In 2001, I left my home in St. Louis to embark on a journey to a foreign destination known as CleveLand. I came for the purpose of attending Case Western Reserve University, with no intention of achieving an engineering, law, medical or business degree. In 2005, I graduated Case with a B.A. in Psychology (much to the mockery of my over-zealous classmates), thinking I was taking a chance by studying something that actually interested me. I had no further intention of pursuing psychology, therein having no intention of formally counseling troubled patients or engage in the field in any professional way whatsoever. Instead, I made another “fatalistic” decision: I stayed in Cleveland.
Now, two years into the professional world, my friends and college companions (who have since hurriedly left Cleveland in pursuit of bigger dreams in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco) keep asking me, in condescending fashion: “Dude, why are you still in Cleveland?” to which I respond, “Dude, how much is your rent in New York?” Rent prices, cost of living and quality of life aside, the real answer is: entrepreneurship.
When I say entrepreneurship in Cleveland, OH I am still met with dumbfounded looks and sneering conversational tones. I mean, I must be one stupid psychology major to think that there is anything even remotely entrepreneurial about Northeast Ohio. But, at the end of my tenure at Case, I realized something – everyone around me wanted to leave. Being that my ultimate goal in life is to start a business, I felt that if I stayed in Northeast Ohio, I would have the chance to interact with professionals at the top of their games. With less peer competition and less levels of hierarchy and bureaucracy to wade through, I would be surrounded by business and civic leaders and new and veteran entrepreneurs.
As much as I wanted to sit in cubicles for 10 years before I got a promotion to a bigger cubicle, I felt it more suitable to apply myself in new exciting developments that, down the road, would pay off handsomely. And by pay off, I don’t mean financially – I mean the pay off of accomplishment. To look back and say, “I was a part of THAT and look where it’s come.” I look around and I see a lot of THAT going on.
Which brings me to my point of Brain Gain by Virtue of Entrepreneurship. I believe that I am not the only one who wants to look back and feel a sense of pride for having changed the world in some significant way. In fact, I believe there are a great many young students, many exiting the doors of the many regional universities, that feel the exact same way. They are full of energy, creativity, and skill and are eager to use the tools (you know, like that thing called the internet) and methods they learn in the classroom in real world applications. Their minds and spirits have yet to be crushed by the notion of impossibility, bureaucracy, and politics. They are fueled by diversity, growth, change, differentiation, and uniqueness. To whichever frustration or problem young people express, the elders will say, “Get used to it. That’s the real world.” And the young people will think to themselves, “Not if I have anything to do about it.” Call it naivety, arrogance, ignorance, privilege, whatever. We can spend time trying to understand their mentality, or we can spend time harnessing their potential and using it to fuel our economy. If Northeast Ohio wants to keep its young and talented, it will present more professional opportunities for them to make a difference and still be able to pay off their college loans. It will create an environment wherein they are working on bigger issue projects, working side-by-side with high ranking professionals. It will differentiate itself from the notion of the “corporate ladder,” and engage them in new businesses and non-profits. It will show them that unlike Chicago, New York, Boston or San Fransisco, NEO will surround them with the resources they need to make an immediate impact. Above all, it will nurture their “fatalistic” notion of hope. Otherwise, the $1500/mo 300 sq. ft. apartment in New York will still look mighty appealing.