Friday, March 14, 2008

Why Student Entrepreneurs Matter

I dropped by a meeting of the Harvard College Entrepreneurship Forum yesterday evening to give my "stump speech" about New England's Innovation Economy.

But the most interesting parts of the evening were two things that happened once I was finished...

1. The room was full of student entrepreneurs not just from Harvard, but also from BC, WPI, MIT, and BU. It felt like there was something really powerful about students from different schools getting a chance to meet and talk about their start-up ideas with one another...especially students from schools that don't have, say, MIT's endless parade of entrepreneurship-related events and competitions.

2. I asked students about some of the issues or frustrations they encounter in trying to connect with entrepreneurs and investors from the "real world" (IE, post-collegiate people). To me, getting students plugged into the innovation economy here is Job #1 if we want to be able to hire the smartest people in our region and fund the most important new businesses.

Here are some issues they raised (and some that occurred to me as I listened to the students talk):

    - The costs to go to most events put on by Boston's technology networking groups (MITX, MassTLC, Mass Network Communications Council, etc.) are too high. Why don't these organizations have a $10 or $20 student rate for all of their events, even if they limit the number of tickets sold at that price to five or ten?

    - Why are there "tech treks" in Silicon Valley, where students can go and visit the hot Valley companies, but no similar tech treks in Boston? I've not heard business school students talking about their visits to Akamai, EMC, Genzyme, Boston Scientific, iRobot, etc. (Am I totally wrong about this?)

    - Where can students go to meet investors? (Yes, I suggested events like the MIT and HBS venture capital conferences, and MIT's $100K competition)

    - Where is there a list of cool start-ups to know about, intern with, and possibly work for? (I may take this one on at some point)

    - Some Harvard students have created a Web site called, which aims to connect student entrepreneurs with one another. (I heard last night that one of the founders is currently out in California, looking to raise money.)

    - Why isn't there one big event every academic year, or one a semester, that brings student entrepreneurs from all of the area's schools together...both to meet each other and to connect with entrepreneurs, executives, and investors from the New England business community?

My big obsession right now is what Boston and New England can do to capture more of the energy and intelligence of the students who come here to get an education. I am convinced this is the simplest way to invest in the future health of our innovation economy. We don't need to retain 100 percent of all students, of course... but retaining 5 or 10 percent more, whether they're starting their own businesses or working for others, would have a huge impact on the economy here.

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