Startup Institute: Tooling up staff for early-stage technology companies in the UK

Despite the ever-growing number of technology start-ups setting up in London and the rest of the UK, they will be going nowhere unless the right talent can be employed. It's a quandary which Startup Institute is hoping to solve by bringing its already successful US model to Britain.


Despite the ever-growing number of technology start-ups setting up in London and the rest of the UK, they will be going nowhere unless the right talent can be employed. It’s a quandary which Startup Institute is hoping to solve by bringing its already successful US model to Britain.

Ask any entrepreneur what the main problems are when it comes to starting and getting their early-stage technology company going and most will list employment in the top three.

Creative talent is the driving force behind digital businesses which have a big need for engineering to get a product to market.

Start-ups in London and the rest of the country have been successful in prising bright and energetic minds from banking and larger corporates, but hiring is still a problem due to the amount of competition in the market.

Research form the Tech City Futures Report conducted back in May 2013 found that executives operating in the Silicon Roundabout region are struggling with human resources. Some 45 per cent of respondents identified a shortage of skilled workers as the biggest issue facing them, while 77 per cent revealed that accessing more talent would allow them to grow faster. While Tech City firms reported hiring an average of six people over the last year, the majority had been down to replacing lost talent rather than increasing numbers.

For Startup Institute, it is a problem which it has already been addressing in the US through its career accelerators in Boston, New York and Chicago. Its eight-week curriculum is designed to be responsive to the precise needs of the hiring partners which sign up to be part of the process. Four tracks: product and design, technical marketing, sales and account management and web development make up the course.

The accelerator is the brainchild of a team headed up by Aaron O’Hearn, who previously served as head of special projects at Techstars – the start-up accelerator set up by David Cohen, Brad Feld and David Brown. He also helped to form Le Camping, the fist early-stage accelerator in France.

In an interview with GrowthBusiness, O’Hearn says that setting up Startup Institute was a reaction to a one of, if not the single most important, problem for start-ups. ‘We were borne out of need and necessity,’ he reveals.

It was while working at Techstars, and speaking with the mentors that took part in the accelerator, that O’Hearn kept returning to the problem of hiring.

O’Hearn describes the Startup Institute’s curriculum as being ‘every ounce from the market’ – developed by speaking to CEOs and discovering the pains that they were experiencing.

Aaron O'Hearn, CEO and co-founder of Startup Institute

Aaron O’Hearn has learnt what start-ups want by being part of two accelerators

When quizzed on why now was the right time for he and his team to set up in London, O’Hearn adds, ‘I would say that the UK is very similar to ecosystems in the US.

‘But there is a great shift in culture happening here. People are saying “hey, it’s ok to do something that you love”.

‘So from a cultural perspective, people are challenging themselves and saying that they’re not happy working for a large bank or telecom – they’re willing to take a risk.’

More on London’s Tech City:

Despite having only just landed in London, Startup Institute has formed some powerful partnerships with the government and business community. It started by way of a conversation with Lord Young, who then introduced the team to others at Number 10.

The accelerator’s arrival has also been heralded by the Tech City UK (TCIO) initiative, whose CEO Joanna Shields revealed, ‘Startup Institute’s arrival in London is well timed. Tech and digital businesses are the new growth engine of the London economy and generating 27 per cent of the capital’s job growth.

‘A healthy pipeline of talented, skilled individuals is essential to sustaining this.’

Joanna Shields, CEO of Tech City UK and business ambassador for digital industries

Joanna Shields joined the TCIO from her position as head of Europe for Facebook

Startup Institute and O’Hearn point towards statistics showing that start-up job adverts are up 44 per cent since 2012 – with nearly 5,000 vacancies unfilled – as evidence of the problem.

The accelerator will be pulling in recent graduates, young professionals and those undergoing a career change to help fill job spots at the growing number of technology start-ups.

Defining a start-up, however, is not such an easy task for O’Hearn. ‘For us, our definition is that it’s a culture entity,’ he explains. ‘It is not an age or size but a stage that a particular company is at.

An introduction to the Startup Institute course

‘We have had graduates join companies as employee one, employee 20 or one of 1,000. I think the thing that matters most is that the individual is able to find a career within a company that they find good at, and the company finds a person who is a good fit.’

While Startup Institute has US partners including Bit.ly, HubSpot and RentHop, O’Hearn reveals that the accelerator has not done a tremendous amount on this side of the Atlantic.

‘We’ve leaned on some people to be a proxy for us, and as we get going we will bring more into the fold.

‘I look at sites like yours [GrowthBusiness.co.uk] and think that there are definitely enough who need people like us to help them grow.’

The cultural shift which O’Hearn has noticed in London is picking up momentum, as an increasing number of graduates avoid the tried and tested route of entering the banking or corporate landscape. Alongside other start-up employment initiatives such as Silicon Milkroundabout, which was set up by Songkick’s Pete Smith, those perspective hires are increasingly being tooled up and put on display for enterprising start-ups.

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter was the Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2012 to 2014, before moving on to Caspian Media Ltd to be Editor of Real Business.

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