| High-tech job prospects are proving attractive to boomerangs such as Toby AuWerter, a Field Clinical Engineer at Juventas Therapeutics.
When JumpStart or one of our partners decide to provide support to entrepreneurs and their startups, we do so with the hope these companies will enhance this regional innovation economy—by attracting capital, generating revenue and, eventually, creating jobs. In Northeast Ohio, we’re starting to see measurable results: In 2011, 121 companies to whom JumpStart provided business assistance and sometimes seed capital created and retained 776 in-region direct jobs. And, at any given time, our high potential tech startup clients have between 60 and 70 open positions. Of course, having companies creating jobs is very good for the region. But filling these often very skilled and specialized jobs at young, growing companies can be a challenge: Companies with cutting-edge technologies require cutting-edge skills for these positions—skills that can be in scarce supply because few available candidates possess them.
On top of that challenge, it’s imperative to find the right person. “There’s a very specific, unique profile that goes into being successful with a startup versus larger corporation or a more stable slow-growth kind of things or other contexts,” says Robert Hatta, JumpStart’s VP of Entrepreneurial Talent. “And, when you’re going from three employees to four employees, if you get that fourth one wrong you could go to zero employees really fast.”
Luckily, there are a lot of the right people in the area already. Take JumpStart portfolio company Knotice. When the direct digital marketer became a tenant of the Akron Global Business Accelerator four years ago, it had eight to ten employees, says Jonathan Grimm, Knotice’s President and CFO. Now, Knotice’s clients include eight of the nation’s top cable companies (including the largest one, Comcast), and with this product acceptance is on the verge of hiring its one-hundredth employee. Much of this talent comes from right here in Northeast Ohio.
“For a tech service company, which we are, the people are the company,” Jonathan said. “And so it’s absolutely critical that you find good people that fit your culture and your atmosphere. We wouldn’t have the customers, the brand, the image and the product that we have today, if it wasn’t for people—whether they’re developers, account supervisors, creative-type folks, or sales and marketing-type folks.”In Cleveland’s urban core, similar growth is happening in Midtown’s emerging Health-Tech Corridor. For instance, the success of companies such as Juventas Therapeutics and its spinoff, SironRX Therapeutics, are making Cleveland an attractive place for the type of startup-minded employees who might have otherwise moved to traditional medical innovation hubs such as Boston.
“The evolving entrepreneurial ecosystem and growing number of successful startups is making people more comfortable with moving here,” said Rahul Aras, President and CEO of Juventas Therapeutics and Co-Founder, President & CEO of SironRX Therapeutics. “I don’t think it’s inappropriate to say there’s limited long-term job stability within a startup environment. Many times, people coming to work in Cleveland are interested specifically because of the number opportunities. They need to know there’s an infrastructure that would support their second, third and fourth job— five, 10 or 15 years from now.”
The diversity of available resources and alternatives is a relatively new development for the local biotech industry. Rahul and his wife moved here eight years ago from the East Coast; he took a job at CCF Innovations (which commercializes new technologies developed at Cleveland Clinic) and she was the first employee for one of their spin-off companies. At the time, he figured they’d be in Cleveland for a few years—and then have to move elsewhere to advance their biotech careers. “The number of opportunities has grown exponentially just since I’ve been here,” Rahul said.
Such opportunities are continuing to lure out-of-towners to Cleveland; SironRX’s first CEO, Evan Facher, is moving here from Pittsburgh. But these improved high-tech job prospects are also proving attractive to boomerangs, aka Cleveland natives who moved away for school or jobs but have returned home.
Take Toby AuWerter. A 2009 graduate of Duke University, Toby was living in New York City and working in the healthcare industry. However, he had an interest in startups and entrepreneurship, particularly in the biotech industry—and so moving to a healthcare startup seemed “like a golden opportunity.” As a result, he moved back to Cleveland in April 2012 to take a job at Juventas Therapeutics as a Field Clinical Engineer.
“What I realized rather quickly is that Cleveland is actually a much better place for that type of activity than New York City,” Toby said. “Ironically, my job opportunities and my career prospects are better here than they were in New York City.”
For a region that’s been dogged for years by “brain drain”—e.g., seeing its natives and local college students take their skills to areas already rich in resources—having an influx of boomerangs has helped increase the employment pool for high-growth companies. Think of it as a snowball effect. “Really, it was the people that ultimately clinched the decision for me to move back to Cleveland,” Toby said. “It was key for me to look around and say, ‘Hey, there are people like me working hard to develop this industry in Cleveland.’ And by that, I mean people with educational backgrounds from top academic institutions, people with lofty ambitions, highly motivated people.”
Keeping hires such as Toby happy once they’re here is just as important. Knotice’s Jonathan Grimm understands how important retention is for the long-term growth and sustainability of an industry; for instance, he says Knotice cultivates an “open and flexible” company culture with a relaxed dress code, flexible hours and good benefits. Plus, although the company now has its own internal HR person, the company has taken workshops facilitated by JumpStart to learn best practices in areas such as interviewing skills, employee attraction and employee retention.
JumpStart and its partners aren’t alone in recognizing the value of keeping talented people in the region. Organizations such as Global Cleveland are focused on attraction and retention as a catalyst for economic development. By helping newcomers and boomerangs find social and economic opportunities, Global Cleveland knows it’s also strengthening an area’s employment infrastructure—and making the region a more appealing place.
The proof, of course, is in the companies who continue to thrive right here in Northeast Ohio. “If you look around, there are an awful lot of good tech companies in Northeast Ohio. Hidden gems, if you will,” Jonathan says. “We’d love to have more Knotices here, because then the impact of the people in that particular industry has more of an impact here—will let more companies grow here.”
John Dearborn is President of JumpStart and brings experience as an entrepreneur, founder and CEO at companies across the US and Europe over the last 25 years to the pursuit of economic transformation in Northeast Ohio.