Henehan: College should keep more grads in Elm City

Most Yalies leave New Haven after graduation. Whether heading for the once-greener pastures of Wall Street, consulting or other established institutions, Elis regularly choose the safer option of established businesses, rather than risk starting their own ventures here in the Elm City. If Yale were to cultivate the same sort of entrepreneurial spirit that Stanford, MIT and Harvard have, then more students would choose to stay. The result for both students and school would be mutually beneficial.

Yale is one of the foremost institutions for economics, history, art, architecture, biology, chemistry and physics. In New Haven, nevertheless, support for entrepreneurial endeavors around these studies is limited.

Consider Stanford: one of the leading institutions in computer science and business. As a result of its support for these industries, the top tech companies in the world are based right in its backyard. (Google Inc., for example, was founded by two Stanford Ph.D. students in computer science.) The strong relationship between the University and these student-initiated companies brings prestige, talent and venture capital. If Yale wants to continue to rank among these top institutions, it needs to stop sending its most talented students through the Wall Street pipeline or into other graduate schools. Instead, the University must give students the skills and opportunities to make significant impressions on the local and global economies through their own ventures.

Already, some significant changes on campus and in the global economy have led Yale in this direction. The establishment of the Office of Cooperative Research, which sprouted the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI), is a good example of Yale’s initiative. But the recent decline in investment-banking jobs should impel new changes as well. In order to push students in the direction of entrepreneurship, Yale can forge closer relations with alumni, angel investors and venture capitalists. These relationships will encourage funding for our talented students and their ideas.

Yale has a lot of international clout, but it has been using its connections to place its students in positions of power outside of New Haven rather than to assist them in building up the local community.

Having grown up in a Palo Alto bustling with activity generated by Stanford graduates, I have seen firsthand the positive influence that the institution and environment can have on student decisions post-graduate. Stanford has deep connections with the industries that it has helped develop and has thereby created incentives to keep its graduates and their companies in the area.

Yale has the same expertise in different areas. Take, for example, the economics department. Most students graduating from Yale with a degree in economics end up on Wall Street (or elsewhere) to work for I-banks. If graduates considered the possibility of starting their own firms rather than joining up with others, they would learn from and improve the industry while making a name for themselves and Yale.

YEI is moving in this direction. It could, however, use a lot more of Yale’s institutional and alumni support to create viable alternatives for students who wish to pursue their own ventures here in New Haven. Assistance from the University would not simply help students with entrepreneurial ideas; it would generate a solution to the recent decline in opportunities once offered by New York I-banks.

Yale can — and should — help rebalance the American economy and prepare its students for their futures by offering support to local ventures.