Going to the Source

On a flight to New Zealand on Fiji Airlines last year I was pleased and surprised to be given unlimited free bottles of Fiji Water onboard. Fiji Water is so plentiful and available on Fiji Airlines because it comes from Fiji. For a startup, technical talent is like water; you can’t live without it. From what well-spring does technical talent flow? Two sources primarily, new college graduates in science, technology, engineering and math and technical staff in existing companies.

Startup hubs like New York’s Silicon Alley and California’s Silicon Valley are great attractors of technical and startup talent. Largely that talent is imported from elsewhere and often demand exceeds supply. This leads not only to salary inflation, but also the tendency of people to jump from one employer to another. One technical guy I worked with had been with 11 different startups in his short career. Stories of startup talent jumping ship at critical times are legion, and many entrepreneurs go to great expense to retain the people they have. Is there a better solution than fighting over a limited talent pool? What if you went to the source of that talent; the place from where the hubs import it?

That’s exactly what savvy companies from NYC and SV are doing this month – sending teams to Upstate New York to recruit. This region has half a million matriculated college students, over 125,000 in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math majors. With this tremendous concentration of talent, it’s no wonder that great private universities and colleges like Cornell, RPI, RIT, Syracuse, Colgate, Lemoyne, U of R, Hamilton, Binghamton, Ithaca, Clarkson, Vassar and the publicly funded SUNY system all have sold-out their career fairs.

Upstate is also home to a wide array of corporations including General Electric, Lockheed Martin, IBM, Xerox and many others that are classic training grounds for technical talent. Sinclair Schuller, co-founder of Apprenda, puts it this way, “In terms of getting the company started, we found that we have a very engineering-centric culture here. There are a lot of computer engineering and computer science graduates. If you look at the density of math and computer science PhD holders in comparison to the average US population, you will find that upstate New York has a rich talent base.”

The talent-rich environment makes Upstate the best of all possible worlds for tech startups as well as for startup accelerators like StartFast for two reasons: 1) all the talent our companies need is right here within easy reach; 2) the list of illustrious successes that came from talent exported from here is long and storied. Quite a few of our Mentors got their start or their training here. As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve benefited greatly from the over-supply of talent in this region. It’s just an amazingly good place to build a tech startup. Cheers!