Sunday, November 16, 2008

Student Brainstorming

What are some of the ways we can better connect graduating students with the innovation economy here in New England? That's the topic of today's Globe column, and I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

From the column:

    The greatest renewable natural resource we've got in New England is smart young people. Hundreds of thousands of them are getting educated in our region right now; in Massachusetts alone, about 75,000 will earn degrees come May. And once springtime approaches, most graduates will return home or seek their fortunes elsewhere - often in Silicon Valley.

    A study commissioned by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce last month found that over the next five years, Massachusetts will have the lowest rate of population growth of any state, when you're looking specifically at people 25 years old or older who've earned at least a bachelor's degree. Joining us on the laggards list are neighboring states Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maine.

    "Our problem in New England is that the ripe entrepreneur-age kids are leaving in droves," says [Angelo] Santinelli, a consultant and ex-venture capitalist who also teaches entrepreneurship at Babson College in Wellesley. "Our biggest export is brains."

Here's a video clip of a recent chat I had with venture capitalist and entrepreneur Bob Metcalfe on the topic.

And an earlier blog post here graded Boston's networking groups and trade associations based on how welcoming they are of students.

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Anonymous Matt said...

I think it would go a long way to get local founders and executives speaking on campuses in the Boston area. It would be great to get such events listed in a central place that could be accessed at schools across the region. I think we put a lot of focus on a couple schools in Cambridge, but I have seen the resumes of many Boston executives/founders who have come from other schools in the area. It would be great to see schools collaborate and allow students from other area schools to come by free of charge when someone was visiting their campus.
I believe this approach, getting founders and executives visiting campuses, will not only educate more students on the opportunities that exist but will also give ambitious students the opportunity to reach out to potential employers. While it is true that busy schedules may make it difficult to make a number of visits, there are enough of us in the area that can set aside one night every other quarter to stop by and speak.

November 16, 2008 11:23 PM  
Anonymous Bruce Franco said...

To get to the root of the problem and better understand why students so readily flock to the west coast, I think it might be worthwhile to examine what really motivates their generation.

Because of the generational influences over the first two decades of their lives this generation of college students is driven by the need for continual recognition and accolades from the people that mean the most to them; and at this stage in their lives those people are their peers. As a result they have an inherent affinity to work on ventures that have a high public profile amongst their friends. The arena that best satisfies that need is the consumer facing Internet...and therin lies the problem.

The Boston tech, angel, and VC community has a reputation for being high tech, B2B, and bio-tech oriented; while the west coast welcomes consumer facing Internet ventures with open arms. They also welcome the steady stream of Boston area students to fuel these ventures with open arms.

Therefore, until the Boston venture community becomes more receptive to the consumer facing Internet, it will be difficult to retain computer science students in the area. They will continue to get drawn to what they find most exciting, and it's not the B2B Internet.

November 16, 2008 11:27 PM  
Anonymous Dharmesh Shah said...

Matt: There are many local success stories (Harmonix, Kayak, TripAdvisor, etc.) that should be "spread" more. But, I think this is less of an issue of busy schedules and more about coordination.

Bruce: I have to (grudgingly) agree with you. It's still way too hard to get a consumer Internet startup kicked off here in the Boston area.

On a related note, I'm wondering if the current economic conditions have any impact on the choices that students make. Would be interesting to see some data on patterns after the last bubble.

November 17, 2008 12:38 AM  
Anonymous Matt said...

Dharmesh: I agree that is about coordination, on all levels, between speakers and colleges, colleges with each other, and between colleges and their students. But, how this can be fixed?

Also on a related note, I think these engagements would be most effective if speakers would not only spread the story of their particular company, but also spend some time educating and/or fielding questions about the general venture community in Boston. As someone who graduated only two years ago, I think most veterans in the area would be surprised by how little is known or understood about the investments made in the area, the up-and-coming companies that exist, and even the presence of the success stories we all know and love!

November 17, 2008 1:56 AM  
Anonymous Steve Kane said...

hi scott

i'm not sure the numbers actually support this

while many young people get educated here then move away, hasn't this always been the case? is the percentage of gradutaes departing greater now than anytime in history?

most people educated here aren't from here, so isnt it only natural that some return home? and not all graduates are interested in tech jobs so they go where the jobs are, or off to graduate school elsewhere?

again, i'm not saying there isn't a problem, i'm just asking for a little more data/context

also, having started two consumer web startups here in boston, i have to respectfully disagree that its so hard. are there nmore in such startups in california? duh, of course there are. there are more of *everything* in california. and in any case, there a heckofa lot more religious cults in california thn here - but i'm not sure we need to care

by most reasonable measures, massachusetts/new england is doing OK. can/should we do better? of course! but we have nothing to fear but fear itself... and our prediliction for self-doubt and agonizing over comparing ourselves to california, a state with a population of 37 million - 6X our commonwealths population of 6.5 million!

