamline our focus towards software tools that promote the market adoption of high-performance products and best practices in energy management.

Q: Why did you apply for the ISI grant?

A: As a startup, we’re always looking for programs and grants that give us more capital to grow and do the work we need to do. The ISI grant provided a clear way for us to grow while controlling costs.

Q: How did you find the application process?

A: It was very easy, I just had a bit of trouble understanding the cash matching, but we really appreciated having email support throughout the process.

Q: How did hiring a student help your startup?

A: We are so happy we hired Arjun! It was wonderful to have one team member with a clear focus who was not distracted by all the details of day-to-day operations.

When you’re a startup you’re focused on the client work, so you don’t have the time and the energy for everything. Arjun is currently a third-year interaction design student at Emily Carr University of Art and Design and his studies apply directly to the work he is doing with us. Also, he shows great enthusiasm.

Q: What are some of the successes you’ve had?

A: Even though Arjun is still in school, he has a strong sense of what is happening in the industry and was able to translate his learnings into real applications that OPEN has benefitted from.

We don’t have a full-time designer so he’s been very useful. He taught us the best practices in UI design and the latest techniques trying them while working with us.

Q: What was the experience of working with a student?

A: This is his first paid job in the industry but he’s been very professional. He’s thoughtful, and it’s interesting for us because we are learning how to work with a designer. Hiring a student didn’t feel like a big leap for us, because we train and mentor all new employees nevertheless.

Q: Would you recommend the program?

A: I would recommend this program to companies that have a clear scope of work for a student, and that also want to use this as an opportunity to work on their company´s mentoring culture.

Q: How did it benefit you (Arjun) to work with the company?

A: Working at OPEN was very beneficial and I am very grateful for the experience. It was my first design job and I was able to apply directly what I have learned in school at the startup.

It’s also helped me to learn new things, such as the structure of a startup company, working with WordPress, and ways to collaborate with people in the design process.

Q: Why would you recommend other students get involved?

A: I would definitely recommend other students to get involved with the ISI grant program. It’s a great opportunity to apply what you have learned in school and to challenge yourself to develop new skills.

Q: Any parting thoughts?

A (Jenna): This grant program has reminded me that everyone should study and work at the same time, regardless of their age. I definitely recommend it to students who are looking to get work in their field while still in school. It’s been a fantastic experience for us both.

Interested in applying to the ISI grant program? Applications are open. Your BC-based tech company or startup could receive up to $10,000 a year to hire a post-secondary student.

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