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Carnegie Mellon creates fund to invest in its recent graduates (cmu.edu)
133 points by dpieri on May 15, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 42 comments

One thing that's always upset me about CMU is how non-entrepreneurial they are. Google has a large presence there, and most major tech companies fly out for the job fairs, but startups are few and far between (Meebo and Palantir were the closest I saw 3 years ago).

I think a lot of it is a byproduct of their location: Pittsburgh is many years behind the valley on investor terms and incubator programs. As a result there are few startups there. Valley startups can't really afford to head out to Pittsburgh to recruit or promote entrepreneurship, especially when Stanford & Berkeley are a car ride away (ditto with Boston/MIT).

There are many great people working on this problem inside CMU, but it's an uphill battle. I'm curious what the terms of this investment will be. The worst thing CMU can do is try to force entrepreneurs to stay in Pittsburgh. Fix the attitude, then the location will fix itself.

I can assure you that this fund will be an awesome opportunity for recent grads.

Over the past three years, I've served on the University's Board of Trustees as its first ever Young Alumni Trustee. I spoke to Jonathan Kaplan and Rick McCullough (vp of research for cmu). I will personally be very involved in making sure it's maximizing it's potential. Everybody has a clear vision on this initiative.

I was born in nyc and grew up in sf and never left Pittsburgh since attending CMU as a freshman in 1998. I started running my company, College Prowler, full-time, the day after graduating with my bachelors in 2002.

Pittsburgh is HOT right now. And, I can assure you that Carnegie Mellon has more momentum than ever before.

Feel free to reach out to me with ideas, thoughts, questions - Luke @ collegeprowler.com.

Appreciate the response Luke (and you creating an HN account just to reply). Having seen investment terms for early-stage startups in CA, Boston, and Pittsburgh, I can say anecdotally that the valley is far ahead in terms of simplicity and founder-friendliness.

I'm confident that Pittsburgh can become a good place for startups, but first you need to change the student mentality. Once students are more willing and likely to go work at/start startups, Pittsburgh will implicitly become a better place to found one. Until then CMU is a great source of talent, but it will be an uphill battle to convince recent grads to work for a startup and stay in Pittsburgh, especially when the valley beasts are making very enticing 6-figure offers.

I think the change in mentality will take a series of successful Pittsburgh companies. There's no lack of resources for a student (or anyone) who wants to start a company in Pittsburgh. If you've got a skilled team and an intriguing market and problem you're addressing, you can absolutely get the resources you need here.

Local companies like The Resumator, ShoeFitr, ShowClix and others are making national headlines. As these companies bring in or continue to bring in revenue and investment dollars to town, and become a cool or interesting place to work, it'll be easier for students to stick around and put down roots. Some of them might even think about starting their own project after awhile.

The crazy thing is that Pittsburgh should be an awesome place to start something. Cost of living there is next to nil, with burn rates hanging around half what they would be in the valley. There is good access to talent, as well.

Eventually, I could see it as a sort of robotics hub, as there is existing manufacturing infrastructure and affordable land for the production of physical goods.

I moved to Pittsburgh from DC and can confirm it is indeed a great place to start something for all the reasons you mentioned. There is a pretty active startup scene in Pittsburgh, as others have mentioned, the main negative is getting VC funding. There are lots of incubators, accelerators and seed funds here, but if you are looking for raise many millions you'll probably have to go to the valley. I was not looking for this so it's been great for me!

Well you are right that CMU as an organization hasnt done a good enough job in helping to spur on entrepreneurship in their students. There was a Entrepreneurship for Computer Science course during my time there that certainly helped introduce me to entrepreneurship in the context of tech startups, but things have changed so much since that time. Much is being done to improve the spread of entrepreneurship through various programs, so I am excited for the future of CMU startups.

That said, lots of startups have been coming out of CMU recently. Just off the top of my head with people I know, there is Homerun, Everlane, CardMunch (acquired by LinkedIn), LeanBop (currently in DreamIt/Startl), ShoeFitr, NumberFire, Artsicle, and others.

I'm helping organize a Startup Weekend in September there. Hopefully this will help a bit, but we also need to get startups to get visibility on campus through talks and job fairs.

I remember the entrepreneurship course, though I never took it when I was there. I know Barbara has been working hard to spread the mentality, as has Olympus (though I find Olympus to be a less than ideal method).

Also, you left GazeHawk off your list ;-)

Let me know if there's any way I can help with the Startup weekend...I've been pushing for something similar for a while to YC, 500startups, and CMU.

Whoops, my bad. I didn't know!

Definitely could use help/speakers/sponsors. Will ping you about it.

