by Cort Johnson, Bentley University ’06
Listen, for those of you who want to be entrepreneurs — whether you’re already in college or still in high school — the time to build your network is now. Boston has a thriving tech ecosystem and every day that you’re not taking advantage of it is a missed opportunity. Start building connections that matter now. It’s never too early to learn to play the game.
When I graduated from Bentley University in 2006, Boston was a much different place. It was much harder to connect with people in the startup ecosystem. My friends and I didn’t know who were the local venture capitalists, angels, and successful entrepreneurs, let alone how to get a meeting with them. Now all you have to do is head out to one of the many events happening each night and say hello.
The great thing about Boston today is that people want to help you succeed. We created hack/reduce to help connect Boston’s Big Data community. Since our launch in 2012, we’ve hosted more than 300 events including hackathons, meetups, office hours, trainings and more, and served as a pipeline for several early stage companies. Our goal is to catalyze the next great companies in Boston by connecting its greatest resource: the people.
Our effort is supported by private companies and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative’s Big Data Initiative. Our main goal is to draw you as an individual into the local tech ecosystem. We ask ourselves: “How can we help you build a network so that you want to stay here in Boston and build your company?” There’s no denying that relationship holds value for your long-term career. Connections are priceless.
For many young people, I find the desire to be an entrepreneur is there, but they don’t know what to do next. That is why students need to get off campus. Come down to Kendall Square, the Seaport, the Leather District, and get involved.
Believe me, there are many opportunities through hack/reduce for high school and college students. Once you start meeting and talking to people, awesome things will happen.
But first you have to show up.
Here is another piece of advice for when you’re starting out: find a passion, not a job. For people who want to start companies, choose jobs that reflect a skill you want to learn and mentors you want to learn that skill from.
As soon as I graduated from college, I started my own company. It didn’t work out. Looking back on it now, I should have gone and worked somewhere to get experience first. I needed to develop skills and understand a particular domain before setting up and doing something on my own. So even though that first attempt was a failure, I learned from it.
Next I found a full-time job and put my off-hours energy into DartBoston, an organization that I co-founded in order to help gather ambitious young entrepreneurs. As I said, we didn’t have an easy time of it back then. We had to work to find each other. People were interested in meeting but nobody knew what to do or where to go, so we created that infrastructure. In the end, DartBoston helped me build my personal brand and led me to the next thing, which then led me to starting a company, Terrible Labs, which was later acquired by Autodesk.
If you want to eventually start a business, my advice is: start becoming part of the tech community now. A big part of that involves building your network. Today there are so many activities going on around town, so many events, so many resources. Young people who don’t take advantage of them are missing out on a great opportunity.
Cort Johnson is an executive director with Hack/Reduce and a Venture Partner at FKA.