Working at a technology company in Chicago whose company culture focuses heavily on our employees, I often blog about tech startups and the challenges they face, particularly the challenge of recruiting top tech talent. Programs in Chicago like Anyone Can Learn to Code seek to create a pipeline for that talent, and now we’ve discovered another Chicago program with big goals for providing major value to the startup environment.
The Startup Institute is an organization in Chicago that offers an immersive 8-week program in which students gain the skills, mindset and network to succeed in a job at a startup, with four tracks of focus that students can choose from during their 8 weeks: product design and development, technical marketing, sales and account management, and web development. Then, at the end of the 8 weeks, students attend a Student Exposé, where graduating students take the stage and tell their story their history, their skills, and their goals in 60 seconds to a room full of CEOs and recruiters who are looking to grow their teams. Yesterday I attended my first Startup Institute Student Exposé hosted by Brad’s Deals on LaSalle and was blown away by the energy and talent that the graduating class brought to the floor.
Chicago Director Jenn Yee kicked off yesterday’s program with a breakdown of the Startup Institute’s goals, with emphasis on the fact that the organization does more than simply prepare students for their various tracks. In addition to specific job training, the nuts and bolts of startup mentality are ingrained, the qualities that make success in a startup environment more attainable are taught: multi-tasking, a sense of urgency, teamwork, flexibility. Most of the students are seasoned workers, but even so, not everyone is always prepared for the demands of a startup on one’s time and energy. The Startup Institute ensures that their students are prepared, which already gives their graduates an extra bonus in their arsenal when job-hunting begins.
Brad’s Deals jumped on the mic next, with VP of Product Amy Bourne speaking a few words that every growing entrepreneur can relate to about her experience in the past working for companies where the fit just wasn’t quite right and how important it is that both career goals and fit are aligned. It’s not just about getting a job that you can do, she says. It’s how you feel going into the office every day that matters too.
She’s right. We at DialogTech know better than anyone (having doubled our staff since 2012, adding over 30 employees this year alone) that finding folks who can not only do the job but also be a good fit for our company culture is a challenge. Work hard, play hard : it’s often said about startups and fast-growing companies, but it can be difficult for employees to adjust, which is why the Startup Institute’s format is so valuable, both for their students and for the companies where those students find employment.
And these students will find employment. As mentioned above, each student in the graduating class is given 60 seconds to pitch themselves to an audience of CEOs and talent managers, and the 24 students that presented were a diverse cast of rock stars. From recovering investment bankers to self-proclaimed Ruby on Rails addicts, the students of the Startup Institute are multi-talented and with their eyes on many prizes. It would have been hard to keep up with it all but the organizers provided a sweet booklet with the headshots and tracks of all the students arranged in the order of presentation, so that attendees could take notes on candidates they wanted to follow up with after the exposé.
It was a fantastic change of pace from most recruiting events I’ve been to lately: the concept of candidates taking charge of their personal brand and pitching it on the spot seems fitting for the startup environment these folks will find themselves in. Even more fitting when you see firsthand how close and supportive the graduates are of one another: cheering each other on, signaling one another to speak up. The Startup Institute has built something cool. In actuality, the spirit of it seems almost reflective of what I’ve seen at so many startup events here in the Windy City: people sticking together, helping each other up, trying to find the next big idea. In fact, I think I hear a motto for the Chicago startup scene starting to form. Chicago Startups: We Stick Together.
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