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Thriving startup community means jobs aplenty ... for the right candidates

Decision Desk Employees
Decision Desk Employees - Bob Perkoski

The startup community is thriving in Northeast Ohio. Explorys, a big data company in the health care industry, has ballooned to 117 employees since its inception just four years ago. OnShift, a producer of staff scheduling software, has grown to 60 employees in the same short timeframe. Younger startups like online gifting service Sociagram are following in their footsteps, growing at a pace that far exceeds expectations.
Kara Hornikel, a recruiter with JumpStart, reports that at any given time her organization has 60 to 80 job openings listed for young startups. The large number of jobs open indicates these startups are doing well and growing. And these unfilled positions aren't just for programmers; the companies also are looking for salespeople -- usually the first position they hire -- and marketing staff.
“It's really encouraging, actually,” says Hornikel. “Generally in startups, if they have jobs available it is because they are growing since their staff is so small. The amount of jobs speaks to a larger trend of new job creation. So it's great for Cleveland's economy and it shows that the startup community here is thriving."

JumpStart is just one resource local companies turn to for help filling jobs. Global Cleveland and BioEnterprise team up to host regular online job fairs. During the two fairs held in 2012, 2,611 job seekers registered and 4,668 applications were submitted for 439 positions posted by 52 employers.
But working for -- and hiring by -- a young startup has unique challenges. Recruiters and employers discuss some of the critical qualities for working at a startup.
Be Willing to Do Windows
Generally, working for a startup of any kind requires a willingness to do more than just what's in the job description -- happily. “It’s surprising that when you get talent that is fresh out of school, they’re not aware of the challenges of a startup,” says Shubs Sheth, director of operations for DecisionDesk, an online processor of university applications. “It’s always super clear from the get-go. You’re going to wear many hats, work lots of hours, but then it’s going to pay off.”
Sheth describes working for a startup as being more of a generalist than a specialist. “One day, you’re buying water, the next you’re buying a garbage can, and then you’re mounting an LCD TV,” she says. “Candidates have to have a can-do attitude.”
Ryan O’Donnell, founder of Sociagram, focuses on candidates who have the right personality for the company. “For us, we tend to spend more time on finding the right person for a role -- finding the right character who fits our culture,” O’Donnell says. “When you’re running a startup you’re not looking for a person who just wants a paycheck.”
Inform Candidates of the Risks
Working for a startup can have substantial rewards -- but it can also have considerable risks: the company could fail, money is usually tight, at least in the beginning, or the concept might never take off. “You want the right risk profile for these jobs because it shows people who are adaptable and able to function outside of their job descriptions,” says Hornikel. “It’s just less structured.”
Hornikel says that it takes, on average, 60 to 90 days to fill a startup position, which is a bit longer than at an established company. That's largely because of the risk assessment that must be done to find employees who can handle the long hours, flexible job descriptions and volatile nature of a startup in terms of steady income and clients.
Sarah Kirsch, recruiting manager for Explorys, says, “We do our hiring for specific skill sets, making sure to hire only those whose core values are in line with our values. We’re looking for mini-entrepreneurs, so if there’s a problem, they can jump in.”
One approach Explorys takes is to mold interns for future careers with the company. Explorys has relationships with CWRU, Carnegie-Mellon and Kent State University. “Our goal is to groom the kids throughout college so essentially we have mid-level software developers,” says Kirsch. “This past summer we had 11 interns.”
Teri Hembree, executive vice president of operations and human resources for OnShift, has an extensive screening plan in place when recruiting new talent. “You have to really get good at assessing people’s risk tolerance,” she says. “If they say, ‘I’ve been laid off three times’ or ‘I’m looking for a stable home,’ I talk to them about risk tolerance.”
When they’re made for a startup, the potential hire usually knows it. After working for startups in both Boston and Detroit, Tim Downs thought perhaps he’d get a corporate job when he and his wife moved to Cleveland. “In Cleveland, I thought I’d do something more corporate, but it wasn’t for me anymore,” he says. JumpStart’s job board brought Downs and O’Donnell together, and now he's Lead Developer at Sociagram. “I just like the lifestyle. I work with different stuff every day and there’s no bureaucracy.”
Use a Variety of Resources
While JumpStart, NEOSA and Global Cleveland all post jobs, most startups use a variety of resources. College career fairs are a popular place to recruit new talent, while national online job boards also have proven to be a good resource. Some of the online career boards are geared specifically to jobs at startup companies, like StartUpHire, or tech company jobs, like Dice. LinkedIn also can be a great networking resource.
O’Donnell is happy to see so many startup businesses taking off in Cleveland. “People have been doing high-tech startups on the coasts since the '60s and '70s,” he says. “They’re on the third generation. The VC industry is very much ingrained in the coastal cities. What we’re seeing here in Cleveland with organizations like LaunchHouse, FlashStarts and Bizdom is getting ahead of the younger generations."
And O’Donnell believes that the talent is here to support a thriving entrepreneurial economy. “I think there’s a strong enough pool here to pull talent from,” he says. “The more companies we have succeeding in Northeast Ohio, the more we are going to succeed as a burgeoning economic ecosystem.”
OnShift’s Hembree also sees the changes in the air. “In the '90s people would say, 'What technology?'" she says. “There’s no secret to attracting good people. I wish there was. And there’s no crystal ball, either. But we love Cleveland.”

Photos Bob Perkoski

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