Boston Startup School’s Shaun Johnson: Seize the Opportunity

9/11/12Follow @gthuang

With the new school year under way, I thought it’d be a good time to get to know one of the area’s newer educational organizations: Boston Startup School.

As its name suggests, Boston Startup School offers classes to people from all walks of life who are interested in working at a startup. More to the point, the program focuses on helping recent grads and young professionals develop skills for the tech startup world that really aren’t taught anywhere else (except in startups themselves). The curriculum has four pillars: software development, product design, marketing, and sales and business development.

The program’s inaugural class of 60-plus graduated from a six-week program last month, housed at the Harvard Innovation Lab. Applications are open now for slots in the next session, which begins in early November at class locations to be announced. (The early application deadline is September 15.)

I recently chatted with co-founder Shaun Johnson, a former TechStars associate and current entrepreneur-in-residence at Georgetown University (his alma mater). Prior to coming to Boston at the beginning of this year, Johnson was a senior consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton in the DC area. His partners in crime at Boston Startup School include fellow co-founders Aaron O’Hearn, Katie Rae, and Reed Sturtevant; all have TechStars in their blood. (If you want to get to know the principals up close, you can join Boston Startup School’s staff, instructors, and alumni for a sunset boat cruise on Boston Harbor on September 27.)

“We’re focused on building a great class,” Johnson says. “The pressing need is for folks to recognize opportunity and be able to seize it. If you study electrical engineering at MIT, you might decide your best opportunity is in Silicon Valley. But to make that decision quickly is errant.”

Boston Startup School is profitable through its partnerships with local companies (which pay for the classes), including Brightcove, TripAdvisor, uTest, Microsoft, Fiksu, Kinvey, Dyn, Swipely, Kyruus, Silicon Valley Bank, and Fairhaven Capital. The program is fast becoming a way to connect tech companies with available talent around town.

Johnson acknowledges that, saying, “The main focus is building something great so companies can go build something great.”

Here are some more thoughts from Johnson:

—On what jumps out at him about Boston: “Youth and intelligence. It’s the birthplace of education in America, with the oldest and best schools.” On the tech side, he sees a lot of “enterprise technology, but also offshoots and evolutions.”

—On what surprised him about the program’s first class: “Over a third were young professionals…folks that are trying to change their career.” He adds, “People want to get closer to where innovation happens.”

—On the trends he’s seeing in students and applicants: “The theme is diversity,” he says. In terms of geography (students from Boston but also Ohio, Florida, California, Germany, and other places), skill sets (investment bankers, rocket scientists, developers), and demographics (more women and minorities than industry averages).

—On the biggest change from inception to now: “We underestimated how much Boston wants to be part of this. We started with a small number of partners. Now we’re changing that dynamic, with more accessibility between the companies and the talent. It’s more than hiring, we have people teaching and leading…There’s been a lot of interest.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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  • Mikey Dee

    What about something for us old guys, like over 40?