The tech world, and Silicon Valley in particular, has taken a lot of heat over diversity, or lack thereof. It's been criticized as a closed-loop fraternity of young, white programmers whose social skills need work, particularly around women. But diversity can, and should, have a broader meaning, too--a diversity of experience. And that's why I'm so impressed with the Chicago-based branch of the Startup Institute, which is located within 1871, our startup hub. The SI is cranking out amazing results--not only in their own operations, but, more importantly, in terms of providing a constant and growing stream of talented and excited new employees for so many of our member companies.

I think that 1871 companies alone are hiring about 10 percent to 15 percent of each Startup Institute cohort as they graduate. Some of these companies have already hired four or five people from the SI program, and they keep coming back for more. In terms of attracting, training, and retaining talent for Chicago companies in general, more than 90 Chicago-based businesses, as well as major corporations, have employed SI graduates and alumni so far. This is pretty big news for an operation that's only been at it for a relatively short time.

As it happens, the overall population of 1871 aligns almost ideally with the target populations that the Startup Institute seeks to train. This is why I think it's working so well for all concerned. We have newbies, for sure. We have career changers. We have smart folks with real experience who need a tech and digital refresh--or better yet, a couple of partners. We have people who did one thing for a long, long time and are now looking to pursue their passion. And we have plenty of folks full of energy and passion who are looking for the right place to make a difference.

But what's most interesting about the whole situation is what it says about the kinds of employees that both our early-stage businesses as well as the companies entering the growth stage are going to need to keep adding to their teams. And, if you're running a startup anywhere, there's a lesson here for you as well.

One surprising hint: It's not just about programmers, engineers, and other techies. And it's also not just newbies or people looking for their first jobs right out of school. Our businesses need: 1) talented sales people, 2) serious management help as they scale, 3) domain experts to help identify real customer needs and requirements, and 4) even a little gray hair.

And that's where the unique makeup of the day-to-day population of 1871 comes in. Very few people realize just how diverse and robust a group of entrepreneurs can be when you have 1,500 people a day showing up at your doorstep. Each day. Every day. One particularly interesting fact is that our largest single group of members is composed of people with more than 14 years of industry experience. Not youngsters, and not newbies.

Today, 1871 isn't just about any one group or type of individuals. It's not just for people interested in tech--in no small part because tech is a part of everything today. You couldn't avoid being tech-enabled if you tried. Nor is 1871 appropriate only for people of a certain age or for those simply interested in a single industry or market sector. Passion, innovation, inspiration, and entrepreneurship come in every size and shape, and we welcome them all.

And the most important thing that you learn about people when you're building a business--which is the very reason that the alumni of the Startup Institute make such great hires and can hit the ground running and start making a difference immediately--is that to build a great business, you need all kinds of people with different attitudes, aptitudes, and abilities. Trying to hire only people who look, act, and reason just like you is a fool's mission. It's the diversity of ideas and even ideals that makes all the difference.

Published on: May 19, 2015
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