Consult Academic is a newly launched online platform that connects academics with all types of customers; for them to share their knowledge and expertise, getting involved in customers’ projects and assisting with all kinds of academic-related services.
Why? Because academia provides a comprehensive source of knowledge and expertise that could readily be accessible to the private-, public and non-profit sectors, so says the founder Dr. Leon van Achterbergh. To better understand the platform and the founder’s motivation, I decided to interview him and share the outcome with you – hope you enjoy.
1. First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Well, I consider myself a pseudo-academic…that means that I feel I am an analytical thinker, however with equal amounts of industrial operatorship thrown in. My background in various industries is as important as the academic part in my life. I believe strongly that dichotomies and paradoxes in life are there to give us perspective, and to keep us humble. Then too, contributing to knowledge and understanding in academia is important, and very rewarding.
2. To be honest, it is rather unusual for an academic to start a business. What motivated you to start this platform and how did this idea develop?
The sharing of knowledge, as a personal ideal, is also what I envisioned globally with Consult Academic: to contribute and make academics more accessible to ordinary people, business and all organisations that need help. This platform would make it possible for academics to share their knowledge with any client in the world that might have an expertise requisite, not just the students of their respective institutions. Besides all that, I have an entrepreneurial streak, which the analytical part of me never before let me pursue…
3. Consult Academic was created with the purpose of facilitating the liaison of academics with industry, governments and non-profit organisations – Can anybody join, or are there certain criteria?
Registration is free for academics. All academics that are working for a Higher Education institution can join; they may also be retired from such an institution, or employed part-time. Further, they at least need an academic qualification equivalent to a Master’s degree to qualify.
4. How does the platform work? How do you get in touch with registered academics?
I’ve kept the website and registration process very simple and user-friendly. The ‘How it works’ tab illustrates the process. The idea is to make the consulting process as seamless as possible without interference from any third parties. Consult Academic only ensures the initial contact between the interested parties. Once a potential client identifies an academic they would like to source, they pay a small connection fee, and subsequently receive the identity and contact details of the chosen academic. The academic also receives notice of the client’s imminent contact for a consulting service. Thereafter the logistics, consulting process and payments are directly negotiated between the Academic and the client.
5. What if a user is not happy with the consulting service. Can he/she get a refund? Are academics in some way rated, or how is their consulting quality assured?
Any refunds on consulting per se will have to be sorted between the parties; Consult Academic is not involved there. No, there is no rating system currently. This is to ensure the simplicity of the user-friendliness of the website; potential clients do not have to register to connect to academics (rating would require them to do so). Consult Academic does definitely not assure quality; but then it isn’t its purpose… Due diligence needs to be done by the client, whom should scrutinise the public profile provided. After their initial contact, the client could verify if the consulting requirements will be met. In a nutshell – Consult Academic only provides the contact means (identity and contact details) of the academic to the outside world, based on the public profile provided.
6. You are based in the UK, but reaching out to the academics on a global level. What made you go straight global instead of starting locally first?
Well, I obviously started with academic colleagues I know best, which are mainly located in South Africa, Netherlands, the Middle East, and of course the UK. However, academics have similar consulting needs globally, so it’s logical to go global. Purely by default, I have a diverse group of countries represented already.
7. Do you have any advice or tips for aspiring (social) entrepreneurs?
Lots…I teach Entrepreneurship! I’m doing my marketing by myself, and without the luxury of a budget. After the creativity of a website project, there are often many (and often mundane) things that needs to be done consistently; you just need to bog down, keep the big picture in mind, and slog it out…don’t give up. Learn what works on the job, change tactics and try again – that ever-evolving process!
8. Is there anything else you want to share?
Yes, sometimes we forget why academics can be valuable to us – just a 10 point reminder:
- being meticulous researchers and specialists in their field
- being well-informed and well-articulated, used to academic rigour
- being well networked in their industry, attending conferences and normally well-travelled
- being flexible in their work hours, sabbaticals and vacations
- having access to protégés and students
- having access to research resources, literature, databases, and knowledgeable peers
- being used to training, tutoring, lecturing, coaching and public speaking
- being facilitated to work independently and remotely
- providing credibility and influence in industry
- having tangible credentials, people-focussed and intent on imparting knowledge