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UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

Q&A with Adam Markowitz, CEO and Founder, Portfolium

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Adam Markowitz, CEO and Founder, Portfolium

San Diego, Calif., May 18, 2016  -- Heard of Portfolium? It’s an academic social network geared towards students and recent graduates.  We sat down with Adam Markowitz, CEO and Founder of Portfolium to learn more about his life, company and journey to entrepreneur. 

What’s your story? How did Portfolium come to be?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut and I’ve never grown out of it. When it was time to head off to college, I looked at UCLA, Berkeley and UC San Diego; all it took was one visit to UC San Diego for me to know that’s where I wanted to be. I studied Structural Engineering with an emphasis on Aerospace Structures.

My journey to Portfolium was a series of “light bulb moments”:

I entered the dorms in ’04, which was the same year Facebook launched – everyone was getting on it. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realized there was now a permanent record of all of my social activity online. That’s when the first “light bulb” went on – students should have the ability to house an online record of their proudest academic activity, like projects, presentations, activities and accomplishments.

While I was looking for a job, I brought a paper portfolio of my proudest projects at UC San Diego into an interview at UC San Diego’s Career Services Center. It landed me a job as an engineer working on NASA’s Space Shuttle Program – the very program that inspired me to want to be an astronaut. Cue the second “light bulb” – employers really like to see visual proof of students’ skills.

Not long after I was hired, the company began sending me to campus career fairs as a recruiter.  That’s when I experienced the same problem from the other side of the table. How was I supposed to find the right candidate when every student’s resume looked so similar? Same classes listed, similar GPA, etc. A 5-minute conversation wasn’t enough and a 20-minute interview still didn’t leave me confident in my decision to recommend one student over another.

In 2010, NASA retired the space shuttle and I found myself once again in the job market – this time with a few years of experience. I applied to SpaceX using a digital portfolio that included extracurricular activities that helped prove my passion and skills in addition to academic and professional work. They absolutely loved it – third “light bulb”. I dropped out of the running at SpaceX to pursue this new passion and launch Portfolium.

I had to first learn how to code, which consisted of four months of  YouTube videos and a lot of time on StackOverflow (this was before Codeacademy and Dev Bootcamps). One month after launching the first version (called thePortfolium), I came back to UC San Diego and showed it to Career Services. Eight months later, we signed a partnership agreement that quickly evolved into a UC System-wide partnership.

Where are you now?

In September of 2015, after securing a partnership with the California State University System, we raised a round of funding led by Seed San Diego, with investments from University Ventures and the Triton Fund at UC San Diego. We also announced a partnership with the California Community College System to provide ePortfolios for 2.1 million additional students. Portfolium now supports over 3.2 million students, making the underlying software that much “smarter”. We have 14 full-time employees, and will double in size this year.

What’s a typical day like for you?

There is no "typical day" at a startup – something that I love! Every day brings new challenges and opportunities. It forces me to always be on my toes, agile, flexible, and ready for anything. 

Days can include any or all of the following: conducting webinars, presentations, demos, product meetings, strategy sessions, investor updates, board meetings, partnership opportunities, sales calls, customer service exchanges, marketing challenges, gathering user feedback, accounting work, and reacting to any number of things that can and do happen!

What’s unique about Portfolium?

There are a lot of things that make Portfolium unique. It’s a free (for life) tool – an academic social network geared towards students and recent graduates. If a student is proud of just one thing from every course they complete at UC San Diego, that’s close to 40 “things” (or projects) – I don’t recommend putting all 40 on your resume or on LinkedIn, but you can definitely house them all in Portfolium. Doing so makes each piece of work searchable by top employers looking to hire students and recent grads.  No where else can a student quickly upload and aggregate their best work from across the web, have it automatically tagged with corresponding hashtags, skills, etc. and be recruited specifically for those skills and competencies. 

A single entry in a student’s Portfolium can contain a title, detailed description, images, video, PDF or Word document, Excel spreadsheet, PowerPoint presentation, Prezi, and so much more.  Teammates can be tagged, skills and hashtags declared, and social commentary and feedback added.  This is just one entry in a student’s portfolio.  There is no limit to the number of entries or content, and no restrictions for access after graduation. These are all key differentiators.

High school students can even use Portfolium to see what kinds of projects students of a certain major at UC San Diego work on and compare them to projects by students in the same major at other universities.

Above all, Portfolium is a network. There are too many advantages to list, but the one I’ll point out is that you don’t have to read a guide to learn what to do on Portfolium.  You can see how other students in your major at your school (even other schools) are building theirs, connect with them and find inspiration for your own.  Knowing what kind of work in a student’s portfolio helped them get a job at a company you’re interested in is incredibly valuable, and only possible in a network.

What is your goal for Portfolium?

Our shared goal is to connect learning (both inside and outside the classroom) with opportunities – similar to Dean Pisano’s Experience Engineering initiative, which strives to provide engineers with real-world experience from day one. Learning is perpetual and shouldn’t take place in silos.  If we can reflect on and then connect what we’re learning with opportunities – such as internships, careers, or even other opportunities to learn – we’ll have fulfilled our mission.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Continuing to connect learning with opportunity, even if I’m doing it from Space.

You started your own company – what advice do you have for others looking to do the same?

Find something you’re passionate about. I started Portfolium because it was a problem that I had experienced first-hand, from both sides of the table. The passion only grows stronger with time, and it’s absolutely necessary to overcome enormous odds and obstacles.

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Media Contacts

Brittanie Collinsworth
UC San Diego Center for Microbiome Innovation
Phone: 858-534-8390