Monday, January 14, 2008

Focusing on the 21-year olds

This quote has been driving me batty all day, from a Globe story Rob Weisman wrote about MIT’s MBA field trips out to Silicon Valley:

    “Yes, I wish we could have more anchor companies," said Joyce Plotkin, president of the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council, a trade group for software and other tech businesses. "I think our culture does not value entrepreneurs the way the West Coast does. Historically, most of our companies are in the business-to-business market, and that's a tougher sell. To someone who's 21 years old, it looks more exciting to work at consumer- oriented companies."

I don’t think that Plotkin really believes that the culture here somehow values entrepreneurs less than the West Coast does. Yes, you do get a higher voltage of entrepreneurial energy on the West Coast, and successful entrepreneurs are deified out there… but I believe entrepreneurs are valued here.

Rather, the part of the quote that is bugging me is about the hypothetical 21-year old.

We do have a lot of 21-year olds graduating from college every June, and we don’t do a good enough job of plugging them into the regional innovation economy.

It’s not because we don’t have consumer-oriented companies (many of them start-ups) to work for. What about Harmonix, creator of “Guitar Hero,” or Bose, or iRobot, or Conduit Labs, or Nuance, one of the leaders of the speech recognition industry?

The problem is that we – and I include Plotkin’s group, the Mass. Technology Leadership Council, in this – don’t offer enough opportunities for:

    1. Colleges students to schmooze with local entrepreneurs and VCs, and visit tech and biotech company’s local HQs.

    2. Smaller tech companies to engage in on-campus recruiting.

In the same way that Valley companies like VMWare and Google welcome visiting MIT MBA students, are our hometown biggies, from EMC to Genzyme to Akamai, opening the doors to grad students and undergrads from local universities?

I've been saying it a lot at events - and I'll say it here for the record - "culture," another term Plotkin uses, is nothing but the way a group of individuals acts. If we want to change the culture here, and make it totally clear to recent grads that there are some pretty interesting opportunities in town for them, that's easy to do...

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Blogger Nabeel said...

For the record, we actively welcome, give advice to, and/or recruit smart 21-year old hackers any chance we get over here at Conduit Labs. :)

January 15, 2008 12:48 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Tech companies here (just as everywhere) see the value of bright, entrepreneurial engineers from schools like MIT. To say that the culture values them is different than to say that each company values them.

You point out two good areas of opportunity for building the overall culture. From the perspective of a small, early-stage software startup, there are two additional kinds of opportunities we'd add to your list:

3. Better systems (e.g. university or regional web apps) to match student interests with company needs.

4. Collaborative events (not just schmoozing, but more like DevHouse) where students and members of local tech companies can kick around ideas and identify common areas of interest.

Thanks for posting on the subject - hope we see more on this.

Mark Soper, Alluvial Labs

January 17, 2008 9:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm pretty far removed from the matter, with the exception of having a few friends who did graduate and start working in the Boston tech industry. Between job listings and the relationships they had with alumni, they all managed to do pretty well at landing such a position. With firms that small you wonder if they can really engage in some kind of mass recruiting effort just to hire 2 or 3 people who are going to be proactively looking anyway.

January 29, 2008 11:58 AM  

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