November 5, 2013

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Industry Outlook: Technology Entrepreneurs

November 5, 2013

SLOVIK: A lot of students want to work for a small business. They want to learn.

PETERSON: And they don’t know where to look, too. It’s not only a challenge for us finding them, they have a challenge of finding something that fits for them. Because usually if you go with a G.E. or large company, you’re going to move all over the place. If you stay with a small business in Utah, you’re going to be able to stay here.

BHASKAR: There’s a website called iApplicants where they take all the alumni who want to return to the state and they post it, whether from BYU, Utah State, the U. I’m sure there are other schools, too. They have become the center for getting all the alumni from all these schools who want to come back to the state.

LUMAN: I was just going to add, having been a Fortune 500 HR exec and dealt with colleges, they’re not organized on any level—whether it’s a big company or a small company.

My head of engineering has relationships at the U. You just have to take the time to build the relationships with a couple of professors, and that’s how you get that student. It may be the B students, but they go, “This woman’s brilliant. You need to hire her.” That’s how we found the handful of college grads that we’ve hired.

Now we took the opposite approach. I don’t have the capital or time to train. My customers are Fortune 500s, so I need somebody that can be on their feet in front of somebody that day—effective and with the presence to deal with a senior vice president.

We start out paying our call center reps $18, $19 an hour, because I want the best people. You guys are paying $12, and I’m taking your people. My engineers are $120, $140,000. Our senior team all came out of Fortune 500 companies. So we jumped past having to train people and take the time to teach them how to do this stuff. They execute it much more quickly. And I’ve attracted a different caliber talent. We chose not to hire a bunch of low-cost people and see how many we can throw at it and see if it sticks to the wall.

SKONNARD: When it comes to the talent crunch around software developers and IT pros, there might be a more fundamental problem with our education system. We rank extremely low on math and science—as a state—and are not doing much to teach technology in elementary school, middle school and high school.

We’re in the business of education around technology, and there’s just tons of interest around the country for doing that. We just did a set of workshops in May at six schools—two elementary schools, middle schools and high schools in Utah—and did a free day of programming workshops for the kids. We had full rooms, packed houses.

Yet the schools don’t really seem very interested in pursuing that as part of the official core, the curriculum. It just boggles my mind. Because as a state we have an opportunity right now to really lead around technology. If we took a leadership role and led by introducing computer programming and just more technology into our educational system, we would be noticed. That would put us on the map. And it would make some really great things happen to solve a lot of these problems over time.

RICHARDS: There’s a crisis in higher education. BYU and the University of Utah don’t spit out the right type of software engineers for startup firms. Or the startup firm needs a very talented software engineer to be a co-founder. And we don’t have enough of them in this state. That’s the biggest problem I face. Every day I get about three requests to find that kind of person and I have no answers anymore because it’s very, very difficult.

Even though we’re at a low salary range compared to the rest of the country, that’s scary because right now, it’s $120, $140,000 a year for the best guy. And a startup can’t afford that. I know scores of companies right now looking for that person. I can’t kind find them.

GREEN: It seems like our company has been almost reduced to a product manufacturing company, when the real solution is infection reduction. That’s what we’re trying to do. But the venture capitalists look at this Utah company and say, “We want you to manufacture products for cheap and sell it and distribute it.” When, really, the solution is a guaranteed infection reduction program in the hospital. It’s not fundable in Utah, but if you put it in Palo Alto, the big funds would probably be walking over each other to get to you.

So there’s this big idea/small idea thing going on where we need to elevate the thinking overall and recognize that Utah’s got a lot of talent. We need to think a little bigger here.

BHASKAR: The state, on its part, just put out $10 million to put structure for STEM. That’s coming along very well. We hope that that grows into a more structured way of getting more high school kids into engineering. And then engineering initiatives and other programs maybe expands the number of engineers being produced.

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