They say entrepreneurship can be a little like jumping out of a plane — you figure it out on the way down. If that’s the case, Steve Edwards was as ready as anyone could be: As a veteran of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, he jumped out of planes before plunging into the world of entrepreneurship.
After his military service, Edwards graduated from Florida Atlantic University and worked for companies directing sales teams; he later took on a position in the job fair industry. But after a few years of traveling around the Southeast selling in-person job fairs, he noticed a slowdown. Millennials and GenZers, he found, wanted to apply online, not stand in line.
When he tested virtual job fairs, 80% of those registered actually logged in and attended, while for in-person events, only about a third of registrants actually attended. He began looking into platforms that could be used for virtual hiring fairs, giving him and his company at the time another tool for their sales tool belt.
Yet Edwards became more and more convinced that virtual job fairs were the future and poised to take off, and that none of the platform solutions offered all that he needed. He had to build his own.
“I thought there was a better way out there and in January of 2019 is when we created from Premier Virtual (premiervirtual.com). Now the Army’s using our platform,” he said.
The platform went live in March 2020, just before the pandemic arrived. When the world changed overnight, “we went from ‘we’re just starting to ramp up’ to everybody calling us and saying ‘hey, let us run our events on your platform,’ ” Edwards said. “COVID was the catalyst showing the world what a remote and virtual world could look like.”
Universities, several divisions of the U.S. Military and workforce development organizations such as CareerSource and others began embracing Premier Virtual’s platform. “More workforce development boards in the country use our platform than any other platform,” Edwards said.
Michael Corbit, VP of Business Development for CareerSource Palm Beach County, said CareerSource has been using Premier Virtual for more than a year, conducting monthly industry-focused job fairs as well as virtual job events for individual employers. The organization also helps run an annual Claim Your Future Showcase for Palm Beach County high school students. The event typically buses in 800-1,000 every year to the convention center, but this past February it was hosted on Premier Virtual and more than 3,000 kids attended.
“It was really fun, we didn’t miss a bit,” Corbit said. It was so successful that future showcases will likely have a virtual component as well, he said.
Premier Virtual licenses its software for one-time events or annual agreements; 85% of its customers such as CareerSource opt for the 1-year or longer agreements that allow unlimited use of the software. Premier Virtual provides ongoing training and supplies live customer support during every event.
In just over a year, Premier Virtual went from a team of three and one outsourced developer to a team of 20 full-timers and seven contractors and moved into much larger offices in Delray Beach. The startup just launched version 2.0 of its software and makes improvements based on feedback. Those have included capabilities for video résumé submissions and live reporting during the event.
“Since COVID has happened. We’ve done almost 2,000 events on our platform and over 25,000 organizations have participated in events on our platform,” Edwards said. The company has generated $3 million in revenue in less than a year and is on track to pull in $5 million in revenue this year, he said.
Premier Virtual can add another achievement: The startup tied for third place in the 2021 Miami Herald Pitch Competition.
Edwards believes in a post-COVID world, some companies and organizations may adopt a hybrid model combining in-person and virtual events. What virtual events offer for the job seeker is efficiency — no traveling to job fairs, no standing in line only to find out the jobs offered aren’t for them. In a virtual fair they can find out which booths they want to visit instantly.
For the hiring companies and organizations, virtual offers analytics unavailable at in-person fairs. Premier Virtual can tell them exactly how many people visited each booth, how long they stayed and what they were most interested in. They know how many résumés were submitted, how many interviews were scheduled and how many hires came out of the event.
On the Premier Virtual platform, an attendee is not just a résumé, Edwards said. For an organization, there is a full profile with résumés, links to previous experience, and video résumés — and more features are on the way.
Says Edwards, “In a post-COVID world, virtual is here to stay.”