Interview with Mike Gammarino, Students4Startups

Story by Benjamin F. Kuo


Despite the excitement and lure of startups to those in the tech industry, not everyone wants to join a startup after college--according to Mike Gammarino, who is helping to organize a new effort here to recruit students to startups. According to Mike, startups have an uphill battle recruiting from college campuses, including fighting over the best students with big name technology firm. To solve that issue, Mike, as well as a number of other entrepreneurs here in Southern California, is in the midst of organizing Students4Startups (, a group which hopes to connect graduating students in the area to local startup companies. The effort--which Mike started along with Darren Rush (, Jordan Mendler (, and John Shiple (ultralivetv)--is hoping to market local startups to the many technical graduates coming out of local universities starting this fall. Mike tells us about the group:

Mike, thanks for the time today. What is Students4Startups all about?

Mike Gammarino: I'm an entrepreneur who has been working in technology since I graduated. I'm actually an industrial engineer by education. I'm part of a technology group called Digerati, and myself and other folks have found that we've had problems hiring technology folks in Los Angeles. This is not just a Los Angeles problem, it's actually the same problem startups have in San Francisco, Boston, and so forth--something that technology startups have had been struggling with for a long time. We have all run internship programs on our own, individually at our own startups, with limited success, and some with not so much. The reason why, is because there's not only a lot of effort competing with larger companies like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, but because startups don't have dedicated people to recruit talent from local universities.

We thought that if we could combine the collective power of startups, and do lots of the legwork, we might be able to really be a force to be reckoned with. The reason we focused on an internship programs, rather than full time, graduated students, is we're finding that Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo are getting onto campuses in the fall and talking to freshmen, and already locking up these young kids from very early. We don't even get a chance to see them. That's the impetus for the program.

So how are you addressing that problem?

Mike Gammarino: Boiled down to a mission, it's two things. One, is we're educating students on the value of entrepreneurship, and letting them know that cool startups exist in Los Angeles. When I was a student in college, I just happened to get to work for a small company after being in school full time. It was by chance, more than anything else. I really enjoyed that small company feel, and the responsibility I was given. The second, is using the collective power of startups to compete with the larger and more established companies, so we can recruit better from local universities.

Does that mean job listings on your site, or more?

Mike Gammarino: The approach we are going to take, is we've been working with schools here---so far, USC, UCLA, and Caltech--where we want to go to career fairs, hold private events, and start interacting and building relationships with professors, career centers, students, and so forth. We'll be collecting resumes and connecting students with job opportunities out there. We'll be able to create a resume database, and one of the advantages of becoming a member company is you'll have access to these events and also have access to our database of resumes from students.

What do you tell students on the advantages of working for a startup?

Mike Gammarino: The biggest thing, is you're not just a number. You learn a lot more, a lot faster, and you get some responsibility, too, if things work out. It's not for everybody, of course. Some people like working with more well-established companies. But, I can speak personally for myself, and a lot of my entrepreneur friends and colleagues would echo--startups are a really fund, fast paced environment. At the companies I've worked at and worked for, you actually build the company. That's you, as an individual. You're not just a cog in the wheel. That's what the lure of entrepreneurship is about--it's the opportunity to be involved in something, to put your name on something from the beginning. That's an exciting thing for lots of folks I work with, and that's why we do it. It's also personally a lot more enjoyable to work in this environment. There's a lot more upside, too. Yes, there's more risk, but there's more upside as well.

Are there specific kinds of students or majors you are interested in attracting?

Mike Gammarino: Right now we're just focused on Computer Science and Computer Engineering students. Those are the degrees that startups are having the most difficult time hiring. We're focused on Computer Science and Computer Engineering Students, both undergraduate and masters, but would also like to expand to other degrees. We think we'll be looking for MBA and marketing interns as well, probably towards spring or fall.

There's been some fall off lately in students selecting computer science and computer engineering majors, much of this due to worries about outsourcing. Yet you say you have issues finding technology majors?

Mike Gammarino: Most of the startups I've worked with, and know, are hiring local. I would say there are inherent issues with outsourcing, which lots of people--particularly in a startup environment, and a small company--see. You really need economy of scale to make external teams work well, based on my personal experience, working at Koders with Darren, where we were founding members of a few years age. Larger companies might have more success overseas, but from a startup perspective, it might cost a little more to hire locally in terms of cash, but a lot more in time working with an overseas team. I know the popularity of outsourcing has decreased a bit, and it's probably because of people seeing similar problems that we experienced.

So where is the effort now, and what are your next steps?

Mike Gammarino: We're lining up events right now, and recruiting startups to be sponsors. We have a few different levels of membership and sponsorship. We'll be recruiting startups around Los Angeles, and starting events in the fall.



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