Startup Institute Comes To London & Berlin — Pay To Learn How To Become Startup Employee Material

Ok, this is a new concept to me. Already running in Boston, New York and Chicago, Startup Institute — which calls itself a “career accelerator” — is expanding to London and Berlin, to help plug skills gaps in the two cities’ fast-growing startup scenes. Targeting recent graduates, young professionals and “career changers”, it aims to teach the skills needed to become startup employee material — via an “industry-built” curriculum that will be responsive to the exact needs of the hiring partners that work directly with Startup Institute.

Noteworthy is that students taking the 8 week course pay a not-insignificant tuition fee for the privilege, even if they get a kickback should they go on to be recruited by one of the partnering startups. Part startup employee finishing school, part recruitment funnel, might be another way of describing the program. With many tech companies, large and small, desperate to hire talent it seems somewhat counterintuitive to ask prospective employees to pay to become employment-ready. But, hey, what do I know…

The central premise behind Startup Institute is that, in its own words, “traditional workplace skills don’t always transition well into startup culture, but that doesn’t mean that talented people should dismiss job opportunities at startups”. Its solution is an 8 week full-time bootcamp to help an individual develop the soft skills needed to make this cultural shift and become valuable startup employees, along with more specialist hard skills. Regarding the latter, applicants choose from one of four tracks: Product and design, technical marketing, sales and account management, and web development.

Students also spend time working directly with the hiring partner startups, including receiving instruction, while the program’s network is also being talked up as a key draw (when landing a job, it’s often who you know as much as what you know, after all). To that end, in the U.S., Startup Institute claims a 90 percent success rate for graduates entering startup jobs, with its alumni going on to work at startups such as HubSpot, edX, Boundless, HowAboutWe,, Upworthy, RentHop and more.

The program is being endorsed by Tech City UK and Techstars London. Cue statement from Techstars’ Jon Bradford: “Finding the right talent is a major challenge for growing companies. Many don’t have the time or resources to find, train or onboard the perfect person; and hiring the wrong person can be devastating. What Startup Institute does by training, accelerating and orientating talent for startups will be an incredible win for London, and all of the growing companies here.”

In an email Q&A, Aaron O’Hearn, CEO and co-founder of Startup Institute (and former head of special projects at TechStars Boston), addressed some of the slight cynicism I have towards such programs, and explained in detail the mission behind Startup Institute.

Isn’t this just a recruitment funnel for the hiring partners, but dressed up as a course?

“Great question. Startup Institute’s goal is to make the ecosystem better by preparing individuals for a rewarding career within a high-growth company, as well as providing a pipeline of talent to the startup community. We cannot do one without the other. Practitioner-led education as an approach to talent development and career discovery takes both sides of this equation to be equally engaged.

“It’s important that we have active, working relationships with hiring partners because it helps ensure students develop skills which are relevant and in-demand in the current, local startup economy. The coal-face input from hiring partners and the community is crucial to the success of our students.

While more than 150 companies have hired a Startup Institute graduate, we are very much a career accelerator that delivers the skills, mindset and network to participants. It would be inaccurate to label the programme a recruitment funnel, given that students are not obliged to work with hiring partners following graduation and jobs are not guaranteed for them.”

Who are the hiring partners for London and Berlin?

“Generally we partner with companies as we start building inside a market. Hiring partners are startups that want and expect a pipeline of growth-minded employees, and see a value in making the ecosystem stronger by teaching and mentoring people. Given our partners play such an integral role in the program and use it not online as a recruiting opportunity, but also as a way to grow and develop their own talent, we’ll cap each program at 20 partners. In Berlin, Delivery Hero has agreed to come on as our first partner.

We’re still in the process of securing hiring partners for London. We’ll be in a position to announce closer to the course start date.”

What does the course actually teach?

“More than someone can learn within the 8 weeks. our goal is to orient people for the life they’ll lead within a high-growth company – that means preparing them for learning on their own, becoming more self-directed, and leading and managing through uncertainty and risk.

Tactically, the program is intentionally designed to mimic life within an actual high-growth company. The program teaches a combination of hard and soft skills which, when combined, we believe make the difference between a good and a great employee.

While the curriculum changes and adapts over each program based on needs of the local community and hiring trends, we’re delivering hard skills in product & design, sales & account management, web development, and technical marketing. We’re also focused on emotional intelligence, self-awareness, effective communication and feedback (ie: leadership).

It’s important to emphasise that we’re not trying to teach people from zero in a completely new field; we want to provide a base level of skills where necessary, and build on that to orient people with a leadership and growth mindset. Our best students are truth seekers and continuous learners – they’ve given themselves some baseline understanding of a topic, and they are coming to us for more structure, a community, and to plug them in to a network where they can grow a career in a field they are passionate about.”

Who pays and how much?

“In London, there is a discounted fee of £2,600 for the course if students pay up front. If students opt for a payment plan over 18 months, the fee is £3,250.

In Berlin, there is a discounted fee of €3,150 for the course if students pay up front. If students opt for a payment plan over 18 months, the fee is €3,950.

We also ask hiring partners to pay a small hiring fee when they recruit someone, however, some of this fee goes back to the student.”