Welcome Young College Graduates Into Your Entrepreneurial Community

I feel strongly that the one of the important elements of building a sustainable entrepreneurial community over a long period of time is for the entire existing entrepreneurial community to be extremely welcoming to young college graduates. For the folks with a knee jerk reaction to call me ageist, please note that I said “one of the important elements …”

There was a solid article yesterday in the Northern Colorado Business Reporter titled College grads make their own jobs. If you follow this blog, follow TechStars, or have read Do More Faster, you know that I have put a lot of energy into the Boulder entrepreneurial community, but have also spent a lot of time helping other entrepreneurial communities that I invest in (such as Seattle, Boston, and New York.) And, like Caine from Kung Fu, I’ve recently been wandering around the US (next week – Upstate New York) spreading my views, philosophy, and advice on creating and sustaining entrepreneurial communities. I continue to study and think hard about the dynamics of entrepreneurial communities around the US and believe that there are at least 100 cities in the US that can have strong, significant, healthy, 20 year plus sustainable entrepreneurial communities.

In the short term, welcoming young college graduates into your entrepreneurial community has a huge impact on local economies. If young college grads start up new companies rather than take jobs at existing companies, they create obvious short term job growth. If any of these new companies grow, they create additional job growth. In addition, it keeps smart, well educated people (college graduates) in the local community.

This is not a zero sum game – these recent college graduates are not taking jobs away from other companies, especially entrepreneurial ones. Instead, they are creating entrepreneurial job expansion in the local community. As a result, existing experienced entrepreneurs and everyone around the local entrepreneurial ecosystem should welcome the young college graduates into the entrepreneurial community, mentor them, give them low cost excess resources (such as let them camp out in your office if you have extra space), and help them by being an early customer or partner. Namely – make a bet on them of whatever kind you can.

I’ve seen this play out in Boulder for over 15 years. It’s just awesome to watch it build – there is a strong cumulative effect. Many of the 22 year olds that I met in the mid 1990’s are now in their mid to late 30’s and are playing key roles in the Boulder entrepreneurial community. And the folks like me who were in their 30’s in the 1990’s are now in their 40’s and 50’s and are continuing to play it forward aggressively to the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Oh – and it’s a ton of fun. Don’t ever forget that. As a 45 year old, while I might not be able to stay up until 2am anymore, I love hanging out, working with, learning from, and mentoring 22 year olds.

If you want to participate in building a long term entrepreneurial community in your city, spend a few minutes right now figuring out one thing you are going to do for one upcoming college graduate in the class of 2011 and put it in motion today.

  • So much of education these days is hands on experience (I never went to college). I’d say that reaching out for interns and part time jobs is great too. But you’re right, engage them, however it works best for you.

  • Brad how about speaking in East Lansing to the new entrepreneurs group known as Hackers and Hustlers? http://www.hackersandhustlers.org/ We just had our first meeting and heard from four different startups including the co-founder of a YCombinator company. Michigan’s new governor is a VC, the state’s business climate is changing.

    • Glad East Lansing and Michigan is coming back to life! I’ll make sure
      I shout if / when I pass through.

  • It would be nice to see something like Google’s Summer of Code that focused on getting recent grads to work on open source technology specifically at startups.
    (Yes, I’m biased on this, but think it would be great for all four – graduates, startups, open source, and the community)

  • Fully agree we need to keep smart, young graduates in our local community, but perhaps not for the same reason. I’ve found that only a small minority (about 3-5%) actually become founders of local startups though. In fact, the vast majority of founders have had a job for some time before becoming impatient with the lack of innovation within corporate (or academic for the extra impatient) walls, before finally making the jump to starting their own company. Regardless, I completely agree that universities and their graduates are critical ingredient to the startup communities in which they live. They supply the much needed flow of great talent to growing technology companies.

    just my 2c

  • Bradbernthal

    A critical factor in Boulder to underscore is that people at the “top” of the entrepreneurship ecosystem invest some of their best time and resources in the type of next-generation community-building activities which Brad F. emphasizes (and, frankly, epitomizes). Rather than hiding or avoiding people, leaders here — already busy and strapped for time — put in a lot of nights and extra hours with the next generation. This sets a tone that others in the community follow and – even better – riff from. This type of community engagement is a key engine behind our Entrepreneurship Initiative at CU’s Silicon Flatirons Center (for more, see http://www.silicon-flatirons.org/initiatives.ph, p?id=entrepreneurship ) as well as other entities across the CU campus and in the Front Range community.

