The narrative goes that in order to really build a successful rocket ship company, Heartland tech companies have to recruit some upper-level talent from other places — namely, Silicon Valley — that have worked for fast-growing startups before. But are companies overemphasizing the need to find talent with prior startup experience?

That’s the thesis of Robert Hatta, talent partner at Drive Capital. He thinks the Midwest is sitting on a “mother lode” of untapped startup talent, mostly tucked away in the region’s corporations. He recently created a test that attempts to measure whether a person will be a good fit for startup work, without looking at whether that person has prior startup experience.

Hatta said when he joined Drive Capital five years ago, he spent a good portion of his time trying to convince talent to ditch Silicon Valley for the Midwest.

“It’s worked, but it’s also a long sales cycle,” Hatta said. “Our companies are no different than those in Silicon Valley. We need the best people in the world to make these companies, and [people] assumed that the best people in the world aren’t here, and we’ve found that not to be true.”

Hatta said he realized this belief was misplaced after the CEOs of Columbus’ Root Insurance and Pittsburgh’s Duolingo — the two most valuable companies in Drive Capital’s portfolio — both said that many of their highest-performing employees had never worked at a startup or tech company before. This held true even for more technical roles, like engineers.

Hatta wanted to find a way to identify this hidden talent, so he began creating a test that could be used to attract interested talent to Drive’s portfolio companies. The test is 30 minutes long, and Hatta said that interviews are scheduled with participants who get above a certain score.

He stresses that it’s not a “scientifically rigorous experiment” and said he won’t be publishing his results in an academic journal. He developed the test with the help of a friend who holds a PhD in psychology and human behavior. Hatta said he doesn’t want to share too much about the test, as he doesn’t want people to try to game the results. But he added that, generally speaking, some of the core attributes of high performers identified by Root and Duolingo include the ability to learn quickly and to constantly redeploy themselves when faced with a new problem or dataset.

In the roughly one month since he posted the test online, Hatta said that about 75 people have taken it, and he’s started to schedule initial meetings with the high performers.

I think that a test like this is a good first attempt to widen the Heartland recruiting lens. Area workers who are curious but hesitant about applying for jobs because they don’t know much about startup culture gain a low-effort way to test the waters. The risk comes in taking the results of a test like this as canon — will some people who score poorly be discouraged from applying for startup jobs altogether?

And, as with any test, there’s the risk that it may be inadvertently biased against one group or another — Hatta acknowledged that in internal tests, people with dyslexia performed poorly, for example.

Do you think a test can truly identify startup fit? Send me your thoughts and feedback via email.

Anna Hensel
Heartland Tech Reporter

Featured Video

Check out this video from CNBC, “Finding low-skilled and high-skilled workers a challenge for supply chain companies

From the Heartland Tech channel

Nashville, Tennessee

Attracting tech talent to the Heartland starts with building a better startup culture

Instead of putting all their efforts into attracting giants like Amazon, cities in the Heartland need to double down on what makes them unique.

Utah’s Weave raises $37.5 million for its patient communication software

Weave has raised a total of $82.6 million from Lead Edge Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners, Pelion Venture Partners, Y Combinator, and others.

Beyond VB

Amazon HQ2 and the ‘gentrification of jobs’

Amazon has said each HQ2 site will result in 25,000 jobs. Will the working-class benefit? Will Amazon train locals for future employment? (via CityLab)

Indianapolis’ quiet, steady road to becoming a software hub

Scott McCorkle used to be the chief executive of Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud division but he’s spent the last year quietly working on a new startup in the technology hub where he’s worked for over two decades: Indianapolis. (via Axios)

Foxconn and The Village: The $10 billion factory deal that turned one small Wisconsin town upside down

Much of Foxconn’s journey to Wisconsin played out on the national stage, with President Trump and ousted Gov. Scott Walker touting the deal while critics attacked it as an example of extravagant corporate welfare. (via The Verge)

November Midwest Report: all of the region’s major tech fundings, M&As and IPOs this month

While we’re primarily focused on Minne’s innovation economy, we also have our eyes on all of the startup and tech activity happening throughout the entire Midwest. (via American Inno)