The advantages of starting a tech company in Silicon Valley, Boston, or NYC are numerous. According to HBR, your networking, financing, and exiting opportunities are significantly improved if you choose to start a company in one of these three locations. It’s really no surprise: with the likes of Stanford, Harvard, and MIT in the neighborhood, there’s a perpetual flow of new research and young genius entering the ecosystem. Students have been savvy to this opportunity and many institutions are having trouble meeting the demand. Recently, schools based in less fortunate locales have been taking note. One of the first to jump into the ring was UPenn, which opened the San Francisco-based Wharton campus back in 2011 for their MBA program, and just this past year, a new player arrived on the scene from Ithaca. Introducing Cornell NYC Tech: a new Cornell campus offering five degrees (a PhD program and 4 Master’s degree programs, including a one-year MBA with a product management twist) targeting aspiring software engineers, product managers, and entrepreneurs.
(Roosevelt Island, Cornell Tech’s future home)
The program is still in its infancy. The first batch of students are taking brand new courses, and according to the website at the time of this writing, professors are still being recruited. The new campus is a work-in-progress, as well. Students are temporarily going to class in a section of the Google building in Chelsea (additional perk: free snacks?). It’s too early to tell how well the program will be received, and this big bet on Tech is certainly not without its risks. Not only will they be competing against NYU and Columbia for the ever-lucrative Master’s degree candidate pool, they will also have to win the dollars of the internet generation over a range of cheaper, online alternatives. MOOCs (“massive open online courses” like Coursera, CodeAcademy) have become a comprehensive and viable education platform for aspiring computer scientists, and an increasing number of incubators and accelerators in the city take their share of the would-be entrepreneur market as well.
So what do they have going for them? Well, an Ivy League name certainly doesn’t hurt for the prestige-conscious. No doubt the academics will be top notch as courses will be taught by Ivy-caliber, tenure-track professors. But they also have the support of industry insiders, and in this sector, that matters a great deal. While classes haven’t started yet for some of the programs, I was given the opportunity to audit a 10-week course, CS 5091: Entrepreneurial Life, a first-year seminar hosted by Greg Pass. Greg is the former CTO of Twitter and new Chief Entrepreneurial Officer at Cornell NYC Tech (he reports to the Dean), which is a huge win for the school. One glance through the scheduled list of speakers for our small seminar makes it clear that this program is very well-connected and laser-focused on entrepreneurship. For students that want nothing more to get an in on hottest startups and meet major players in VC, this is priceless. After the first seminar session (basically a two-hour Q&A with Sam Slaughter of Contently) I had a long conversation with Greg about what they have in store for the program. While I’ll keep that conversation for another post, I’m very, very excited. With entrepreneurs involved with content and programs, this may be the key differentiator for the would-be startup guy.