As a student, I agree that recruiting is a huge problem. Most CMU students have jobs by October their Senior year, and startups can not afford to make offers that early, or even pay for a booth at the job fairs.

It doesn't seem like this fund forces people to stay in Pittsburgh. I do think it is important that the school continue to encourage people to stay though; SF and Boston shouldn't have a monopoly on entrepreneurship.

Any advice or thoughts about what we (Pittsburgh startups) can do to get students excited about our respective companies and convince them to take a role with us over another job?

Just come and talk to us. The first step is just letting us know you exist, and then why we should be excited about you.

It will be a lot easier for you to convince Sophomores and Juniors to come on as interns than getting a graduating Senior at first. On the student's part it is much less of a risk, and besides, staying around for a summer in Pittsburgh isn't too bad. Once you get some people to intern for you then you can get some name recognition on campus and start recruiting more seriously.

Well that's what I think anyways.

I graduated from CMU yesterday:

I'd say skip the job fairs: In four years, I never considered attending one because they are mostly perceived as boring among your likely target demographic.

Some companies come and give talks about their infrastructure or technology -- these were always what got me excited and interested. I also really enjoyed a few of the competitions and challenges (like Facebook's and Yahoo's).

Just being on campus and doing events which give students a taste of the excitement of creating something would probably generate much more interest than you're seeing now.

I already knew I wanted to work at a startup a year ago, so I had to actively ignore the constant recruiting from the big names while putting effort into chasing down leads with startups. Had I not already known what I wanted (from past internships), it would have been much easier to just sit back and take the pitches which came my way.

Bottom line: come woo us with talks about the cool stuff you do. Send your engineers along too to talk shop with us. Run hack sessions and showcase the winning apps. Show us how much more fun we'd have doing things your way, as opposed to Microsoft's, and you'll have the students you want lining up to apply.

Well there is no place like the valley but there are some great things going on in the Pittsburgh and especially the CMU environment. Can't compare the pure volume to the valley but the numbers are growing and that along with the resources and makeup of CMU/Pittsburgh is a very important thing. I expect to see continued growth for a while and the new fund is a great thing (if implemented correctly, of course). This just may be the thing that ties all the great entrepreneurial resources together and helps create jobs and increase the poor CMU endowment!

Rich people would never want to live in Pittsburgh for many reasons, including that the culture of the place is in some ways morally opposed to the concept of rich people, the infrastructure is poor, the weather is always terrible, there is never any sun, and the food is terrible (often self-righteously so).

In other words, the cost of living is low because rent is low because there's no demand because no one wants to live here.

On top of all that, SV already exists, so if you were going to start a startup, there would be no reason not to start it there. And, once you exited there, you would have no reason to leave, and especially not in favor of Pittsburgh, of all places.

Thus, good investors, also known as angels, will never cluster here.

More on-topic, it seems like the CMU fund is going to have a committee of bureaucrats decide who to fund. Why would that ever be a good idea? I graduated from CMU and work there now, and if I started a startup and were offered money by said fund, I would reject it. They'd want me to go to an 'OFEF business workshop.'

I think you are being unreasonably hard on Pittsburgh. Recently it has become a great place to live. Areas like Shadyside are thriving with young people and great new restaurants and bars are opening every month.

Pittsburgh knows how it has and continues to benefit from the legacy of the enormously rich people it has produced over the years. I have never personally felt that the city is morally opposed to the concept of rich people.

I moved to Berkeley from Pittsburgh within the last year, and basically picked Berkeley over SF for the food, but...

the food in Pittsburgh really isn't that bad. I feel like you are judging all of Pittsburgh's food based on the popularity of certain grease laden places. But, Pittsburgh's food is really actually above average for a city of its size. It's above average in basically all aspects, except the weather. It's still not San Francisco, but, seriously, have you been to Cleveland or Buffalo? Exactly.

The Indian food in particular is about as good as any, especially at India Garden when it is half-off from 4PM-6PM (or 4:30PM - 6:30PM?) and so absurdly cheap that it is worth dealing with the surly servers. Taste of India is even better and doesn't have the mean servers.

Udipi Cafe in Monroeville is as good as any South Indian restaurant. http://www.yelp.com/biz/udipi-cafe-monroeville-2

Point Brugge in Point Breeze is great, and way cheaper than what you would pay for the same quality food in SF. Same with Legume. The Sharp Edge Beer Emporium has a beer list as good as any bar in the USA. Spice Island Tea House in Oakland is wonderful. Rose Tea Cafe in Squirrel Hill has really good authentic Taiwanese food (make sure to order the right things, Taiwanese Chunk Chicken and Beef with Hot Peppers is probably where to start).

