Pittsburgh skyline (Wikipedia photo)

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.

Comments

  • http://twitter.com/ArcComputer david prokop

    3 great companies started by people under 25, however the there are many, many times more companies started by ‘experienced entrepreneurs’.

    The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur, a newly released study from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, fills in some gaps by providing insights into high-growth founders’ motivations and their socio-economic, educational and familial backgrounds. The findings: Most founders came from middle-class or upper-lower-class backgrounds, are well-educated and married with children. 
    A team of researchers led by Vivek Wadhwa of Duke University, Raj Aggarwal of the University of Akron, Krisztina Holly of the University of Southern California and Alex Salkever of Duke University surveyed 549 company founders of successful businesses in high-growth industries, including aerospace, defense, computing, electronics and health care. 

    The survey found that more than 90 percent of the entrepreneurs came from middle-class or upper-lower-class backgrounds and were well-educated: 95.1 percent of those surveyed had earned bachelor’s degrees, and 47 percent had more advanced degrees. Those from lower-upper-class backgrounds, however, were more likely to have been extremely interested in starting a business than the average entrepreneur surveyed (25 percent vs. 18.5 percent). 

    Seventy-five percent of the respondents ranked their academic performance among the top 30 percent of their high school classes, and 52 percent said they ranked among the top 10 percent. In college, 67 percent of the founders ranked among the top 30 percent of their undergraduate classes, and 37 percent ranked their performance among the top 10 percent. 

    More than half of the company founders surveyed (52 percent) had at least some interest in entrepreneurship while in college. Of those who described themselves as “extremely interested” during college, 47 percent went on to found more than two companies. 

    Founders tended to be middle-aged—40 years old on average—when they started their first companies. Nearly 70 percent were married when they became entrepreneurs, and nearly 60 percent had at least one child, challenging the stereotype of the entrepreneurial workaholic with no time for a family. 

    “The commonly held belief that entrepreneurs are young college students working out of their dorms is simply wrong,” 

    says author Wadhwa, the associate director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University and a senior research associate at Harvard Law School. 

    The new entrepreneurs: Americans over 50
    By Jim Hopkins, USA TODAY
    SAN FRANCISCO — Entrepreneurship, waning in recent years, is getting a big boost from an unlikely source: older Americans starting companies. Call them grandma-and-grandpop businesses. New research shows 5.6 million workers age 50 and older are now self-employed, a 23% jump from 1990. The numbers are expected to rise further as baby boomers seek more job security, Americans get older and cheaper technology drives down start-up costs.

    The trend challenges conventional wisdom that entrepreneurs are mostly young. 
    Aging Americans. The number of Americans age 50 and up will soar by 31 million by 2020, to 118 million, the Census Bureau predicts. Much of that represents the aging of the huge baby boom generation.

  • http://twitter.com/ArcComputer david prokop

    3 great companies started by people under 25, however the there are many, many times more companies started by ‘experienced entrepreneurs’.

    The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur, a newly released study from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, fills in some gaps by providing insights into high-growth founders’ motivations and their socio-economic, educational and familial backgrounds. The findings: Most founders came from middle-class or upper-lower-class backgrounds, are well-educated and married with children. 
    A team of researchers led by Vivek Wadhwa of Duke University, Raj Aggarwal of the University of Akron, Krisztina Holly of the University of Southern California and Alex Salkever of Duke University surveyed 549 company founders of successful businesses in high-growth industries, including aerospace, defense, computing, electronics and health care. 

    The survey found that more than 90 percent of the entrepreneurs came from middle-class or upper-lower-class backgrounds and were well-educated: 95.1 percent of those surveyed had earned bachelor’s degrees, and 47 percent had more advanced degrees. Those from lower-upper-class backgrounds, however, were more likely to have been extremely interested in starting a business than the average entrepreneur surveyed (25 percent vs. 18.5 percent). 

    Seventy-five percent of the respondents ranked their academic performance among the top 30 percent of their high school classes, and 52 percent said they ranked among the top 10 percent. In college, 67 percent of the founders ranked among the top 30 percent of their undergraduate classes, and 37 percent ranked their performance among the top 10 percent. 

    More than half of the company founders surveyed (52 percent) had at least some interest in entrepreneurship while in college. Of those who described themselves as “extremely interested” during college, 47 percent went on to found more than two companies. 

    Founders tended to be middle-aged—40 years old on average—when they started their first companies. Nearly 70 percent were married when they became entrepreneurs, and nearly 60 percent had at least one child, challenging the stereotype of the entrepreneurial workaholic with no time for a family. 

    “The commonly held belief that entrepreneurs are young college students working out of their dorms is simply wrong,” 

    says author Wadhwa, the associate director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University and a senior research associate at Harvard Law School. 

    The new entrepreneurs: Americans over 50
    By Jim Hopkins, USA TODAY
    SAN FRANCISCO — Entrepreneurship, waning in recent years, is getting a big boost from an unlikely source: older Americans starting companies. Call them grandma-and-grandpop businesses. New research shows 5.6 million workers age 50 and older are now self-employed, a 23% jump from 1990. The numbers are expected to rise further as baby boomers seek more job security, Americans get older and cheaper technology drives down start-up costs.

    The trend challenges conventional wisdom that entrepreneurs are mostly young. 
    Aging Americans. The number of Americans age 50 and up will soar by 31 million by 2020, to 118 million, the Census Bureau predicts. Much of that represents the aging of the huge baby boom generation.

  • http://profiles.google.com/clive.boulton clive boulton

    Over 45’s with right experience set could be poised to apply Consumer Internet technologies to innovate the rich enterprise software space. Under 25’s generally are more focused on social app space: Y-Combinator, Techstars etc.

  • http://profiles.google.com/clive.boulton clive boulton

    Over 45’s with right experience set could be poised to apply Consumer Internet technologies to innovate the rich enterprise software space. Under 25’s generally are more focused on social app space: Y-Combinator, Techstars etc.

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