Putting Leeds Tech on the Map with: George Biddle, The Grad Soc

We sat down with George Biddle – founder of The Grad Soc – to discuss the inspiration behind the company, how he’s supporting students in finding jobs, and what the future has in store for The Grad Soc.

 

Tell us a bit about your company, and your role, in your own words. 

I’m the Founder & CEO of The Grad Soc – a membership platform for students to access internships & advice about how to graduate with job offers in their desired industry.

 

What was the inspiration behind setting up The Grad Soc?

I felt the pains and problems of trying to figure out what you want to do, and then get a job in that area keenly as a graduate, and I refused to believe there wasn’t a solution.

The biggest problem for students is not knowing what they want to do. The typical path is either laid out for you by your parents or you’re left wondering around in the paralysis of online articles, ‘skill matchers’ and recruiters trying to fit you into a box. People aren’t like that, so we wanted to do things differently and offer people the time to chat, and to actually experience the options out there in a flexible and accessible-to-all, regardless of background or study way – and to make their own informed decisions from the experiences they have. We achieve this through our structured internships which don’t require the 5+ years experience that most programmes stupidly ask for, we don’t require you to jump through hoops or spend hours and hours working through a long application. We just let you book an interview with us right away, and we take you on based on your reasoning for wanting the experience. Best of all, is that they’re high impact, high value, and low/flexible time commitment, with half of your learning delivered flexibly online at your own pace in your own time. No other company offers internships like we do, so it’s kind of become our niche and our pride and joy.

Throw into the mix the misinformation being thrown around, and you have problem number 2. University career departments are underfunded and outdated, both in method and in practice, and leave students terrified of showing personality with these horribly stale word-packed 2 page CVs and absolutely no possible hope of standing out.

Problems with Universities run deep, with big questions being asked about what their role actually is, and the clarity of messaging they deliver to attract new students each year. The typical message of ‘get a degree and guarantee a grad job’ is neither accurate nor fair, because institutions prioritise research over employability and innovation. Testament to this, we’ve failed to work with Universities time and again because their deal cycle is so long, which as a startup chasing cashflow you just can’t engage in – and if you can’t allow yourself to be disrupted (by startups), you’ll never innovate. Thankfully COVID has forced some of these issues to light and has made students stand up and question what they’re actually paying these extortionate fees for.

And then you have job boards who just get paid huge sums to funnel as many applications as they can to huge companies, with no care or concern for the end result of impossibly big competition, confidence denting and awful applicant experience. Other companies too, like Bright Network who offer ‘internship experiences’ actually just give students 3 days of webinars listening to execs from huge companies and get paid for advertising – which the vast majority will never work for. It’s a minefield out there.

There’s no-one representing the average student – or the average graduate job at the average company, and it leaves millions lost, pressured and forced into career paths they end up hating. Almost 25% of all graduates drop out of their grad jobs each year within the first 2 years of being there. 

Perhaps the biggest driver of all these problems though is that every other company out there is paid from B2B contracts – so what they provide to students isn’t made accountable. We not only have a huge competitive advantage given our lack of competitors, but we also have a very reliable quality control and innovation model – students are our customers. We’re B2C. Not big companies paying for eyeballs or applications. Students pay us to deliver quality to them and solve their problems. So as soon as we stop providing that, we die. 

 

Why do you think is Leeds such a thriving hub for tech businesses?

The rate of development is unlike most cities I’ve experienced in the UK right now. Commercial development, the development of networks like angel and institutional investors, development of different industries, new startups, new bars and restaurants and entertainment and so on – it’s off the charts.

 

From your unique perspective, what role will innovation-led businesses have in the growth of the regional economy?

Innovate or die. I believe it’s always better to be the first than the last. The reputation that being a disruptor, an innovator, a pioneer gives a region is far greater than traditional methods of growth.

 

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a Startup currently?

Knowing how to scale as quickly as I want to! Finding investment is a minefield, not just because it’s hard to find, but the temptations of accepting any old cash is high. We’re just about to kick off our investment round and will likely attract a lot of angels given our growth, structure and SEIS tax relief, but we need people who will bring expertise with them, not just money. I think this is the part where a lot of current startup ecosystems are lacking.

 

Looking forward, what are your hopes and ambitions as a company over the next 12 months?

Three things – scale our team, build our V2.0 and launch in the US. We currently have a team of 2! We consistently have 2 or 3 interns working with us as well as a team of freelancers we can rely on, but the aim is to scale this to a permanent team of 5 by next summer. In terms of our US expansion, the plan is for us to establish The Grad Soc across the US because the problems are the same, and the entry points are made easier with shared language, educational structure etc.

 

How do you personally define success?

Having a close-knit family and circle of friends, and great business relationships.

 

Who, or what, has been the single biggest influence on your working life?

You mean other than Stuart Clarke? Probably discovering the power of reading. Just reading in general – the habit and the practise of it, has given me endless benefits. Better speaking fluency, better knowledge, better balance, better awareness, more ideas and inspiration. Reading has amplified my personal development. If I had to pick a particular book that influenced me though, it would probably be The Everything Store by Brad Stone, on Amazon and Jeff Bezos. Shoe Dog (about Nike) was pretty good, too.

 

If you’d like to find out more about what George and The Grad Soc are up to head over to their website, and discover more of the city’s leading digital companies on the Leeds Tech Map.

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