Pittsburgh also has this absurdly good and cheap red sauce Italian place in Verona. Reservations are basically required as they are always full. http://veronavillageinn.myupsite.com/ I mean... Eggplant Parmigiana as good as any for $9.49 and it comes with soup and salad! It is absolutely my favourite restaurant in Pittsburgh but totally unknown to the college/young professional market.

I don't live in Pittsburgh, but completely disagree with your sentiments. I went to CMU '02, then lived in Shadyside for a few years, miss the place dearly and own a few properties there (they have appreciated significantly over the past 5 years... Pittsburgh has been an amazing real estate market during that time). Part of the reason it has appreciated is that it's doing exceptionally well during this downturn. Unemployment is 7.4%, almost 2 points lower than the nations average. San Francisco's is 10%.

Smart young successful people actually do live there, more so than it's comparison cities... It also has some of the most educated folks in that bunch- http://www.pitt.edu/~cbriem/SelectedTables2.htm You'll see it's in very good company among the top educated cities. Personally, a lot of my friends stayed in Pittsburgh and/or moved back after a few years. I personally was itching to leave many years ago, have lived in many places along the way and now miss the place dearly/will at some point move back.

There are a number of startups in Pittsburgh now, but not as many as there were during the .com bubble... there are many more than any other cities of its size, primarily because there is great talent coming out of CMU and Pitt. Your argument suggests that there is no reason for anyone to not locate to SV (which is totally fine, but I think many would disagree)

Here are some of the recent startups: http://www.quora.com/What-are-the-hot-software-or-recent-sta...

and some others: http://www.quora.com/What-are-some-good-startups-out-of-Pitt...

Re: food, you must be joking... Murray Ave right by CMU has more fantastic ethnic restaurants than anywhere I can think of (http://www.urbanspoon.com/n/23/2226/Pittsburgh/Squirrel-Hill...), and Nine on Nine, Eleven, Paris 66, Salt of the Earth, and Bona Terra would be worthy of Michelin stars in another city, yet they are reasonably priced in Pittsburgh.

Re: weather you're spot-on... there are less sunny days in Pittsburgh than nearly anywhere... but it seems to work out OK for Seattle.

If this fund is indeed run by a bunch of bureaucrats it might end up being crap, as you suggest. Project Olympus at CMU has done some good stuff though, so I have hope. http://www.olympus.cs.cmu.edu/probes/

Yes, it has people with degrees, but no, it does not have many rich people. It has a few, and if they buy not-too-expensive houses and seem Pittsburghite-friendly, they are venerated. It did well in the recession because its economy is based on education and healthcare; this does not make it particularly good for startups.

Yes, it compares well to other cities of its size startup-wise, but we're comparing it to SV, which is not of its size, so nevermind.

Yes, there do exist nice restaurants, but we're comparing it to the Bay Area, and the mean, median, and top 10% quality of Bay Area restaurants is ridiculously high, so nevermind.

Pittsburgh's weather is worse than Seattle's. Yes, it is #2 to Seattle's #1 on the country's least-sunny list, but in Seattle, it just rains a lot, and whether or not it's raining, the air is palatable. In Pittsburgh, it's either freezing your nose off or making your eyes water with humidity.

The thing about being morally opposed to rich people is an instance of an observation I've heard from multiple people other than myself: Pittsburgh's message seems to be, stay here and be one of us, and don't think you can be any better than us, because we don't think that's possible, and in fact find the idea offensive.

Which is not exactly a startup-ish sentiment.

Comparing a town with ~300,000 people to a metropolitan area to a major city like SF/Bay Area isn't exactly a fair fight. Obviously SV is going to be better at almost everything. Compared to almost any city its size, Pittsburgh is awesome as far as cost of living, culture, education, and food go.

And your sentiments about the culture here are a bit off. It's definitely much more blue-collar than SV, which may be why you get that impression. But it's a far cry from being anti-ambitious.

The whole point is that you can't compare a town with 300k people with a blue-collar culture to the Bay Area. It's not even close to as good for startups. Why is this controversial?

I agree with this. The landscape when I was a student was very 'get a job' friendly and very much not 'employ yourself'.

Its not just a CMU problem. That is the attitude of the entire state of Pennsylvania and probably all of the north east.

CMU has a decent number of researchy spinoffs, like http://www.pittpatt.com/. I'm not sure if those are the same kind of thing as "startups", though the line is fairly fuzzy (Google was also a grad-school-research spinoff, for example).

