Why did you attend Startup Institute?
I caught the entrepreneurial bug early in college, working for a tiny early-stage startup in my spare time. I knew that was the kind of work environment I needed, but couldn’t figure out how to make that jump. Connecticut had a pretty lackluster tech scene (litotes), my only connections were in LA, and a cursory google search of “startups in Boston/New York/Chicago/wherever” didn’t prove very successful. I was an aspiring web developer with little job experience, looking for a window into the startup world. Startup Institute seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to refine some skills and immerse myself in the tech community.
Is there one experience that stands out for you from your time at SI?
The partner project was one of the coolest opportunities I’ve ever had. We got to apply what we were learning directly to work for an actual company, and—to my surprise—were able to add value there almost immediately. Working on a small, interdisciplinary team faced with a big problem and small timeframe, was more or less the best crash course on startup life a person could get.
What makes SI different than other educational experiences or classes you’ve taken?
Startup Institute is the first educational system I’ve seen that was designed to sustain itself. The staff genuinely cares about its students, as their success is a direct measure of the program’s value. The instructors are industry professionals teaching the skills necessary in the market today, to students they may in turn be hiring down the road. And the students have a vested interest in each other’s success, since the program can only be taken as seriously as the students it graduates. It’s a system in which all parties have skin in the game and are working toward the same overall goal. Startup Institute, at the end of the day, is not a school. It’s not a career accelerator. It’s not a technical bootcamp. It’s not a job placement program. It’s a community building experiment, and is designed in the way I think higher education should be. It’s a community of curious, passionate people that both teach and learn from each other, working together to build individual skills and solve real, difficult problems. Lectures are replaced by workshops, case studies by personal stories, and trivial homework by meaningful projects. The best thing you’ll leave with as a graduate of Startup Institute is not a job, but a tightly woven network of friends, mentors, and colleagues.
What is one thing you’d want people to know about SI?
Prior to arriving at SI, I was worried that the environment may become too competitive since students would presumably be looking at a lot of the same jobs. I could not have been more wrong about this. The SI network is quite large, and—despite Chicago’s having a relatively small tech scene when compared to the valley—there is no shortage of jobs available. More important, however, is the community SI creates and the genuine people it selects. As it turns out, I got my current job per a recommendation from one of my classmates.