Shwartz was able to discuss the topic from a unique perspective: not only is the Jacobs Institute itself a startup, but it is poised to provide a well-educated and diverse talent pool to startups throughout the city and beyond.
“We're probably the world's only academic startup," Shwartz said to a room full of entrepreneurs and educators at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It came out of the idea that universities — or any big organization — are just too big to move at a startup pace. The only way to do that was to create something a little bit separate."
“Much to my surprise, I find myself playing the role of CEO," he said of his role as head of the institute, itself the embodiment of the partnership between Cornell and the Technion on the Cornell Tech campus. “It's about taking something new and unexpected everyday and figuring out what to do with it."
Shwartz said that the institute has fully immersed itself in the challenging, but rewarding, startup-creation process — appropriate for a school whose mission is "educating entrepreneurs using the experiences others have had before them."
One of Cornell Tech's increasingly important roles in the startup ecosystem is as a conduit for New York City tech talent. The Jacobs Institute has both the Runway Startup Postdoc Program, which takes PhDs and turns them from deep tech academics to entrepreneurs, and two masters programs, one in Connective Media and one in Health Tech, which Shwartz said "educates entrepreneurs around areas that the are vital to the city's economic health."
When the discussion turned to the subject of gender diversity (or lack thereof) in the technology-related workforce, Yext CEO and co-founder Howard Lerman conceded, “We have more males than females. It's not something we're proud of, but by the time it reaches me, it's too late." Hoping to illustrate his point, Lerman turned to Shwartz and said, “I'd be curious to hear about the splits at your program. I'm guessing it's not 50/50."
"You're right," Shwartz replied. “It's 60% women."
This surprising response, causing whispers to ripple throughout the audience, served as one of Shwartz's many unique insights into startup culture — and where it's headed.
Cornell Tech is actively seeking to make the startup and technology landscape more diverse. For example, the school has an ongoing partnership with the New York City Department of Education to make computer science education available to public school students. This synergy has led to various programs to enrich tech in the classroom. In December, Cornell Tech, in collaboration with Roosevelt Island's P.S./I.S. 217 and councilmember Ben Kallos, unveiled a three-year program that will give K-8 teachers training to incorporate computer science into their curriculum in exciting ways. And last month, they announced WiTNY, an initiative undertaken together with CUNY aimed at getting more women studying tech in undergraduate years and earlier.
"This generation realizes that diversity is good for almost anything," Shwartz said. "It has been documented that high school teams with diversity perform better than teams that are very uniform. People should be inclusive not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is good for any goal you have for yourself."