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Startup Stories: Chris Ventura, Co-Founder & CEO at Harness Projects

Chris Ventura, co-founder & director of Harness Projects, joins us on the latest Startup Stories to talk about building his learning platform.

by hao-nguyen on March 17, 2022

Chris Ventura is the co-founder & director at Harness Projects, an online, project-based learning platform providing courses in UX, product management and digital marketing.

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Hi Chris, great to be chatting with you again. For who may not know, can you tell us a little bit about Harness Projects and what led you to co-founding it?

Thanks Hao, pleasure to chat as always. Sure, so Harness Projects is a Real Project Learning company. We upskill adult professionals in growing digital skill areas, while they gain experience working on live company projects with leading brands. We effectively solve the no job, no experience, no experience, no job conundrum.  

I co-founded the business 4 years ago after stepping away from a corporate background of Product and Digital. One of the drivers for deciding to do Harness Projects was noticing a glaring problem, which no one seemed to be tackling, that is as old as time. That is, what students do in an education program rarely translates well to what is required of them in the actual workforce.

If I think about my own life experience, some of the most important educational experiences didn’t happen at university or in a course, it happened on-the-job. In fact, I attribute much of my career development to real world project experiences and engaging with colleagues throughout to form my technical and attitudinal approach to work. It’s this problem that we set out to tackle by dissolving the gap between an education program and real work at a company. 

On a Harness Projects course you will start working on a company project from day 1. These are live projects with some of the world’s leading brands, such as IKEA, Qantas as well as companies doing incredible work in the social impact space such as Save The Children, Vinnies & Starlight Children’s Foundation. All our projects are unique, real business challenges that these companies are working on. The full experience to our learners is supported by a full curriculum, to learn as you go, and an industry mentor to guide you along the way. 

You spent the majority of your career at several different companies and agencies, what was the transition like switching over to launching and running your own company?

Nothing quite prepares you for taking the plunge and stepping out on your own. I’ve had a couple side hustles during my corporate years, with smaller scale businesses. A photography business I started in my early 20’s and a tea retailer a few years later.

They helped to give me some idea of what to expect but in reality, it was like comparing a school athletics meet to something more akin to training for the Olympics. Each of those experiences, including my corporate experience, were my very own Harness Projects, where I learnt a lot about facets of running a company, managing people and most importantly managing myself – my resilience.

What would you say were the biggest challenges you faced building Harness Projects, and what key lessons did you learn from them?

The biggest challenge of course when tackling a new problem area was that there was very little precedence for what we wanted to do. I.e. nothing to look to to help us work out all the complexities of running an education program that integrate companies into the learning experience.

Add on top of this the bootstrapped nature of our launch years, means we were working consulting gigs to fund the development of Harness with no guarantee people would participate in the product and receive value from it.  There are definitely days where you look back at your cushy corporate salary package and question your decision making process haha.

Alas, we persevered through incredible ups and downs to reach a place where Harness Projects is now an established education provider and perhaps the only fully project based learning provider in the world. 

We’ve seen our learners go on to land incredible roles in the field due to their experiences with us which is the most fulfilling part and makes the sweat and tears totally worth it. Our company partners are a huge part of our success and we especially thank those who took a chance on us early on. Many of which have come back for multiple projects and this is just the beginning.

How has your role as co-founder and director evolved as the company’s grown and added more people to the team? 

In the beginning, my role involved everything and I mean literally everything. From finances, to sales, to marketing to student support to product development and business development – the list goes on and on. Such is the nature of launching a bootstrapped startup. You really have to be ready to perform any and all tasks and if you don’t know how to do something, you teach yourself and try to do it quickly.

Our team is now growing and some responsibilities have been delegated to free up more strategic time as we look to the next phase of our business.  We have some exciting things planned for the near future and a lot of my time is spent in strategic planning but I’m never too far away from our students, companies and their experiences which is fundamental to our success and our first priority. 

One last question before we let you get back to it; what are your long-term goals for Harness Projects? Where do you see the company headed in the next 3-5 years? 

At Harness Projects we’re on a mission to bring the value of Real Project Learning to the world. We feel very strongly that one of the best ways to equip yourself for a changing workforce is to gain experience and education while working on live company projects.

Over the next few years, Harness will be continuing its dedication to this mission and help to support a generation of upskillers to be best equipped for a changing workforce. For our company partners, we will continue to support them with great access to talent and project work so they can enhance their competitive advantage. Soon we will be announcing some exciting plans for 2022 and beyond, stay tuned!

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