> CMU spin-offs represent 34 percent of the total companies created in Pennsylvania based on university technologies in the past five years.

CMU has helped Pittsburgh rebrand itself from a coal-mining, steel-working town to a technological hub. I'm glad to hear that they want to continue the trend.

As I am in this year's graduating class, I was immensely excited to hear this news. Carnegie Mellon's greater fostering of entrepreneurship through initiatives such as this and the relatively new Engineering and Technology Innovation Management program (masters program with classes in Tepper, one of the top graduate business programs, and a required internship at a startup) will prove very fruitful. If we could just also get Google Fiber to come to Pittsburgh, it would be possible to start to see another great entrepreneurship hub form.

What does Google Fiber have to do with it?

Just curious, as the internet access was plenty fast at CMU 15 years ago when I was there, so I can't imagine it is worse now. And of course these days you host virtually (hah) everything in EC2 or the like, so local bandwidth should never be a limiting factor.

Perhaps I'm just sensitive on this topic since I've been using an (at best of times) 100k connection in Rwanda starting a software company here.

It's average now, slightly better than a base Comcast connection, but that's about it. (I can compare directly since I lived on campus two years and off the last two). I suppose it would depend on what you were doing that would make it matter whether Google Fiber was important or not, but certainly for running large scale things, especially simulations from cloud based sources, Google Fiber would be massively appealing. I'd argue that the effect of ultra high speed internet on a large population base isn't predictable and could only be a positive for the region in terms of drawing developers et al. Also, thank you for laughing at your pun instead of crassly saying "pun not intended."

This reminds me, I have had an idea for advancing science through investing in graduate students and I would love to get some feedback on it.

How about creating a foundation that gives grants to students to support them while they get a Masters or PhD in two branches of science?

My assumption is that encouraging people to get high degrees in two or three branches of science will help bridge the 'specialization gap' that now exists between the branches. People on this program will be able to apply one area of science to another, which may create amazing applications.

How many people are there who have a PhD in biology _and_ a PhD in computer science? What about PhD's in mathematics and robotics?

I would apply immediately to anything resembling this.

How many people are there who have a PhD in biology _and_ a PhD in computer science?

2 of the 3 colleges I attended have exactly this program:



There are interdisciplinary PhD programs that are now gaining popularity. For example, I work on protein structure prediction in my graduate program, which involves lots of programming, robotics algorithms, machine learning, HPC, etc. as well as biochemistry, statistical thermodynamics, and molecular biology. If I were to drop out right now, I could find employment as anything from a software developer to DNA sequencing technician.

These are a pretty good start. What I had in mind is an organization that gives long-term grants for many areas of study. Of course, any returns on this kind of investment would be ten to fifteen years away, which would make it hard to find anyone to support it. And worse, we do not know if a we can have a good return on this kind of investment.

I was going to talk about this, but I think part of higher education's problem is the lack of mobility between studies. I think it's hard to switch to a different area of study unless you studied at least 4-5 courses of it as an undergrad, or familiarity from research.

There are several comments here concerned that CMU might want to keep their startups rooted in Pittsburgh. However, they have a Silicon Valley campus http://www.cmu.edu/silicon-valley/ which seems to demonstrate that they have some interest in supporting those who want to be in the valley.

Glad to hear this - I hope other schools follow along in their footsteps. This is a good way to both invest in graduates, and improve the money problems many schools are facing (though, this is more of a long term result.)

Georgia Tech (my college) recently announced a similar thing. Basically a Y-Combinator for students and alumni. More details at flashpoint.gatech.edu (Website doesn't launch till tuesday, so you'll have to be patient)

Might actually be more efficient than begging for alumni donations. I would have let CMU put some dollars into my latest thing.

I heard President Cohon talk about it in today's commencement ceremony. That's great news!...to me :) (I'm a CMU alumni, CS School)

I'm wondering whether this fund excludes those in need of H1bs.

So this is yet another scheme where bankers grab ownership of fledgling companies at a massive discount because the visionary founders don't yet realize their company is worth far more than is being offered. Meanwhile press releases go out making it seem like it is some sort of non-profit charity that is doing good and the investors philanthropists.

Hey, if you think these companies are being bought up at massive discounts, why don't you go to Pittsburgh and put your money where your mouth is? Invest 'em in yourself, at twice the going rate, and I'm sure the founders will be happy to take your money.

I'm absolutely confused why you have such hostility. Did you forget the premise of the organization that hosts this news board? Also, did you read the link? The funding is coming from Jon Kaplan, CEO of Pure Digital Technologies and creator of the Flip camera, not "bankers."

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