Tech’s coveted internships were some of the first roles to be cut as offices closed and businesses shuttered in response to the coronavirus. A number of companies across the country, including Glassdoor, StubHub, Funding Circle, Yelp, Checkr and even the National Institutes of Health, either paused hiring or canceled their internship programs altogether.
For InsideSherpa co-founders Tom Brunskill and Pasha Rayan, the canceled internships were an opportunity. InsideSherpa, a Y Combinator graduate, hosts virtual work experience programs for college students all around the world.
College students, searching for a way to get job-ready, flocked to the platform from Northern Italy to South-East Asia, to all over the United States. Enrollments in InsideSherpa grew more than 86%, up to 1 million students.
The educational service successfully attracted student interest, and now, has landed investor interest. Today, InsideSherpa announced that it raised $9.3 million in Series A funding, led by Lightspeed Venture Partners. The startup has now raised $11.6 million in known venture funding. Other investors include FundersClub, Y Combinator and Arizona State University.
The financing will be used to grow InsideSherpa’s staff, with more engineering, product and sales roles. Along with the financing, InsideSherpa announced that it has rebranded to Forage.
Forage isn’t selling an internship replacement, but instead comes in one degree before the recruitment process. Students can go to the website and take a course from large companies such as Deloittee, Citi, BCG and GE. The course, designed in collaboration with the particular company and Forage, gives students a chance to “explore what a career would look like at their firm before the internship or entry-level application process opens,” Brunskill explains.
Forage is focused on partnering with large companies that employ upwards of 1,000 students per year via internships to help open up new pipelines. The corporate partners pay a subscription fee per year to post courses, and students can access all courses for free.
Popular courses include the KPMG Data Analytics Program, JPMorgan Chase & Co. Software Engineering Program and the Microsoft Engineering Program.
While Forage declined to disclose ARR, it confirmed that it was profitable heading into its fundraise, which formally closed in July.
Within edtech, flocks of companies have tried (and failed) to deliver on the promise of skills-based learning and employment opportunities as an outcome. The strategy of getting cozy with corporate partners isn’t unique to Forage, but the team views it as a competitive advantage. Of course, the effectiveness of that strategy matters more than the fact that it exists in the first place. Forage did not disclose efficacy information, but said that “some” corporate partners hired up to 52% of the cohort from their programs.
When Brunskill and Rayan first started Forage in 2017, they imagined a mentoring marketplace to connect students to young professionals. Three years later, much has changed.
“While students were interested in the product, they weren’t using it the way we intended,” he said. “Students kept saying to us ‘we just want an internship at company X, can you get me one?’ ”
While Brunskill doesn’t believe there’s any silver bullet solution to fixing education or recruitment systems, he remains optimistic in Forage’s future. After all, even if democratizing access to skills is the first step in a bigger race, it’s not an easy one.