Want to pivot into a tech career?
This article originally appeared in Crain's.
The latest bootcamp to blow into New York City, Startup Institute, nurtures people, not startups, billing itself as an answer to Silicon Valley's unending search for talent.
Headquartered in Boston with sites in Manhattan and Chicago, the 24-employee company, a for-profit, offered its first session here last spring and two days ago launched its second.
It's one of a crop of similar companies springing up nationwide, including Manhattan-based General Assembly and Chicago-based Starter School. As expensive as many community colleges, the tech-centered schools aren't accredited and typically don't offer any guarantees of employment.
But they are finding a market among people, such as attorney Rob Weiss, who want a way into the tech economy. The 36-year-old wasn't happy practicing corporate law and wanted to work for a startup, but he had nothing in his résumé that could get him a job in New York City's burgeoning tech sector.
"I couldn't credibly say I'm competent to do the business-side work in a startup," said Mr. Weiss.
The eight-week, $5,250 course at the Startup Institute got him a job as head of business development at RentHop, a Manhattan-based site that uses data to rank apartment listings by quality and make the search process more efficient.
Startup Institute hones tech skills such as coding and marketing and gives students the cultural know-how to get along in the startup world. So far, said New York director Christina Wallace, almost 90% of its New York graduates have gotten jobs in tech startups, a percentage that roughly matches its performance in other cities, according to the company. The first New York class had 40 students. The one that started this week has 48.
Cultural tenets of tech
"Teaching the culture as much as the skill set is so necessary," she said.
Programs like the one at Startup Institute, which began in 2012, are growing rapidly. New York-bred General Assembly, which teaches coding, design and how to run a business, has 30 employees and a presence in 12 cities, including London and Berlin. The Flatiron district school spends 12 intensive weeks teaching coding and web development. The Starter School in Chicago charges $33,000 for its nine-month program. Startup Institute sees itself as a tech-oriented alternative to business school.
"If your goal is to become a management consultant, business school will teach you that," said Startup Institute co-founder Aaron O'Hearn, a former head of special projects at accelerator TechStars Boston. "If you're looking for a change of direction, a different culture, a perspective on work and life and how to blend them together, then we are a better opportunity for you."
Pivot from a law career
Many Startup Institute students are, like Mr. Weiss, pivoting from careers in law, finance, consulting and the nonprofit world. Their average age is 28.
And, while it's not cheap, students can spread payment over as many as 36 months, save $1,000 if they pay upfront and get a $1,250 reimbursement if they go to work for one of Startup Institute's 16 New York "hiring partners," companies like bitly, Lot 18, RentHop and Aereo, which get the first look at the program's graduates as potential hires.
Students usually spend four days a week concentrating on one of four tracks—product and design, marketing and business development, technical marketing or web development—and one day working on projects. Mr. Weiss and six other students, for example, helped prototype a mobile app for RentHop.
They are taught mostly by volunteers, entrepreneurs and others who have worked in or with startups. At the end of the eight-week session, students get one minute and a microphone to pitch themselves to partner companies in a version of a demo day called student exposé.
Lee Lin, co-founder and CEO of RentHop, who just hired two of the school's grads, said one advantage of being a partner is that he didn't have to explain to candidates what a startup is—or convince them to leave Google.
"Everyone is hungry, and ready and willing to work," he said.
The differentiator for Startup Institute, said Ms. Wallace, is that focus on culture, how to get and succeed at a job in a community where the old rules don't apply. Students learn, for example, that it's OK to fail and that it's better to figure out the solution to a problem—before being told to do it.
"A couple of things can be pretty jarring coming out of the traditional corporate world," said Ms. Wallace, [such as] "creating something that doesn't exist or going after something your company hasn't dealt with. If you wait, competitors have passed you by."
It doesn't work for all students, however, and when that happens, said Ms. Wallace, she tries to help them move into something more appropriate.
For Mr. Weiss, though, it was just the ticket.
"I was competent to do law, but I didn't love it," he said. "Why take a big fee [as a lawyer] when you could be on business side and take part of the upside in return for a little risk?"