  • Elizabeth

    I agree – and I’d like to shift it a bit to keeping the door open for innovative, entrepreneurial minds of any age. Have you noticed that renewable choice only hires people under 35? It’s because their HR Director, Amy Haddon, says that she doesn’t even bother to read resumes from people with over 15 years experience, it shows they are “dated”. Since I just spent a half day training 25-30 year olds on how to effectively use twitter and social media and am launching a new peer-to-peer sustainability website, I am offended by being put on a shelf by those who think that only recent graduates “get it”. The idea of diversity in a workplace is that by bringing together people of all ages and backgrounds you foster the rich entrepreneurial spirit of open minds, new ideas, wisdom and experience all together.

    • Elizabeth – I completely agree with you. Look for another post about
      the importance of active engagement from experienced people in the
      entrepreneurial community. I specifically put the first sentence in
      this post about ageism for exactly this reason.

  • Brad, I saw that you are heading to NYC after your visit to Rochester. Will you be in NYC for a stop on your book tour? You should really consider a stop in Brooklyn’s DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) area which has become what was formwerly Silicon Alley. It is a hotbed of talented startups in the digital and social media sectors. We can tee up a gathering if you’re interested. Thanks and love your new book! Ben La Marca, FanFeedr.com

    • I’ll be at the TechStars NY office all day on Tuesday and Friday.

  • Great post Brad. I love how this community has been nothing but welcoming to me, regardless of my age. I’ve been participating in events and meeting people and companies around town since I was 19. At no point has my age been a barrier to participation (except for events happening at bars). In Boulder I feel respected and feel that I can contribute just the same as everyone else. The community here is tremendous!

  • Kirk

    Love your “pay it forward” mentality. I wish the entrepreneurial and business community had similar motives as you. When I was an undergrad student, I always hoped for a mentor to take me under his wing; teach me everything he knew. It would be a win-win situation. He partners with me, invests in me (time, education, and possibly even money). I could be his business and entrepreneurial clone. He would then have 48 hours in his day, 14 days in his week, and 730 days in his year. A common complaint is that there aren’t enough hours in the day. If you take on a mentee, teach them to operate like you, you are creating more time and opportunities for yourself. You also give that mentee opportunities he or she quite possibly would never have on their own accord.

  • Hi Mr Feld:

    I was wondering would I still be welcomed to join the entrepreneur community as a newbie if I am in my late 20s? I have never done any startup before and am not a programming guru. I finished my grad school in engineering for ~2 years but recently gradually developed the desire to become entrepreneur whenever capable/ready. Therefore I seriously want to join the entrepreneur community to be able to chat with experienced individual like yourself.

    Many thanks!


    • Absolutely. My point was that welcoming recent graduates is an
      important thing, but not the only thing.

      • Thanks Mr Feld! Glad to know that.

  • Thanks for bringing this issue to the forefront Brad!

    THIS is a topic I just can’t evangelize enough about. We’re glad to have already helped some Boulder companies (like http://push.io) find interns (like http://susaxu.beyondcredentials.com) and entry hires…more could be happening however.

    Especially in a startup/growth environment bringing on younger talent is a two-way benefit. I work with college grads and companies seeking them every single day (our former grad frustration and then hiring frustration led us to found http://beyondcredentials.com). They both need each other.

    A startup is where I got my real life MBA (and startup addiction) and I recommend that all college students and grads prove their worth to join a company by doing something interesting: internship, volunteer, project help…whatever it takes to get your foot in the door! Same if you want great young people to be interested in what you’re doing…share what is cool and beneficial about your company/team.

    Getting a job for a college student is very similar to pitching your company for funding: Want money or a job? Do something interesting. Don’t say “I’ll do something interesting IF you give me money”. OR “I’ll do great work IF you give me the job”.

    Often startups are the BEST place to do something interesting. I’m glad Boulder has open arms to young talent.

    Companies: I’ve got a ton of great students/grads looking to contribute…contact me (andy AT beyondcredentials DOT com) and I’ll send you their profiles like this one here: http://susaxu.beyondcredentials.com.

    Andy O’Dower