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Why My Tech Startup Is Actually a ‘Human Startup’

Hollie Gordon

Founder, Milaana

Milaana may have a snazzy online platform, but we are not a tech startup. We are a human startup.

The word Milaana means ‘to connect’ in Hindi, and via our website we connect university students with the projects of community organizations. In other words, we connect bright young humans with the groups of humans who help other humans. Our team is a growing tribe of amazing humans and countless more humans have helped turn the idea of one human into reality for many other humans.

You get the point: We love humans.

Creating real value for humans can get overlooked in the ‘tech startup’ scene, but thankfully, not by 1776. Like us, 1776 understands that creating long-term value for humans is simply good business—and that technology is just a tool to do it more effectively.

But how does this love for humans translate to a solution for students who seek experience and for community organizations that are under-resourced? And furthermore, how does this human-centered solution translate into a profitable, sustainable and scalable solution? Read on, wonderful human!

Regarding students, we connect them with project-based opportunities (known as Impact Placements) that clearly outline the value for the student and for the community. Attached to the project are one or more positions that detail the specifics of the role. If the project matches a cause the student cares about and the position relates to the skills they wish to develop, they apply.

If we were a tech startup, we’d stop there—but as discussed, we are not merely about tech. We quantify success as completed projects that have provided both parties with long-term value. We want students to finish with increased confidence, connections, capabilities and a strong sense of community engagement. We believe this will lay a solid foundation for meaningful careers (and lives) going forward. Organizations can access the ideas and technologies native to this next generation but also gain long-term brand ambassadors and volunteers or potentially even employees.

Creating this kind of value requires living and breathing the experience of both market groups. I started Milaana whilst at university, and after experiencing good and bad internships myself, I had the benefit of understanding the psyche of student interns: We are desperate for experience, often low in confidence, wanting our contributions to be valued and our growth facilitated.

I formed the belief that if we were volunteering our time and energy in unpaid internships (which are the norm for most students), our volunteer efforts should at least go toward causes we care about. Milaana only allows projects that legitimately benefit the community and have thought through the value for students and the responsibility of supporting them. Furthermore, we encourage our community organizations to provide paid opportunities if they can or to at least cover travel/food costs for the student.

As Milaana grew, I was also able to experience the perspective of the organization and supervisor. When Milaana was little more than a prototype, I was invited to pitch the idea to some students and a group of them rushed down to learn more. Our first Milaana team was born! On the surface they were ‘interns,’ coming to learn and undertaking different structured projects within Milaana. But that title didn’t suit them, especially since I wasn’t a typical supervisor; I was younger than everyone on that initial team. I called them Heroes because that is what they truly were, swooping in with passion and skills to help make Milaana a reality.

Over 60 students have supported Milaana in one way or another—from promotions at orientation week O-week to leading our State teams. For those in official internships, we have learned how to support them by providing them with structure, managing expectations, helping them develop as leaders and facilitating their next steps. Our executive and editorial teams get this support and our student leaders then provide tailored support to their society teams.

Milaana tree

The guides, templates and videos (soon to be published) that we provide to organizations are based on how we run and support our own team. We’re making it as simple as possible for community organizations to create and support amazing Impact Placements. Whilst the organisations are our customers (as it is they, not the students to pay to use the platform) it is our student community who determines where Milaana will expand next.

We are not only a for-youth, by-youth organization; increasingly we are a movement. Starting with an idea and a website, we are building an offline community of university societies. As it turns out, students are also seeking an on-campus network of like-minded peers who are looking to “do well” professionally and to “do GOOD” for their community. To scale, we simply need student leaders from new universities to identify the gap we are addressing. We support them with materials to build a community and to engage leading community organisations to speak at their events. When there is enough interest, we assist them by targeting local organizations in the area to provide opportunities through the platform.

From our travels, we know that increasing numbers of students globally are seeking experience and are looking to contribute to their communities. We also know that there is no shortage of community issues to solve or organizations trying to address those issues; ensuring a continued supply of opportunities. Where there aren’t organizations addressing critical issues, students can use Milaana to mobilize support to fill that gap. At scale, Milaana will become a global tribe of youthful human capital whose talent and ideas will be unleashed upon the areas they are most needed.

Milaana is a human story of passionate young students who are mobilizing to address the problems that face them, their peers and their communities. My role has simply been to plant a seed, crowd-fund some tech and empower young leaders who will carry forward the impact of this human startup.

Hollie Gordon

Founder, Milaana

Hollie Gordon is the founder of Milaana, a social impact enterprise based in Australia.