November 17, 2008 6:10 AM  
Anonymous Steve Kane said...

One more possible contextual note. In the 11/17 New Yorker magazine, Joan Acocella reviews books looking at the so-called "overparenting" phenomenon. She writes that today some or even many college graduates "join the ranks of the 'boomerang children,' who move straight back home. A recent survey found that fifty-five per cent of American men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four, and fourteen per cent between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four, live with their parents."

Full article

November 17, 2008 7:34 AM  
Blogger mikberg said...

We definitely need educated students with thechnical skills to live here. But we can't compete with California's climate and ambience. The easy way to accomplish this is to recruit from India. Thousands of competent, trained, engineers and programmers would love to come to Massachusetts to work. We just need to increase the number of visas allotted to India for this purpose. They will come.
The RedSox and Yankees don't just grow their own talent. They also utilize free agents. So should we.

November 17, 2008 9:41 AM  
Blogger Scott Kirsner said...

Hey Steve-

I acknowledge that lots of young people educated here have always gone home, or moved elsewhere.

But the numbers make it clear that we are the *slowest-growing* state in the entire US when it comes to educated young people.

That's a problem, both for start-ups and big companies that need to hire.

My only point with this column is that the easiest way to move the needle on this isn't by encouraging people in Massachusetts to have more kids, or recruiting smart people from California or Texas or Florida to move year... it's by trying to retain more of the young people who already come here to get educated.


November 17, 2008 9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe Pittsburg is having a similar problem although their Universities are not quite as good as NE's. Richard Florida writes about a similar topic on the "Creative Class".

What about some type of scholarship programs where the students then were encouraged to work here after. Or put into a binding contract.

There also needs to be a better effort by the Government. Philadelphia has really pushed to keep kids coming into for college to stay by setting up job boards etc. One last thing would be making Boston more attractive to recents grads in terms of social life and community. I could go on... Hope these ideas are good.

November 17, 2008 10:59 AM  
Anonymous David Wluka said...

While the focus of the study is on jobs, what is clearly missing from the equation is housing affordability and availability. The Boston Foundation/Northeastern University Annual Housing Report Card released a few weeks ago again cites the fact that, even in this current market of falling housing prices, the cost of living in eastern Mass remains amoung the highest in the country. The author, Professor Barry Bluestone calls it a sad paradox. As you write, young talented professionals are indeed our biggest export industry. Business, Associations, Educational institutions and government should be focused not just on getting these people to come here to work, but to stay once they're established in their careers. From my experience as a Realtor, most don't want to leave but the cost of living makes other places much more attractive. We're losing doctors, scientists, teachers, engineers and a host of others to the Carolina Golden Triangle, Tennessee and a host of other places where housing, the key element in the general cost of living is often half of what it is here. I'd like to see a follow up article on those who have stayed, have become established and are now considering moving for strictly economic reasons.

November 17, 2008 11:01 AM  
Blogger Katie McGraw said...

I sent this snippet to Scott via email in June but believe it's still quite relevant now in November...especially considering the economic instability at hand:

In regards to your latest post - State must stop the student exodus – I wanted to send you a great link. I am originally from Albany, NY. I moved to Boston in January 2007 and was in awe to find the lack of solid networking opportunities for 20-somethings. Check out this site - Some of my best experiences and business relationships were built through GenNext. That being said, when I moved to Boston my first call was to the Chamber and I was completely let down when I found that the Boston Young Leaders program came with a $2,000 tab. Words like “exclusive” come to mind when I consider this program…not necessarily the route you want to take when trying to appeal to a younger generation desperately trying to get their feet wet and/or find some solid ground in the working world.

November 17, 2008 12:55 PM  
Anonymous Bruce Franco said...


Check out for a fairly complete list of business networking events in the Boston area

November 17, 2008 1:52 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Though I am typically more of blog lurker than a participant, as both a recent grad and a consumer internet entrepreneur I feel obliged to comment... (originally from New Jersey, went to Boston College and stuck around)

I agree with Bruce that there is a certain appeal to our generation to start consumer internet companies - we are not students of the IT boom, but children of instant messager, text messaging and now facebook. Infrastructure just doesn't interest us.

That being said, I feel as if the draw of the "consumer-internet friendly" west coast is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. What does one really need to build a consumer internet company? Smart people, a decent idea, and investors that "get it".

The idea is location-independent.

I would argue that hiring smart web talent is easier in Boston - there are less startups and less noise - but lots of students (undergrad, graduate and otherwise).

But I would argue that finding investors that "get the web" in the state that EMC calls home is a lot more difficult than in the region that houses facebook, yahoo, ebay, digg and google - and all the angel investor executives that come with those companies.

As WePay's revenue model is not advertising based, we've had an easier time interesting local investors than most of my peers. But around the coffee shops of Cambridge, the standing advice among entrepreneurs is "Go west and get a term sheet - so the east coast VCs take you seriously."

