Friday’s post about the role of large companies in creating a local start-up has generated some interesting responses, in the comments, in email, and in other blogs. I asked: What established technology companies are here that can attract and retain the pool of talent needed to seed a spin-off culture? This is not a rhetorical question. I really don’t know the answer, though I did have a couple of in mind. An anonymous commenter was kind enough to suggest several others. The collected suggestions are below.
(In no particular order)
- McKesson Automation
- Ariba (nee Freemarkets)
- Ericsson (nee Marconi nee Fore Systems))
- Perot Systems
I admit that I don’t know much about some of these companies, though others (e.g. Westinghouse) are clearly nothing to sneeze at. The same commenter also rightly mentions UPMC as source of spinoffs through their SBI arm. UPMC is not a for-profit corporation, but its role is undeniable. To UPMC, I would add some other university-related entities, giving us:
I’m sure readers will think of other companies and “companies” that seem to fit, feel free to suggest them in the comments.
Meanwhile, it might be worthwhile to try to identify the qualities that an established company needs in order to contribute to a start-up culture. In the previous post I argued that the contribution of these companies is to give jobs to local science and engineering graduates, as well as recruiting scientists and engineers nationally and internationally, to counter the natural outflow of local grads. To achieve this, I think a company needs at least two qualities:
- The company needs to employ scientists and engineers in creative roles where they contribute real innovations.
- The company should be big enough to be hiring in these roles continuously. [Preferably they should be big enough to run their own in-house hiring operation, with a “careers” link on their website that always contains listings for engineers and scientists.]
Quality (1) gets at the notion that not all tech jobs are created equal. E.g. system administration and IT are not the same as software design (sorry, it’s true). Likewise, chemical technicians are not the same as chemical engineers or chemists. Jobs fall on a continuum, and I admit that the creative requirements of a job are difficult to quantify, but you know it when you see it. Correlated with this criterion is the notion that companies should have a culture that attracts creative people — also difficult to quantify, but a Google-like culture is at one end of the spectrum, while a Dilbertesque culture of pointy-haired bosses is at the other.
Quality (2) tries to encode the notion that part of the role of these companies is to change the direction of brain drain/gain in favor of Pittsburgh. To do that, the city needs to be hiring brains constantly. In other words, the goal is to create the “perpetual motion machine” mentioned in the previous post. The local tech economy needs to both attract new talent, and readily re-absorb talent from failed startups.
I don’t know to what extent the companies listed above fit any of these criteria, and I’m certain that some readers will find the criteria themselves debatable. That’s great; it’s a debate we should be having.