Michael Arrington’s move to these parts has reignited the old debate about what Seattle has to offer as an alternative to Silicon Valley. But the point isn’t just to say what is genuinely different and good about Seattle, but also to figure out what ideas and institutional characteristics we can take from Silicon Valley so we can one day be better.
And if I could take one thing from the Valley, it would be Stanford. It’s not that Stanford students are so brilliant, though they are. It’s that they naturally assume the cantaloupe you were slicing is just for them, that the rules of our Matrix can be bent or broken to suit their fancy, that they can start a company as easily as you or I could eat a bag of chips. It’s an amazing aura. It is a way I’ve always wanted to be.
At a colloquium this Tuesday hosted by the University of Washington computer science department, we talked about what we can learn from Stanford to develop our local computer scientists into entrepreneurs. Most of the entrepreneurs in Seattle are folks like me on our second go-round, or MBAs focused as much on business models as on products. Those folks are great, but we need some young turks fresh from the UW to shake things up a bit too.
Here’s the preso, with some narration added in parentheses to each slide.
And here’s a run-down of the ideas in the presentation; some are for students, some for faculty, some for VCs, some for startups.
- Dorms & clubs: lots of folks at UW commute or live in a fraternity. It’s easier to talk all night about an idea in a dorm, and you’re more likely to meet co-founders. For as long as you can stand the food, live in a dorm.
- Mentorship: every would-be entrepreneur in UW’s CS department should hook up with a mentor in the Seattle community.
- Brashness: I don’t know how to teach our polite young folks at UW brashness, and I’m not sure I want to, but a good entrepreneur needs a dash of Zuckerberg, too.
- Electives: Stanford students are different from Cal Tech graduates. They occasionally enroll in a philosophy or drama class. It really helps later in life.
- Fun classes: Sure it wasn’t technically novel, but Stanford’s Facebook class got everyone excited about coding. UW could do the same with Amazon’s cloud or Real’s music.
- Competitions: UW’s business-plan competitions are fantastic, but student hackathons also appeal to engineers, particularly if judged by bigshots like Jonathan Sposato or Mark Vadon.
- Internships: UW students may prefer the safety of Microsoft or Google for permanent employment, but why not give a startup a shot for a summer internship?
- VCs: I’ve long wondered if UW graduates could sign up for a two-year gig at a VC’s entire portfolio, learning social marketing at TeachStreet, user interface design at Redfin, architecture at Apptio, product management at Animoto. It would be the ultimate entrepreneurship boot-camp.
No matter how many academic breakthroughs emerge from UW, nothing will draw the best and brightest from around the country than producing our own Jerry Yang or Larry Page.
Many thanks to UW’s Oren Etzioni for hosting us, and to the UW students for coming out. We had a lot of fun.