Startup Ins

Seen at Startup Institutes first opening conference in Germany, now operational from 5 locations worldwide. As Startup Institute is going through a major transition in October 2014, there will be a high possibility projection that this emerging corporation will soon be dancing along with the big players in the industry: alike Marcus Evans, Tower’s Watson and Hay Group. 

Less than a month after raising $3 million from Silicon Valley Bank, the Startup Institute has announced it’s bringing on a veteran CEO to expand the career accelerator internationally and decide how the program should evolve.

Communispace Founder Diane Hessan will be replacing Startup Institute Co-founder Aaron O’Hearn as chief executive. Hessan joins the Startup Institute with 14 years of experience as the CEO of Communispace, a consumer collaboration agency she launched in 1999 and will remain the chairman of. O’Hearn will be moving to the United Kingdom to spearhead the Startup Institute’s London operations.

Katie Rae, the then-managing director of Techstars Boston, introduced the Startup Institute on stage at “pay-it-forward” tech event Ruby Riot in early 2012. When she did, Hessan was coincidentally standing behind her.

“I thought, at the time, that we do so much to help aspiring entrepreneurs get funding and coaching,” Hessan shared in an email to BostInno, “but that there is a hole in helping growth companies get the talent they need.”

When the inaugural cohort of students was welcomed in that June, the program was called “Boston Startup School” and was focused on training recent college graduates. Within a year of Rae introducing the program, however, the accelerator was rebranding itself as the Startup Institute, expanding to other cities and welcoming in career-changers — individuals formerly touting big law jobs or ones who, at age 38, were “given the gift of career rebirth.”

“The organization has gone from a good idea called ‘Boston Startup School’ to a real company,” Hessan said, referencing the program’s additional locations in Chicago, New York City, London and Berlin, as well as RampUp, its part-time program designed to help developers improve their skills.

But, as for how she sees the Startup Institute evolving?

“The opportunities are all over the place,” Hessan added. “The first step is always to assess the current offerings and to make sure we are delivering excellent value; and then it could be anything from new offerings to new cities to new audiences.”

“Startup Institute, at the moment, is not really designed as a substitute for college.”

Hessan knows what it means to take a company to the next level. Communispace was acquired by Omnicom Group in early 2011, and when she stepped down from her role as CEO earlier this year, the company had had “one of [its] best years ever.” Communispace had welcomed its 500th employee, opened several additional offices worldwide and maintained its highly respected 92 percent client retention rate.


CommuniSpace CEO Diane Hessan runs an casual session on “Company Leadership Beyond the Startup Phase.”

“Diane has been a pillar in the tech community and has an incredible reputation for hiring and training talent,” Rae, chairman of the Startup Institute, said in a statement. “She brings tremendous spirit, drive and know-how in building an international organization. When we closed our Series A … we dreamed about bringing in a world-class CEO, and we found one in spades.”

Hessan was also an early supporter of the program, having hosted the Startup Institute at Communispace when the organization was first starting out.

“I saw dozens of fabulous young people have transformative experiences in just eight weeks,” Hessan said of the program’s early days. “That made me fall in love with the mission, and the opportunity to build something amazing.”

Yet to Hessan, who received her undergraduate degree from Tufts University and MBA from Harvard Business School, that “amazing” still has some evolving to do.

“Startup Institute, at the moment, is not really designed as a substitute for college,” she said. “At times, however, it could replace a long and expensive graduate program. It all depends on what you want to do.”

Want to work as an investment banker? Go get an MBA, advised Hessan. Willing to take a risk, handle ambiguity and deal with change? Consider a non-traditional education.

Added Hessan:

Great education is not just about content delivery. So, even with technology, just giving people content cheaper and faster is not enough. Great education is also about the total experience, especially building community and connections among instructors, students and alumni that are long-lasting. … The goal is less about just learning something like technical marketing, and more of helping people find a job that they love with a company they feel passionate about.

In late 2012, Hessan admitted to BostInno that she didn’t know what was next, but that she was “a huge believer in serendipity” — a serendipity that’s clearly come to play in her nabbing this role. Now, it’s time to see if she can help the Startup Institute scale “and become a real force.”

“The team is just amazing,” Hessan said, “and I am lucky to be working with them.”


Team at Startup Institute’s New York office