Birmingham-based Virtalent, founded by Sam Wilson and Ellie Bekalo, is set to celebrate its first birthday in July and has already secured a number of key contracts.
The firm matches busy entrepreneurs and professionals with handpicked UK university students, who work remotely to complete any number of on-going tasks or one-off projects.
Sam told BQ: “As our ‘Taskers’ study such a broad range of subjects, we can help with anything from social media management to graphic design. Virtalent provides a flexible, affordable outsourcing solution, right here in the UK.
“We have a completely unique solution. Essentially we are a virtual assistant agency, but can offer a wide variety of skills (more than simply admin or PA support) at a much more affordable rate.
“All work is also billed to the minute, in a single monthly invoice (as opposed to prepaying for work or being billed to the hour).”
The duo both studied at Aston Business School when they identified the gap in the market for the short term outsourcing of staff.
He continued: “When studying at Aston Business School we soon realised that so many of our friends and course mates were extremely talented, perhaps in relation to the course they were studying (e.g. Marketing) or perhaps because they were naturally gifted in some way (an “eye for design” for example).
“These same people, however, were struggling to find rewarding/interesting part-time jobs that fully utilised their skills.
“Companies were missing out on these bright, young minds full of great ideas, so we founded Virtalent to match SMEs with handpicked UK university students and disrupt the local employment market here in Birmingham.”
Like the majority of start-ups, the duo seeked support in starting up with some aspects and managed to secure support from Aston University and Entrepreneurial Spark.
Ellie said: “We secured support from the BSEEN project at Aston University, before securing a small round of seed funding from a silent partner (through the SEIS scheme) at the same time as starting on the Entrepreneurial Spark programme at St Philip’s Place in February 2015.
“We are now looking to raise a much larger round of seed funding from the local angel investor community this summer.
“Securing this would allow us to take on several sales and operations staff, as well as increase our marketing budget.”
Sam added: “Entrepreneurial Spark has been absolutely great – we have regular meetings with our “Enabler”, as well as access to expert mentorship and advice through their partnerships with organisations such as KPMG and Coutts.
“We are also fortunate enough to have a great mentor, a local VC, and after being finalists in the Baldwins Kickstart competition we have access to £5k worth of free accountancy and business development support from Baldwins Accountants in Tamworth.”
Despite a solid first year in business, the duo have encountered some minor challenges along the way.
“It has been difficult to find the time and budget to “shout” about what we are doing at Virtalent.
“Our existing customers (which include the Marco Pierre White restaurant franchise, as well as several local SMEs) are absolutely delighted with the service and we have a really unique idea, but it is difficult to get the attention of very busy entrepreneurs and professionals.”
After making the brave decision to start up a business as opposed to going down the usual career path, Ellie spoke very highly of the start-up life so far.
“The best thing about being a start-up is that we have complete freedom to do what we want, taking the company in the direction we see fit and spending our week as we like, without being told what to do by anyone else.”
Despite this, she stated: “The worst thing is that we have much fewer resources than larger companies in the marketplace, so have to be very careful about how we use those each and every day.”
To round off the interview, we asked Sam who their dream customer would be, to which he replied: “Our dream customer would be a busy, serial Birmingham-based entrepreneur with a lot of plates to spin through their various businesses.
“One of our account managers can act as their super-charged PA, giving them access to the high quality, affordable skills that Virtalent’s Student Taskers have to offer.
“Our Taskers can then get to work on anything from finding them some new suppliers in China to redesigning their website so that is mobile-responsive (and then translating it into several foreign languages for good measure!).”
BQ will continue to report on the firm’s progress, in particular their investment campaign which is set to get underway in the near future.