New program taps tech executives to serve one-year stint as innovation mentors in underserved cities

Venture for America's new Executive in Residence program sends leaders from Slack, LinkedIn, and other tech companies to work with entrepreneurs around the country for a year.

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A new program sends seasoned executives from Slack, LinkedIn, PayPal and other tech companies to live and work in an underserved city and act as mentors to the entrepreneurship and innovation communities there.

Venture for America's Executive in Residence program is meant to engage tech companies, especially those based in Silicon Valley, with talent across the country who may not have access to the same resources, said Venture for America's west coast president Leslie Miley, who previously worked in engineering leadership roles at Slack, Twitter, Apple, and Google.

An engineering leader or product development manager might be placed in an innovation hub or venture capitalist firm in Columbus, Providence, or Baltimore, to work for a year across a portfolio of companies. This leader can bring their experience to these underserved cities, and learn about the unique challenges faced by tech companies outside of Silicon Valley.

The program, launched earlier this year, "came out of the realization that a lot of the issues plaguing various parts of the US outside of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, and Boston, are really lack of economic opportunity," Miley said. Entrepreneurship drives innovation and job growth, but right now, 17% of new job growth is coming from Silicon Valley.

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"The belief is that if we can increase the economic opportunities in some of the cities I mentioned by placing people there who are used to starting companies and taking risks, we can start to build engines for job creation that may not be there, or accelerate those that may not be moving at the pace we'd like," Miley said.

Slack, LinkedIn, and PayPal are all on board, among others. Venture for America hopes to have multiple people from each company placed, but the minimum is one, Miley said. These leaders will essentially take a sabbatical from their current job, with their company sponsoring their work in the new community.

Leaders may be placed in one of 18 cities nationwide that Venture for America has worked in for years. "In a perfect world, the ultimate success for this program is that it creates a network effect," Miley said. "So Google can say, 'We can open a product engineering office in Baltimore or New Orleans.'"

Tech and other companies typically don't engage in those communities because they don't understand the value proposition, Miley said. "A lot of what I've heard from these companies is they don't know what the talent looks like in those areas," Miley said. "Putting people on the ground there starts to open their eyes."

The tech leaders will go through a training process, and will land in the cities in September, Miley said.

"There's not just a pool of talent in areas of the country you may not have considered, but there's also an ability to have a fundamental impact for good in communities," Miley said. "Having a Facebook or Google or Apple open up an engineering office in these communities is really transformational on both sides."

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Image: iStockphoto/g-stockstudio

In the community, it creates an economic base, and gives communities that are majority-minority opportunities to see people who look like them in jobs they don't traditionally see themselves in, Miley said.

For the company, there is a cost benefit. For example, PayPal was considering opening a product engineering office in North Carolina, which would have cost between $42-$50 million in payroll for a staff of 650 people. In Silicon Valley, that same staff would cost $225 million, Miley said.

"There is a massive cost savings that companies would be remiss not to take," he said. It would also drive people from other areas in the country to that area for jobs, he added.

The Executive in Residence program follows a number of tech companies that are looking to cities away from the coasts, according to a recent report from CompTIA: The fastest-growing states for tech employment in 2016 were UT, NC, MI, WA, and MT.

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