Friday, July 10, 2009

Let's Organize Some Innovation Open Houses for Students ... Are You In?

If you're interested in how we can connect the smart students who come to Massachusetts to get educated with the cool companies that exist here, and perhaps even help them lay the foundation for cool companies of their own, I want your help. More on that at the bottom of this e-mail.

I'd like to try an experiment during the upcoming academic year. Here's the rough outline, though it should definitely be refined:

1. Let's line up at least six (and possibly more) Innovation Open Houses at cool local companies.

2. The goal of an Innovation Open House (and that's merely a place-holder name) is to give students currently enrolled at any local school a chance to visit cool local companies.

3. An Innovation House would last about 90 minutes. It might consist of a lunch or snack in a conference room, a talk from the CEO or a company founder about what the company does, a Q&A session with the students, and a tour of the office. It could take place at lunch time, in the afternoon, or at the end of the day on a weekday (but probably not during the student-unfriendly morning hours.)

4. An Innovation Open House should be able to accommodate at least 15 (and ideally more) students. Students would RSVP to hold their spot in advance; there'd need to be some dis-incentive for students who didn't show up.

5. Companies could use IOH's for their own devious purposes: they might pitch their internship program, entry level jobs, use the visiting students as a focus group, ask them to play with a demo product, or present a challenge the company is currently dealing with.

6. Students could use IOH's for their own devious purposes: they might ask about job or internship opportunities, or ask questions related to their research/coursework.

7. But the goal of an IOH is simply to expose students to the company, what it does, how it got started, etc. There's no obligation on the part of the company to do anything aside from spending 90 minutes with a group of students. And there's no obligation on the part of the students to do anything aside from spending 90 minutes at a company. (But students will be encouraged to continue the conversation among themselves at a nearby coffee shop/inexpensive restaurant to build connections.)

8. Snacks, lunch, or beverages should be supplied by the company -- or paid for by a generous sponsor of the IOH series.

9. IOH's should be very low-effort to organize, low-effort for companies to participate in, and low-effort for students to RSVP for and come to. (Though if they prove popular it may be necessary to ask students to "compete" a bit to get in.)

10. After the 2009-2010 academic year, we should evaluate how well IOHs are working, and think about ways that they might be "open sourced" so that other cities in New England could replicate them (OK, and the rest of the world, too).

If you want to help make this happen, drop me a note at sk - at sign -, and let me know if you're available for a 5:30 - 8 PM brainstorming session in Cambridge on Aug 3, 4, 5, 6, or 10. (I need to hear from you by July 13th.) This will be a very distributed effort, ideally, that doesn't turn into a giant time sink for anybody. My goal is to simply have one meeting now to design the series, do everything else by e-mail or conference call, and meet again next summer to review. Please do not come if you just want to lob ideas and are not available to be hands-on when it comes to actually running these.

Among the questions we'll address: what companies would be most interesting to students... how will students RSVP... how do we reach out to get a good mix of students... can students attend more than one of the events in the series...should we include companies that aren't accessible via public transportation. Another question, more for the long-term, is how do we track the impact of this effort, and the careers of the people who've participated. (Perhaps a Facebook or LinkedIn group?)

I'm open to students, entrepreneurs, profs, VCs, anyone being involved in making this happen. If you are willing to help, you'll be considered one of the Esteemed Most Trustworthy Trustees of the IOH Series, which should do wonders for your résumé.

Please forward this blog post to anyone you think may be interested...and of course, feel free to comment if you have feedback/ideas/criticism/words of warning...

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Anonymous Apolinaras "Apollo" Sinkevicius | said...

Brilliant idea! We need to keep bright kids out of wasting their prime years and talents in consulting companies.
We have plethora of companies in Boston that can fit any "taste".

July 10, 2009 11:45 AM  
Anonymous Collagist said...

This is a great idea Scott. I will be sending this post to my alma mater.

Regarding your questions it may be necessary to limit the number of times a student would attend IOHs to encourage or make room for others.

There is certainly a lot of merit and scope to expand this idea. Hope you get good response.

July 10, 2009 3:21 PM  
Blogger Rick Burnes said...

Fantastic idea, Scott.

I'll followup via email, but we'd love to host at HubSpot.

Rick Burnes

July 11, 2009 12:08 AM  
Anonymous Mike Volpe said...

Great idea. There is a larger event that is basically just like this run out the MIT Sloan MBA program called the "Mass High Tech Trek". (I organized it for 2 years in 2002 and 2003). About 100 MBA students from MIT self organize a trip where small groups of 10-15 students visit 12 companies over a 3 day period - the company visits are organized into tracks by inductry segment (biotech, clean tech, software, etc.) usually there are 70-100 total companies involved. Maybe there is someway to leverage the work those students are doing? Or just copy it?
2007 mass tech trek

July 13, 2009 10:23 AM  
Blogger Scott Kirsner said...


The MA Tech Trek Sloan puts together is great. I suspect that they would not be so into the idea of opening up the visits to students from any local school, but I'll get in touch with the folks now running the club....


July 13, 2009 3:22 PM  
Anonymous Fan Bi said...

From a student's perspective, it's so great to see someone really driving this crusade to keep the best young talent in MA. There is significant disconnect between the various school-denominated student entrepreneurship organizations, Entreprelliance, Kairos Society, etc. This endeavor goes so far beyond the Open Houses, it can be the start of a transparent Boston network of collegiate entrepreneurs that is the right balance of high-lvl vision and grass roots development. Call me a dreamer.

July 14, 2009 8:42 PM  
Blogger Tim Rowe said...

Scott--I'd be willing to host one of these at Cambridge Innovation Center. I suspect we could get a significant number of companies here to participate.

July 15, 2009 8:40 AM  
Blogger Evan Morikawa said...

I would completely support this idea from a student entrepreneurial perspective. We frequently will have guests come to campus to talk to us, but I believe that it is a whole different perspective to see entrepreneurs in their "natural habitats." It's extremely inspiring to not only hear someone talk about their struggles and triumphs, but to also be surrounded in their environment, team and products they forged.

I love the list of companies you mentioned in your blog post. In addition to those I personally think Kiva Systems is one of the coolest companies in the area, as well as iRobot or Boston Dynamics.

July 17, 2009 10:09 AM  
Anonymous Fan Bi said...

Just noticed your tweet about speaking w/ Babson's UGrad Career Services re this initiative - they just don't who the entrepreneurs on the ground are. You want to be speaking with people like Evan Morikawa (most recent commenter), who is the student who runs Olin School of Engineering's Foundry Incubator. Essentially, Evan's representative of the student entrepreneurs who engage with their entrepreneurial peers on a daily basis, leading most of the entrepreneurial initiatives on the ground.

By natural selection, the students taking the time and initiative to start and run entrepreneurial organizations, like the Bentley E'ship Society, BC E'ship Club and Babson E-Tower are the ones you want to be targeting directly. It'll take slightly more time, but at those places, you'll get a much better feel of what student entrepreneurs are thinking, why they've chosen entrepreneurship, and how they view the Open House program.

July 18, 2009 12:24 AM  

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