Readyforce, the employment placement start-up hosting Hacker Tour, will meet with more than 20,000 students at 25 schools and recruit the best computer science and engineering students on behalf of the 16 total start-ups. Since announcing the tour two weeks ago, Readyforce has more than doubled the number of participating companies and is still receiving calls from other interested start-ups.
"Unless you're a big company or a smaller company that has committed a lot of resources to it, it's really hard to have a meaningful college recruiting program," Anna Binder, Readyforce vice president of client services and human resources, says. "Facebook has 30 people on its college recruiting team, and they're competing with companies of 30 people."
After years of losing top computer science and engineering graduates to Amazon, Facebook, and Google, growing start-ups are still struggling to close the talent gap.
"I think it's a lot sexier to join a start-up than it ever has been,” says Justin Bedecarre, a real estate broker whose firm, Cushman & Wakefield, represents start-ups including Etsy, Warby Parker, and One Kings Lane. “But how do students connect with those companies? That's why I think Hacker Tour is really on to something."
ZestFinance founder and CEO Douglas Merrill, a former vice president of engineering and chief information officer at Google, is well aware of what the search engine giant has to offer: free lunches, big salaries, and a company mandate that 20% of an employee's time be spent working on a project of his or her choice.
"When I was still with Google, we would go to career fairs and there would be a queue out the door," Merrill says.
While Merrill does offer free, catered lunch for his employees at Zest, he says he can't compete with Google on salary. Like most start-ups, the two-year-old loan underwriting company's recruiting bait is its culture.
"We compete on the fact that every day your job will be really high leverage and matter. ... Everyday you'll come to work and you'll love the mission, you'll love the reason you're coming to work, and it will matter," Merrill says.
Whether or not the nation's most skilled programmers are willing to work for a start-up is a matter of individual taste.
"[Working for a start-up is] just a different way of thinking," Corbett Morgan says. Morgan is a senior business student at Ohio State University and has been helping to organize Hacker Tour's visit to his campus on September 19.
Morgan has spent time as an investment banking intern, but is also an entrepreneur who says that the value of working for a start-up is the innovative culture.
"I don't want to say it kills your creativity, but you won't have that many opportunities to think outside of the box at a place like Goldman Sachs or working for a big chemical production company."
When Hacker Tour reaches Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, on October 12, Readyforce will be competing against some of the world's largest tech companies for talent.
Last year, 10 Harvey Mudd graduates went to Microsoft, five went to Intel, four to LinkedIn, three to Google, and two to Twitter, according to Judy Fisher, director of career services at the college.
"Many [Harvey Mudd students] want to work for start-up companies," Fisher says. "However, we get the major companies coming to Harvey Mudd. ... The competition here is extremely fierce for top talent."
JOHN MCDERMOTT is a business and culture reporter whose work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune and Playboy and on AOL.com. He recently moved from Chicago to Brooklyn, New York, to work for Inc.com. @J_M_McDermott