IVCA Profile: The Startup Institute at ‘1871’ is Evolving the Industry by Training and Developing New Talent

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IVCA Profile: The Startup Institute at ‘1871’ is Evolving the Industry by Training and Developing New Talent

July 22, 2015

Continuing the IVCA series on impact accelerators and organizations-in-residence (all part of the “1871” technology and business development at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago), the focus this week is on skill training. The Startup Institute is an organization that began on the East Coast, and recently moved to Chicago and 1871. The Institute’s goal is to train qualified individuals for careers in start-up businesses. The emphasis in the training is on start-up workplace opportunities, and how to steer a skill set for a career involved in making a difference in that industry.

The Startup Institute is not a founder’s school (entrepreneurs that originate start ups), but a training ground for the talent that will apply their skill to the initial stages of start ups and later on, as the businesses grow. The Startup Institute also provides a network for their program participants, and is a vital source of providing recruits for the industry. The IVCA reached out to Lisa Schumacher (Program Director for the Startup Institute in Chicago) and Brent Williams (Global Head of their RampUp Program) who participated in this interview.

IVCA: The Startup Institute is an immersive program for budding careers in start up companies. What are the origins of the Institute and what was behind your decision to set up a satellite presence in Chicago at '1871'?

Startup Institute: Like any thriving business, Startup Institute was born out of frustration with the status quo! A few leaders within Boston Techstars [a start up accelerator] decided to do something about their number one biggest problem behind the raising of capital – hiring employees who had not only the hard skills, but also the soft skills or EQ, that seemed to separate those who could create impact. Thus the Startup Institute piloted initially as ‘The Boston School’ in 2012. It worked, and the school rebranded and opened next in New York City, then Chicago, Berlin and London. There are nearly 1,000 alumni globally so far. In Chicago, our program is almost two years old, with 130 alumni working in more than 90 startups, scale ups and other enterprises around town.

As for 1871, our first few Chicago cohorts ran in other co-working locations, but as soon as the 2.0 space for 1871 was being developed, we knew it would be ideal for our students, instructors and partners – plus for the 1871 community. When you concentrate that much entrepreneurial creativity, energy, resources, and diverse backgrounds in one place – great stuff happens! Remarkably, about 10-15 percent of our alums here have found a role post-program within an 1871 company.

IVCA: The core programs are achieved in eight weeks, and are split into Web Design, Web Development, Marketing and Sales. What skills would an ideal participant gain in each of those tracks, given your curriculum, after those eight weeks?

Startup Institute: Wow – let me give you the short answer – but if IVCA folks want to check out Startup Institute’s curricula by track, here’s a killer brand-new program guide we use with prospective students and partners. A key thing to know is that our admission process is selective, with about 15 percent of applications resulting in full-time enrollees. We are looking for people who have the right mindset for creating impact in early-stage companies, based on our research with hundreds of founders. We also require incoming skills, especially in the web design and development tracks, but also in our technical marketing and sales/account management tracks. Everyone has to complete some form of homework in addition to a few rounds of interviews for admission. We want our partners to feel confident that a Startup Institute student or alum is not just a coder, but really is ready to lean in and help their company grow.

Job roles post-program vary by number one, the stage of company development, and two, the incoming experience of the student. For example, one of our sales track alums, Kyle Cushing, became co-founder of an 1871 company called ClearContract. Also, one of our web design alums transitioned from being a self-taught coder – who came from three generations of barbers – to becoming a terrific design intern at Lightbank immediately after the program. We are actively seeking partners who already ‘get’ the value of culture and start up readiness, in addition to hard skills.

IVCA: In creating and launching the four coursework categories, what has the Startup Institute learned about the type of entrepreneurs that participate in the program, and what have your mentors and instructors learned about giving them the right tools to complement their knowledge for the marketplace?

Startup Institute: Probably the biggest thing we’ve learned about the people who come to Startup Institute is the power of diversity, in its broadest sense, for fueling innovation. Having the four coursework categories draws in such a breadth of talent, backgrounds and experience, along with all the demographics you can throw in the mix. For example, when a cohort completes the IdeaHack in week one, we are consistently blown away by the depth and quality of thinking, plus the collaboration that comes from diverse teams. Start ups need that diverse energy. And they need people who intrinsically want to be part of a team and build something bigger than themselves.

