A Start-Up Tries to Prepare Students to Work in Start-Ups
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
For new graduates, shifting from college to a full-time job can deliver a jolt of culture shock. That’s doubly true for those who join start-ups, where teams are small and newcomers are often expected to acclimate quickly, finding their way without much formal training.
Enter Boston Startup School. Designed as a “finishing school” for young people seeking jobs in the city’s tech start-up scene, the program’s inaugural six-week session graduated 72 students this month. It was directed by Aaron O’Hearn, who also heads up special projects at TechStars Boston, where the idea for the program grew out of the awareness that most start-ups have little time for human resources, recruiting and professional development. “We wanted to graduate people who can operate with ambiguity, who can understand where they are and what needs to get done,” Mr. O’Hearn said.
The first session offered four tracks of study – marketing, software development, product design, and sales and business development – housed at the Harvard Innovation Lab and taught by 50 volunteer instructors. Though Boston Startup School is a for-profit entity, the program was tuition-free, with operating costs underwritten by “hiring partners” – Boston-area companies like Brightcove and Trip Advisor, which received early access to the students – along with sponsors that included Microsoft and Silicon Valley Bank.
“For me it’s about how you give them the tools to be successful,” said Mark Chang, an associate professor at Olin College who is currently on leave and serving as the director of product at edX, a non-profit online educational venture from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It’s like a modern reinvention of trade school.”
Mr. Chang helped develop the curriculum for Boston Startup School, a process that involved tapping dozens of start-up leaders to learn what skills young hires weren’t getting in college but needed in the workplace. “We’re not here to create rock stars, unicorns, superheroes or ninjas, whatever the buzzword is right now,” he added. “We’ve only got six weeks. We’re here to get them a little bit closer.”
So how did things work out?
Despite the short time frame, this summer’s crop of students managed to dance around whiteboards for a homemade music video and create Shepard Fairey-inspired posters honoring the program’s organizers. More to the point, Mr. O’Hearn said that more than half of the students have been hired since the program concluded on Aug. 1 with the students pitching their skills in front of representatives from nearly 100 young businesses. Boston Startup School began accepting applications for a second session on Aug. 27. The new class is scheduled to arrive Nov. 5.
Angus Davis, chief executive of Swipely, a customer loyalty and analytics start-up, said he was impressed with the program’s graduates and has already hired one for his engineering group. “The toughest thing is finding talented people as we seek to grow our team,” he added. “We’ve got a few others in the pipeline. We’ll see how it all pans out.”
A Boston Startup School alumna, Nicki Haylon, 22, said she had planned a career in book publishing after graduating from Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. But her six-week introduction to start-ups, “blew my mind from the first day” and helped her realize that “it wasn’t so much the publishing industry I liked, so much as being with a tight-knit group of people who are working passionately to create something.” This month she accepted a job with Libboo, a Boston start-up whose online platform aims to connect authors and readers.
Have you hired fresh college graduates? What additional skills do you wish they had had? Would a program like Boston Startup School’s be useful to you?