3 Reasons Why Northeastern Will Win in Start-up Education
This post has been brewing with me for sometime, probably as long as 12 months, so bear with me as I try to pack a lot in. It’ll include a few different elements, my experience at Babson and what that taught me about entrepreneurship education, the on-going Silicon Valley vs Boston debate, and why students interested in entrepreneurship should take time off school. My point is to tie it together and conclude Northeastern University has got it right, and why it will be the winner out of this much-claimed Boston innovation renaissance.
1. What Babson taught me about entrepreneurship education.
I’ve dissed Babson a lot. Probably extremely unfairly. My history with Babson is I studied abroad for Spring and Fall semester 2009, I was offered a lot of opportunities there, and I took them. I know I’m not being grateful enough, but here’s what disappointed me. There is this claimed number 1 in the U.S. in entrepreneurship stuff. And to me, it just didn’t live up to the hype. Less than 10% of undergrad students were really passionate about start-ups. Of that, most of them identified entrepreneurship very closely with scalable start-up which they identified very closely to consumer internet start-up. Yet this was so far from the education on small business marketing or Fortune 500 strategy cases. Dharmesh Shah once told me that you need two types of people in a start-up, someone who can build it and someone who can sell it. So for consumer internet that’s someone who can build web apps and someone who understands online marketing. This was not what I learnt at Babson. Maybe I’m wrong and it wasn’t their responsibility.
2. Silicon Valley vs Boston
For the three people who read this blog you’ll know that I’m deciding where to relocate myself and the company in the upcoming few months. So naturally I’ve been paying quite a bit of attention to this Silicon Valley vs Boston debate, on the merits of each entrepreneurial ecosystem. Silicon Valley is clearly king for consumer web, Boston is trying a lot of things and has a ton of smart students. With all this stuff that Boston is doing, I’m sure you’ll see a lot of younger people starting companies, because it’ll be a part of the culture (I’ll do a later post on my theories on why young people found companies, and how to get more of them doing it). And hopefully many of them will stay in Boston rather than just going to Silicon Valley and New York. Boston is a good place to be if you’re young, especially if you’re still in school as there are probably more opportunities for you than ever before.
3. Why students interested in entrepreneurship need to take time off school
What I also discovered whilst I was at Babson was because I was on study-abroad, I was on something called pass-fail, i.e. it was a binary result, i.e. getting 51/100 was as good as 100/100. What this essentially meant was I had time to pursue a start-up idea which would eventually lead to Blank Label. My friends at Babson were jealous. Hey, how come you never turn up to class and work on your start-up all the time? Teachers got annoyed, how come you never turn up to class and work on your start-up all the time? The answer, I didn’t pay $50,000 for those classes and I just needed to pass (which I didn’t really have to do since I dropped out anyway). I’m not as extreme as Caterina Fake’s I’ll fund you if you’re dropping out of school argument, but I do believe that time away from the class is just as important, if not more so, than time in the class.
Why Northeastern will win
1. They are an actual university with multiple schools of training and if they can get the cross-polliation right, they’ll develop people who can make it and sell it hanging out in the one place. And from my few friends at NEU, I agree with David Cancel in that NEU students are far from entitled (can’t be said for many of their Bostonian counterparts) and they have something to prove. Start-up founders always have something to prove.
2. A lot of the work is already being done for them. Boston is reinvigorated, and pissed off that Y-Combinator then Facebook and more recently WePay are heading over there. There is something brewing and it’s a good time to be a student in Boston. I’m thinking Dart Boston, Stay in MA, Innovation Open House.
3. They force students outside the classroom. It’s institutionalized in their co-op program, and now they’re letting students work on their own start-ups for a semester (plus potentially a summer) at a time. That’s huge.