Last week, I moderated a panel discussion at the TechNW event in which panelists Andy Sack of TechStars, Glenn Kelman of Redfin and Kathy Savitt of Lockerz suggested that Seattle needs to do more to attract and retain young entrepreneurs. I agreed, citing the story of Box.net as a warning sign for the region and noting that many of the biggest names in technology (Microsoft, Google, Facebook) have been started by people under the age of 25.
But Pittsburgh is taking a counterintuitive approach to sparking its entrepreneurial community. The city just launched a $100,000 contest to build the former Rust Belt city into a destination for “Experienced Dreamers.”
Interestingly, the contest is not open to those under the age of 45.
Given the recent discussion in Seattle about the entrepreneurial community, I followed up with one of the folks driving the new initiative. Having grown up in nearby Ohio, I am pretty familiar with the “brain drain” problem facing many of the cities in the industrial Midwest.
But I always envisioned it as a problem of losing young talent, and my visits back to Ohio always seem to confirm that impression.
Here’s what Shawn Bannon told me when I asked about the desire to attract those over the age of 45 for the contest.
The Pittsburgh region has made great strides in recent years to reverse the ‘brain drain and to attract and retain more young talent. Our more than 30 regional colleges and universities, including two tier-1 research schools (Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh), are huge drivers of those efforts. And, unlike a lot of other regions, Pittsburgh actually has a lot of open jobs.
That said, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation conducted a study a year or so ago that found that if we could attract about 1,250 new residents in the 45-and-over demographic to the region to start the next chapter in their lives, the economic impact (benefit) to the region would likely be in excess of $2.5 billion over the next 20 years.
What’s also cool about this effort is that it is designed as a public-private partnership, with support from the City of Pittsburgh; Allegheny County; The Benedum Foundation; Buhl Foundation; Heinz Endowments, Jewish Healthcare Foundation; Pittsburgh Foundation and Richard King Mellon Foundation.
At the NWEN First Look Forum yesterday in Seattle, one of the attendees asked me a related question: What’s it going to take to have folks in Seattle come together to promote the entrepreneurial community here?
I noted that it would take a coordinated effort among a variety of folks, from the universities to city and state government to the venture capital community to large anchor tenants like Amazon and Microsoft. It may be worth taking a closer look at what Pittsburgh is up to.