Our mentors and instructors are nearly all practitioner/volunteers – so like our students they too know the power of paying it forward. There is a defined curriculum for all the tracks and the modules within the tracks, but we tweak it constantly to tailor to the needs of the specific cohort and to the outrageous talents of our instructors, who are on the cutting edge of solving big problems for their own businesses.

IVCA: What do you think is unique about your instruction, that nobody offers elsewhere, both in results and ideas?

Startup Institute: As you’ve gathered, the Startup Institute differs from coding bootcamps – from the way we select our students, to the immersive experience they gain in the program across the four tracks, to the cultural acumen we build, to the careers they take on after the program concludes, and finally to the ongoing learning and community that ensues when our students become alumni.

We’re super proud of the love letters – that’s our phrase – we receive from students and alumni, that testify to us fulfilling our mission every day. Here in Chicago, we’re also proud of the amazing contributions our 130 plus alums are making in 90 plus companies...and growing.

IVCA: For those holding full time jobs, you also have a RampUp program. How are your core tracks summarized in the RampUp curriculum and how are they digested differently, while at the same time applying it to the employment a participant already has?

Startup Institute: RampUp is 100 percent focused on technical skills, whereas our full-time program combines technical skills, network and mindset in order to land a job working in a start up or scale up. The benefit is that we're able to offer education focusing on skill acquisition at night while allowing students to keep their jobs. 

Most of our students come to explore a new skill set, and ultimately decide if it's something they'd like to integrate into their current job or a new path to explore outside of that job. For those who want to continue learning at their job we provide four different RampUp courses  – Web-Design, Technical Marketing, Intro to Ruby and Intro to JavaScript – allowing them to continue learning. Often students find their new skills so engaging that they consider changing careers, and at that point we encourage them to explore our full-time program. 

IVCA: What type of undergraduate degrees are ideal for the Startup Institute as to how they apply to the industry that you prepare them for?

Startup Institute: Tech startups in Chicago span multiple industries and so do our students’ academic backgrounds. Our students come from diverse undergraduate and graduate degrees – from aeronautical engineering to theology – and they also bring compelling work/life experience and self-taught technical skills...a few even arrive straight from high school, already with technical skills. Some common degree areas include business, computer science, engineering, finance, social sciences, and public policy.

IVCA: What do you feel makes Chicago different than your other locations, in terms of resources and eventual career opportunities for your potential curriculum participants?

Startup Institute: One big difference for students, partners and alums of Startup Institute Chicago is our location within 1871. The hive of connections, resources and entrepreneurial energy is unmatched. And we practice what we preach inside 1871 – nearly ten percent of our graduates work at 1871 companies. Now we’re seeking similar co-location opportunities for our other cities.

Another big difference I just alluded to, is that the breadth of industries in Chicago supporting tech startups is just fantastic. Chicago is different from our Boston and New York City locations, because they are the youngest in terms of ecosystem maturity. The combination of diverse industries, a quickly evolving ecosystem and being inside 1871 creates a fascinating laboratory for testing and stretching what we can offer and build at Startup Institute.

IVCA: What benefits do graduates of the Startup Institute have for the membership of the IVCA, and how can the IVCA participate more in what the Startup Institute has to offer the general entrepreneur community?

Startup Institute: Benefits for IVCA members depend on how you want to work with your portfolio companies. Most of our partners are early to growth-stage companies who choose to get involved with Startup Institute because they want to be a part of our community and they want the best possible talent. It’s pretty irresistible to change lives, hire amazing start up-ready talent, sharpen what you know by teaching and to be right in the center of what makes Chicago’s tech ecosystem so great – the diversity that thrives here.

In Boston, OpenView Venture Partners has signed on with Startup Institute to promote the value of diverse entrepreneurial talent – in its broadest sense – to its portfolio companies. We think this progression in mindset at the Venture Capital level represents an exciting opportunity for founders seeking best-possible partners in growth.

For more information about the Startup Institute, click on https://www.startupinstitute.com/