This isn't to say that east coast investors ignore the web - look at Highland's recent investment in Digg, or GC's success with Kayak - but the sentiment among young entrepreneurs (whether is it true or not) is that there is less willingness for investors to try out new ideas here - and more receptivity out west. But for those that can find a way to be taken seriously, the ability to be a more noticeable fish in the Boston pond - versus yet another Stanford dorm room startup - can be a tremendous asset, and hence why we want to stick around.

Bill Clerico

November 17, 2008 1:56 PM  
Blogger WeWallet said...

This post has been removed by the author.

November 17, 2008 2:07 PM  
Anonymous Rich said...

Katie, I agree with your comment that the entrepreneurial community in Boston promotes a sense of exclusivity. In my experiences, networking events on the West Coast are open and free, while events on the East Coast often come with an invitation and a price tag. This may explain why Boston events usually have an excess of professionals, and a shortage of entrepreneurs. On the other hand, this does help to reduce the "noise" that Bill talks about in his post.

November 17, 2008 2:09 PM  
Anonymous brcue franco said...

Getting back to Scott's original question, it would be very helpful for me to know how to connect with student interns....maybe a website that matches interns with projects would be helpful...or at least a page on a site somewhere that summarizes the intern program specifics/schedule/contact details for the various schools.

November 17, 2008 6:09 PM  
Anonymous Dennis Mayer - Communications Coordinator, EDFC said...

I couldn't agree more with an earlier post that said the key to maintaining talent is housing affordability. Smart, young, innovative people who are looking to make waves are going to locate themselves wherever they're in the best position to succeed. Unfortunately, when those young adults look at housing prices in Massachusetts, they decide they have a better chance at success somewhere where a lower cost of living offers greater flexibility.

MassINC published an extensive report in July on young professionals called "Great Expectations: A Survey of Young Adults in Massachusetts." (You can download free at, but you'll need to register on the site first.) 800 people between 25 and 35 were interviewed, and questions dealt extensively with why their peers leave the state/why they might consider leaving themselves. Two main problems were cited - a lack of affordable housing (this was the primary problem cited with greater Boston) and a lack of competitive jobs (this was the problem cited outside the Greater Boston area/tech corridor, in areas like the Gateway Cities.) So we need more affordable mid-range housing in greater Boston, where there's already a competitive job market, and we need more economic development (especially in the high-tech/creative/New Economy sector) outside that area, where housing is affordable but exciting jobs are scarce.

Shameless plug: The company I work for works on those kinds of projects. You can check out our website at the link below.

November 18, 2008 10:52 AM  
Blogger Kiki said...

Keeping young talent in Greater Boston is a critical step in ensuring the state's vitality as the economy rebounds. When it does, Boston needs to be ready with the right mix of talent and opportunities to take full advantage of the upswing. We just recently conducted a MITX member hiring practices survey which showed us that Internet business and marketing companies are committed to nurturing young talent.

Here are a few important proof points we learned:
• 85% said they are currently hiring recent college graduates; 88% said they offer internships.
• More than half said they will hire entry level positions in 2009.
• The majority said the economy will not affect hiring for entry-level positions.

Our initial approach has been to open the lines of communication with the Career Services officers who want and need education on what the internet business & marketing industry is about. With more regular communication, they become more knowledgeable about available opportunities and can advise their students. We’ve also begun to visit schools with member companies to educate the students first-hand about what kinds of companies are out there and looking for talent. There’s more to be done and we continue to collect feedback from both the universities and the students to come up with a plan to ensure the lines of communication and the infrastructure is there to connect the students and schools to the business community.

Kiki Mills, MITX

November 18, 2008 3:35 PM  
Blogger Fitech said...

I think it's a great idea. I'm a grad student at Bentley University, and I am president of a student organization there. I would love to bring start-ups and entrepreneurs to our campus or attend this type of meeting somewhere else. It would also be great to have some online resources. This way we could learn about local start-ups and interact with their employees online and offline.

November 25, 2008 8:20 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Not sure if this was addressed, but housing costs in Boston for entry-level professionals are prohibitive. Housing costs comprise a large chunk of outflows, and in Boston, the outflows are inordinately higher. How can we expect students to put down roots when the rental stock is primarily aged and expensive, and the condo stock is either affordable but far away, or close-in but out of the price range (even with the recent market softening)? Because land costs in Boston tend to be high, as we have less land than many other MSAs, the way to offset land costs imnpacts is to be able to build to a higher density, particularly near transit nodes and job centers, and to build smaller i.e. 400-600 sf condos. Unfortunately, per zoning code, you cannot build under 600+/- sf condos and, of course, neighbors rabidly fight against even the allowable density of some housing developments.
For all the talk of the 1 in 3/recent grad retention programs from City Hall, I have yet to hear anyone acknowledge the burden of high housing costs and their impact on "keeping brains" in Boston.

December 1, 2008 1:54 PM  

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