Left to right: Tak Oda, CIO; Lesa Hammond, CEO; Jonathan Jiang, Technical Lead. Photo: Sarah Gerber
ProHire connects part-time faculty with universities looking to hire them. Pictured, l to r: Tak Oda, CIO; Lesa Hammond, CEO; and Jonathan Jiang, technical lead. Photo: Sarah Gerber

This post is part of a series of business stories brought to you by WeWork Berkeley.

One local startup blends what the Bay Area does best: tech and academia.

ProfHire, located in downtown Berkeley at the coworking space WeWork, connects part-time faculty with universities looking to hire them. Co-founder Lesa Hammond developed the idea for the company while working in higher education HR.

“Qualifying, hiring, and on-boarding part-time faculty was problematic,” Hammond said. The process is different than for full-time positions, and often the people in charge of hiring adjuncts don’t vet the candidates sufficiently, she said.

Enter ProfHire, the platform Hammond and Oda ended up creating with technical lead Jonathan Jiang in 2014.

Faculty candidates use the service for free, filling out thorough profiles, including their expertise, interests, teaching philosophies and experience working with diverse populations. They upload their CV, licensure and a sample syllabus. The ProfHire staff vet them by checking references and interviewing them over the phone. They look for retired and working scholars with industry expertise and actively seek diverse candidates, Hammond said.

Left to right: Amanda Calvo, Recruitment Intern; Katrina Sperry, Operations Manager. Photo: Sarah Gerber
Amanda Calvo, recruitment intern, and Katrina Sperry, operations manager. Photo: Sarah Gerber

Meanwhile, universities looking to fill a particular job submit ProfHire the course description. Their system turns up qualified candidates, which ProfHire can refer to the client. So far the company has ten partnerships, mostly with private universities, who pay to participate.

The ProfHire staff are no strangers to academia. Their degrees range from zoology, economics, and computer science to Chinese, criminology, and music. Operations manager Katrina Sperry said she gets a thrill out of talking on the phone to job applicants, who often end up teaching her an impromptu lesson.

“So then to submit them to a university and hear really good feedback about their teaching ability has been really fun,” she said.

It’s certainly the right moment for a company like ProfHire to come on the scene. A majority of higher education faculty are now adjunct. In 1975, 30% of faculty were part-time; the portion rose to 51% by 2011.

The increase has not come without its share of controversy, but the trajectory is undeniable.

“It is the wave,” Hammond said. So “those who are part-time need to be strong academics and strong role models.” The goal of the ProfHire system is to direct hiring managers to impressive candidates.

Tak Oda looks at an applicant's profile. Photo: Sarah Gerber
ProfHire’s Tak Oda looks at an applicant’s profile. Photo: Sarah Gerber

In the future, ProfHire plans to add a feature to the site that will allow applicants to network and communicate with one another.

“We want to create a community, an ecosystem of academics interested in each other’s work,” Oda said. The adjunct lifestyle — hopping from one course at a college to another at the next — can feel isolating.

So far ProfHire has made at least 30 placements. And they’ve only been going at it full-time since the beginning of the year.

The company settled into WeWork in January. The location, on University Avenue and a block from the UC Berkeley campus, was a natural fit for a company working in higher education.

And for the nascent startup, coworking made a lot of sense.

“It’s exciting to find ourselves around so many people who are innovative and passionate about something,” Oda said. “There’s a whole building full of people who are constantly thinking, ‘How can I make this better?’”

Surrounding them are collaborations waiting to happen. As a small team, it has been useful to meet sales reps, graphic designers, and user-experience engineers.

Plus, there are some other perks.

“I mean, you know, the food,” Oda said, referring to WeWork’s catered networking events and frequent snack sessions.

ProfHire’s in-house dog, CB, probably doesn’t mind that part either.

This story is written and sponsored by WeWork Berkeley, a community of professionals and entrepreneurs with beautifully designed office space at Shattuck and University. Interested in learning more about WeWork? Contact the Community Management team at berkeley@wework.com or 510-275-4235