May 30, 2012

Why We Need Startup School

In my other day job, working at another startup school, I spend my time trying to change the way we educate undergraduate engineering students. One of the challenges that we face is a never ending stream of industry representatives that come to Olin and are excited by what they see—a place of higher learning that embraces risk and change—and want to give us advice on how to build a better product (our graduates). While their hearts are in the right place, they tend to focus on the things we could do that would make our graduates better employees at their company. It then becomes our job to figure out how to turn the ideas that would make a better Microsoft, Nike, Boeing, GE, etc., employee, into improvements that more broadly and appropriately impact our undergraduates.

As an educator, I want nothing more than to give my students every opportunity to accomplish the things they want in their lives. However, I also know that for many, it takes all four years of college and an education that gives them the opportunity to learn how to learn, for them to be successful. While we must consider deeply the needs of industry and continuously strive to do better, we can’t forget that college creates citizens, not employees of specific companies.

This is why I’m happy to be a part of Boston Startup School. It gives me a chance to take students and the startup community here in Boston and figure out a way to bring them closer together—a better impedance match, if you will. For our students, they’ve selected to come and learn more specifically about this industry. We can dive deep on the things that will make them the best employees, and we can lean on their college experiences to provide the social, technical, and maturity foundation. Post college graduation is a really great time to introduce this sort of professional accelerator experiment.

For our industry partners, it puts them in the spotlight and gives them a voice to articulate ways new hires can be better prepared to enter into the startup workforce. It also gets them to have skin in the game by sponsoring Boston Startup School, collaborating in the classroom, and (hopefully) hiring our students directly.

However you think of it: collective human resources for startups, startup finishing school for college graduates, vocational training, whatever. It’s just the next great learning experience for our students, and it’s going to be awesome.

Mark Chang is an Associate Professor at Olin College and an Advisor with Boston Startup School.  You can follow Mark on Twitter (@mchang) by clicking here.