Inside Startup Institute: What Was It Like?


Lately, I’ve found myself having a lot of conversations about what my time at Startup Institute was like.

Many of these conversations have been with prospective SI students, several have been with accepted students trying to prepare, and a few have been with friends, family, and new co-workers who have seen my time at SI successfully lead to a new career.

These conversations have forced me to really take stock of what I got out of my time at Startup Institute.  I know it was time and money well spent, but it’s time I reflected on exactly why Startup Institute was so successful for me. I’ve come up with the following answer to “How did you end up at Startup Institute, and what was it like?”

When I walked away from my career in finance I knew I was doing the right thing.  It felt right.  It felt like I was embarking on the right path, but I had no clue how I was going to find my way.

There was a 10 month gap between quitting my job and enrolling in Startup Institute.  I tried my hand with, but couldn’t quite figure out how to make it work at that time.  I connected with PointDrive for a brief period, but the timing wasn’t right and a full-time position wasn’t immediately available.  I never doubted my decision to quit my job and pursue a new career path, but I did start to wonder exactly how I was going to make it work.

It was as if I’d made it to the river, could see the other side, but had no way to get across.  Startup Institute got me across the river.

How, exactly?

1.  Startup Institute gave me the confidence in myself.

I quit my job in January 2013 with the intention of working for a startup.  I started at SI in October 2013. In the 10 months in between, I largely floundered and struggled to figure out exactly how to make my ambitions a reality.

There were times when I wondered whether I was smart enough to make this work. SI not only provided specific skills in technical marketing that made me an attractive employee, but in so doing reinstated some of the confidence I had started to lose.

2.  Startup Institute gave me access to opportunities.

I realized it wasn’t so much a lack of talent or drive that had been holding me back, but a lack of direction in finding the right opportunity. When I mention access to opportunity as one of the biggest benefits of SI, some ask why I couldn’t have achieved that through networking?

A fair question, I suppose, if you are able to walk into a networking event and walk away with legitimate job prospects. More power to you. In my opinion, a warm introduction makes life a whole lot easier.

Startup Institute effectively provided a warm introduction to hundreds of companies within the Chicago startup scene.  Companies I had read about, thought about working at, but had no idea how to show interest in were now sitting right in front of me.

Even companies that were not official partners became immediately accessible.  People I’d cold emailed prior to SI, were now interested in getting coffee when I explained what I was doing.

3.  Startup Institute legitimized my potential for employers.

Why did these doors open?  It’s not as if I was an unemployable idiot prior to going to Startup Institute.  I learned a ton — don’t get me wrong — but I was roughly the same person with more refined and ready skills. The answer to this question explains the third, and final, thing SI did for me.

Obviously not every company I met during my time at SI was a good fit or likely job prospect, but I can confidently say that my first conversation with each company was treated as though it was a real possibility.

If I quit my job, paid tuition, and committed myself to a full-time program that was devoted to people passionate about startups, that was reason enough for an employer to qualify me a good candidate.

The commitment shown by enrolling, as well as the training I was receiving, shot me past the first screening and made me eligible for an in-person interview. Getting through the door is one of the hardest parts of finding a new job. It’s difficult to prove your worth within a pile of resumes or a cluttered inbox.  Startup Institute legitimized me, started conversations, and ultimately led me to the job I was looking for.

If you are thinking about a career change, but are unsure how to go about it, look into Startup Institute.  Everyone’s experience is slightly different, but it certainly bridged a gap for me and helped many of my fellow classmates.

Brian Cuttica is the Director of Marketing at PointDrive, the best sales tool for presenting content and tracking activity. He graduated from the Technical Marketing Track with the Fall ’13 class of Startup Institute Chicago.