Lenore Blum, Director of Project Olympus, estimated that only 20 (5%) of Carnegie Mellon's 2007 Computer Science graduates were staying in Pittsburgh. That means another 400 could potentially stay here. If Project Olympus merely doubles the current percentage of CMU's CS graduates who stay each year through entrepreneurship, it could significantly expand the number of startup companies in Pittsburgh.
Maybe so -- though that all depends on lots of other things falling into place locally. And what happens to the other 380 graduates? Where do they go? Where do they work? What kinds of Pittsburgh connections do they or their employers have -- if any? In the absence of a local entrepreneurial infrastructure that can easily absorb another two dozen CS grads each year, is Pittsburgh better off spreading the gospel according to CMU as those folks migrate around the world? Or should Pittsburgh try to keep them here in town and hope that the infrastructure eventually emerges?
Perhaps that's a false choice:
What do these students want/need in order to stay? Based on a survey of students conducted by Project Olympus, three things are key:
(1) Access to angel/venture capital and other assistance through networking opportunities;
(2) A "safety net," i.e., other job opportunities if the initial one falls through; and
(3) A region that views entrepreneurship, even in failure, as a valuable learning experience.
In other words, recent graduates want people to give them money, give them jobs, and treat them nicely. At one time or another on Pittsblog, I've argued for the very same things. What Pittsburgh needs to do, etc. etc. Much of Harold's post is a plea for the same things, and he's right.
What's missing here, though, is a commitment from the grads themselves. The sleep-on-the-sofa, max-out-your-credit-cards, borrow-from-friends-and-family, believe-in-your-dream-no-matter-the-cost kind of commitment that entrepreneurs know that it takes to succeed even in the face of failure after failure. Pittsburgh absolutely needs to develop the kind of infrastructure that Harold Miller and Project Olympus are referring to, but Pittsburgh needs something in the bargain, too, and what it needs is a commitment by those would-be entrepreneurs to stick to it. What three things are new grads willing to do? Find the resources yourselves. Go around institutional obstacles. Persevere. Force change.
Easier said than done, I know, especially when money is tight here and seems to flow freely elsewhere. One solution is to import the money. The Olympus board is interesting to me because it seems to reflect what might be a diasporan mentality -- investors from elsewhere looking to Pittsburgh in order to keep Pittsburgh tech here, rather than export it to the West Coast. Is that a correct perception?