Entrepreneur

Why ‘startup schools’ are incredible places to recruit outside Silicon Valley

Above: Working hard.

Image Credit: Dog image via Okssi/Shutterstock

This is a guest post by Ariel Diaz, the founder and CEO of digital textbook startup Boundless.

Entrepreneurs know that investors appreciate companies that successfully emerge from incubators because incubator-trained startups get a crash course in running a business, increasing their chances of making it in the long run. Similarly, a number of “startup schools” are beginning to pop up across the country, taking bright people and honing their talents into career skills ideal for the long-term rigors of the startup world.

For tech entrepreneurs — like myself — that are based outside of Silicon Valley, these startup schools have proved to be excellent resources for hiring incredible employees who are prepared to start right out of the box.

Talent is an important discussion for any startup, because the right mix equals success, scale, and a unique culture that aids a company’s mission and day-to-day impact. But finding the right talent is a huge challenge. Startups often employ an “all hands on deck” mentality, which leaves little time and resources for proper HR departments. When we need employees, we need them right away and we need them to be up to the task on day one. That’s why I’ve been intrigued by these increasingly popular startup schools.

These specialized programs focus on quickly onboarding individuals into the not-so-typical startup world. They do this by offering potent experiences in a few months that might otherwise take three years for a traditional candidate to gain. The end result is the rapid maturation from a raw talent startup newbie to an experienced job candidate ready to make an impact.

Some examples of startup schools include:

  • Startup Institute, an eight week, tuition-based program in Boston and New York. Using volunteers from East Coast tech hubs, the program coaches students in four development areas: web development, product and design, marketing, and sales and business development.
  • General Assembly, which caters to cities across the world, including Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, Sydney, and Hong Kong, offers classes and workshops in a “learn by doing” setting, all taught by professionals in the field. Attendees pay a fee for the classes they attend.
  • Intellegent.ly, another Boston-based startup school that connects entrepreneurs to classes taught by advisors in the startup community itself.

But why go back to school?

It’s been a couple of years since Peter Thiel first challenged young aspiring entrepreneurs to not go to college with his fellowship program. The proposition asks talented kids under 20 to forgo traditional schooling and instead develop startups under his tutelage. While certainly enticing for ambitious students — and guaranteed to provide amazing mentorship and solid business experience well before their classmates even graduate, this path isn’t a fit for everyone.

Startup schools fill a gap here. They are able to work with individuals who have experience in specialized areas and creatively craft new opportunities for those who still feel that college is the right solution for them. Additionally, startup schools still cater to those who have experience but might be looking to reinvent themselves and those who do not have the “big idea” necessary for a founder or co-founder title, but can be rockstars in startups.

Where does all the talent go?

For tech entrepreneurs based outside of Silicon Valley, startup schools are excellent resources for hiring young employees who are ready for startups. Although large cities in the Northeast such as Boston and New York are home to many top universities and exciting startup scenes, most talent is drawn to the Valley. In many ways, it’s a sort of brain drain on the local talent scene.

But startup schools break that norm. By offering serious business resources in the same cities where many of their students spent their formative years studying, startup programs help retain talent in the local economy. Startup schools also give entrepreneurs the opportunity to identify talent and develop relationships with candidates as they work through courses and workshops.

In my own experience, I have found that startup schools are excellent for finding the employees I need. For example, through Startup Institute in Boston, I met Sarah Saltrick Meyer, a math major from Smith College. Here was a candidate who completed an incredibly hard degree with the original aspiration to become a professor. Her resume alone told us she is an extremely bright individual. We initially liked her for Boundless because she was obviously learning about startup structure and asked deep questions during our first meeting. But she didn’t have a ton of coding experience. We checked on the progress she made with Ruby on Rails and Javascript while enrolled at Startup Institute to get the assurance we required. Because we could qualitatively assess the candidate through the startup school, we had the confidence that with the right mentorship, Sarah could easily make a huge impact for Boundless — and she has.

From an entrepreneur’s perspective, startup schools are a reliable way to hire amazing local talent that already has the skills to handle the craziness of the startup world. Everyone wins, which is the best of all scenarios — you get that top talent, a young person gets a job in a tough economy, and your company gets to keep thriving.

Ariel DiazAriel Diaz is the founder and CEO of Boundless, a company creating affordable college textbooks from the best open sources on the internet. Before Boundless, he co-founded YouCastr, an online video platform that enabled high schools to broadcast and sell live sports and events to parents and community members.


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