Maverick Pairs College Students, Corporations

| Monday, December 05,2011

From the Star Tribune:

Maverick Software Consulting is at the center of an award-winning academic-corporate partnership that employs computer science students to develop and test software for companies such as Thomson Reuters and Digital River.

Maverick also is the bearer of some rather promising news on the job front: According to founder Martin Hebig, all 150 of the students who have worked at Maverick since the program started in 2006 have been hired to full-time positions at companies including Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM. Many have received multiple offers months before they graduate, said Hebig, the company's president and majority owner.

"It's great for our clients, it's great for the students, and Maverick makes a little bit of money on the side, too," Hebig said recently at Maverick's location near the University of Minnesota campus.

Maverick has 110 part-time student employees working in six offices on or near nine campuses.

The partnership last month won a prestigious Tekne award from the Minnesota High Tech Association. The Innovative Collaboration of the Year Award recognized Maverick's efforts with Minnesota State University, Mankato's Computer Information Science Department. The award also highlighted Maverick's work with Advance IT Minnesota, MnSCU's information technology-focused Center of Excellence, to find students work with Digital River and Thomson Reuters. Hebig and MnSCU officials said they did not know of a similar arrangement elsewhere in the country.

Hebig, a Minnesota State, Mankato computer science graduate, launched Maverick in 2000 as a solo IT consulting firm after leaving a position with a Twin Cities firm. He and co-owner Chuck Sherwood, who manages the Mankato office, took out home loans in 2006 to start "Maverick 2.0."

"We saw jobs being sent offshore and it was like, why couldn't we take that same work, send it to students, price it about the same and then the clients have the [added] value of hiring the students on full time after graduation," Hebig said.

Thomson Reuters has seen the benefits firsthand, hiring 45 Maverick students since 2006 and encouraging Hebig to expand from Mankato to Wisconsin, Iowa State and the U, said Anna Grecco, vice president of technology.

"They've been able to hit the ground running because of the experience they already have with our teams and in our products and technologies," Grecco said in an e-mail.

At Maverick's office near the University of Minesota, senior computer science student Jim Murray recently accepted an offer to work at Thomson Reuters after he graduates in May.

"I get to do something that actually meant something," Murray said of his Maverick work. "I get to do something that matters: Set up a database, make your own tables, write your own Web software and then test it and deploy it. Working here makes class a lot easier."

More rapid growth for Maverick -- and work for more than just college students -- could be in store under a $5 million grant proposal submitted to the U.S. Department of Labor by Bruce Lindberg, executive director of Advance IT Minnesota.

The Maverick model, which gives students one to three years of work experience with a company, has been so successful in contributing to employability that it is now the subject of research by a MnSCU faculty member and group of graduate students, Lindberg said.

"Is it the fact that Marty is [so] damn good at hiring that he's able to pick out the best and the brightest? Or are they getting skills on the jobs that you aren't able to obtain in the classroom?"

Lindberg said."We think it's a little bit of both. We hope to use the findings from that research to help employers and faculty structure internships in a more effective way."

Lindberg's idea is to apply the Maverick model to help 300 to 350 older workers who may have lost their jobs or who need to upgrade their technical skills for today's job market. He doesn't expect to find out about whether the grant will get approved until early next year.

The proposed project, which would involve the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, would offer work experience in two job categories that Lindberg said are hot now in the Twin Cities but in which skilled employees are in short supply: application development and testing, which Maverick's students now do, and implementing and customizing enterprise resource planning applications for local Fortune 500 companies.

Maverick, which had revenue of $3.5 million in 2010, plans to pursue controlled growth, doubling to a dozen or so offices on Midwestern campuses in the next three to five years, Hebig said. The key is to find corporate clients and campuses that will work with Maverick before investing the $100,000 or so it takes to open a new location.

In addition to the U, Maverick has locations at three schools in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system: Minnesota State University, Mankato; Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, and St. Cloud State University. The other offices employ students from the University of St. Thomas, Bethel University and Macalester College, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Iowa State University.