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This Startup Grooms Future Employees for Hot Tech Companies Like Warby Parker and Airbnb

San Francisco-based MissionU partners with companies to train young talent to become their future workforce.

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BY Leigh Buchanan - 29 May 2018

Pictured here are 12 of the first 55 students at MissionU, which runs a yearlong career training program that emphasizes skills as much as diversity. Forty-two percent of its first class of students–who hope to one day work for the school's partner companies–are African American, Hispanic, or Native American. CREDIT: Ryan Young


What CEO doesn't fantasize about creating a talent pipeline tailored to his or her specific needs? That scenario is now possible--at least on a small scale--with MissionU, a San Francisco-based startup taking a new approach to bridging the gap between, on one side, education and skills training and, on the other, companies.

Hatched in 2016, the unaccredited, for-profit school targets two groups: future employees and talent-hungry employers. Its students want to land great jobs in hot fields without racking up loads of student debt. Meanwhile, the university alternative has partnered with more than a dozen companies--both Silicon Valley powerhouses and startups--that weigh in on curricula, provide instruction, and internships, and get first crack at hiring the new grads.

From the 4,700 applications it got for its inaugural class, which began last September, MissionU accepted 30 students. Its second class, which has 25 students, started in January. These first two cohorts will pay nothing upfront for the yearlong program, and MissionU will collect 15 percent of their income from their first three years of employment (if they make at least $50,000). Says co-founder and CEO Adam Braun, who raised $11.5 million, "We are looking to scale as quickly as we can while ensuring the quality of the student experience and of the outcomes for our partners"--which include Spotify, Uber, and Warby Parker. (The company was acquired by WeWork in May.)

During MissionU's first trimester, Bain & Company consultants and lecturers from Stanford instruct students in soft skills like collaboration and critical thinking. The second trimester tackles the technical. In trimester three, students work as interns, contractors, or, in some cases, full-time employees at partner companies, as MissionU continues to coach and support them.

The school's first major is data analytics and business intelligence, and Braun's team communicates regularly with partner companies to ensure there's a feedback loop. "We ask, 'What are the tools that any hire will need to come in and hit the ground running?'" says Braun, a social entrepreneur who previously launched an education nonprofit. When partners expressed a strong hankering for SQL skills, for example, MissionU shifted some instruction in that language to trimester one. Engineers and hiring managers from Uber, Twitter, Spotify, and other partners give guest lectures or speak on panels at MissionU's headquarters. Students visit companies like Airbnb, Square, and Everlane.

HackerOne, a business that detects system vulnerabilities for clients such as General Motors, has played host twice to MissionU classes, staging career panels so students know what positions there entail. Four MissionU students have HackerOne mentors, and several will soon be paid interns. "What's great about the partnership," says HackerOne chief of staff Ted Kramer, "is that they are taking on the challenge of training these young people so that they can make an impact on day one."

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