Students are Vermont’s Innovation Superpower

From Dave

Curious, intelligent, fearless, and eager to learn, college students embody the most important qualities of successful entrepreneurs. They are the best part of my job, giving both hope for the future and inspiration for the work at hand.

Naila, Logan, Taylor, Nikki, Mohamed, Ania, Malick, Blaise, Michelle, Farid, Lucy, Tucker, Walter, Isabella, and Jake are among the hundreds whom we have taught, mentored, or heard pitch their startup. They are a forever part of the VCET orbit. They are venture capitalists, technology and social enterprise founders, heart surgeons, teachers, executives, housing entrepreneurs, innovation leaders, artisans, and more.

Vermont’s demographic challenges can, in part, be addressed by retaining students who are currently on campuses, in apprenticeships, and working paid summer internships. On the whole, this generation of students is more prepared, diverse, intelligent, empathetic, and motivated than ever before. But they also need business advice, career opportunities, and mentorship as they confront an uncertain world. This is our chance! To meet them right where they are and help them see a career path here in Vermont for today or someday down the line.

Student careers and journeys after graduation are varied, highly mobile, and amazing to see in action. We can invest in students by:

  • accepting (or initiating) casual coffee meetings
  • attending student club panels and events
  • proactively offering tours of our workplaces
  • jumping on Zoom to answer questions and offer advice
  • creating paid, summer internships on Handshake
  • accepting LinkedIn invitations and genuinely engaging
  • making an angel investment in their startup

And here’s an idea: What about creating a statewide Open Employer Day, much like Open Studio weekend or the Maple Open House, but for high schoolers and college students to visit employers? As the parent of two college students, I’m amazed by how much they learn in the classroom, and also what they don’t yet know. As employers, we can help students bridge the gap between academia and the working world and open their eyes to new kinds of inspiration and networks.

The connections and trust built today will pay back 10x over time. That’s how Vermont wins. It is a gratifying truth that most former students pay it back when asked to help support today’s student entrepreneurs. Why? They seem to do it simply for Vermont and because, as alumni, they recall that someone, who did not need to, gave them help along their journey. Vermont’s ability as a community to build and embrace this next generation of entrepreneurs and workforce is our superpower. Time to flex it.