Research universities are often singled out as one of the most important drivers of tech activity in the Heartland. They not only provide a pipeline of talent for established tech companies, they can help facilitate the creation of startups if they give students and researchers the resources to help them start their own companies. But what happens when big tech comes to town and starts competing for the university’s faculty and graduates? That’s the focus of two stories in this week’s “Beyond VB” section, from the New York Times and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Pittsburgh has become a hotbed of activity for AI and robotics, with Uber, Amazon, Facebook, and Google setting up offices in the city. These companies are drawn there in large part thanks to Carnegie Mellon University, which for years has had a renowned computer science program.

In recent months, Facebook has hired two professors from the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, while JPMorgan Chase has hired the university’s head of machine learning. Meanwhile, Amazon hired 15 percent of CMU’s MBA graduates in 2017, while Google hired 32 of CMU’s 145 computer science graduates (over 22 percent) in 2017.

Interestingly, only two of the computer science graduates who went to Google stayed in Pittsburgh, even though the company has an office there. In fact, only 9 of the total 145 graduates landed jobs in Pittsburgh after graduation, even though more big tech companies have a presence there than ever before.

These stories detail a couple of dynamics at play in Heartland communities. First, even though the arrival of big tech can bring in experts who may one day end up working for a homegrown startup, large companies are also likely to tempt local talent away from such startups. Second, even though a city may seem to have a healthy concentration of tech startups, the lure of the Valley and other prominent tech hubs for young grads remains strong.

Thanks for reading, and as always, please send me your thoughts via email. You can also sign up here for VentureBeat’s Heartland Tech newsletter to get this column in your inbox weekly.

Anna Hensel
Heartland Tech Reporter

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