Katie Rae Gives the Opening Remarks

Too often, Katie Rae was hearing, “We don’t have enough young talent.” Or, “The young talent we do have don’t know what to do when they arrive, so we’re afraid to hire them.” The managing director of TechStars Boston knew there had to be a way to help local CEOs, and so she started a conversation. Around a table in Cambridge, she worked with Managing Director of Project 11 Reed Sturtevant and TechStars Program Manager Aaron O’Hearn to develop a program that would help retain and train young talent.

They announced Boston Startup School at RubyRiot in February. Six months and 72 students later, the inaugural class graduated today.

“I care a lot about this school, Boston and the startup community,” Katie Rae said in her opening remarks. “I just think it’s so cool to see what’s happened since February.”

She reminisced on her first conversation about Boston Startup School, saying they were ready to “jump off a cliff together and make this happen.” Since, the trio’s grown to a much larger operating team, which now includes Mark Chang, Shaun Johnson, John Capecelatro, Will Eaton, Jing Wei, Evan Morikawa and Dee Sennecke-Chow.

Over 50 local entrepreneurs and venture capitalists came into the school, housed in the Harvard innovation lab, over the course of the last six weeks, to teach classes and mentor the students, all on a volunteer basis. Will Eaton, the program’s director of instructor development, said all of the teachers now want to come back.

And after hearing each student give a 30- to 60-second pitch about who they are and why they’re prepared to be an asset to any local company, there’s no doubt as to why. 

Recent graduates came in from Brown, RISD, Wheaton, Bentley, Parsons The New School for Design and the University of Miami, among others, to participate in the Boston Startup School program. Considering nearly 90 companies were represented at today’s Student Expose, all jotting down notes, ready to recruit, it’s clear they made the right choice.

To Shaun Johnson, being able to track such diverse bodies not only across the nation, but around the world, was amazing to see. This program proved how passionate students are and how willing the startup community is to help. “Boston Startup School started to build its own brand,” Johnson says. As more students started referring to themselves as part of the program, the more others started asking, “How is the program going?”

Yet, as Johnson admits, now is only the tip of the iceberg. “We’re going to build a real community,” he says.

The bond the students developed was made clear at the end of the pitches, when the group, led by Boston College alum JP Bonner, presented the operating team with OBEY-inspired portraits. “We want to say thanks and give you something to remember us by,” Bonner said. “By starting this school, you changed the lives of all 72 of us these last six weeks.”

The program will, indeed, live on. “What we’ve heard from the companies and the students is that, ‘This is working, so keep going,’” Rae said. The goal is to now continue building this network of student leaders who could, one day, work their way into startup leadership positions, or, found a company of their own.

Of course, Rae admitted, “We were able to pull this off, because Boston is an amazing place.” And while that’s true, I, personally, think they were able to pull this off because they created such a dynamic team. I’ve continued to touch base with Aaron O’Hearn and John Capecelatro over the course of the program, and their passion’s been clear in every conversation. They’re dedicated to this community, as is the entire Startup School team, and it’s been rewarding to see how far the curriculum’s come, and how quickly the students have evolved, since writing an initial piece in February.

Congratulations to the inaugural class who presented today. We’re excited to starting working with you and helping Boston’s startup community grow together.