VCs, Entrepreneurs See Midwestern Cities as Potential Startup Hubs

VCs, Entrepreneurs See Midwestern Cities as Potential Startup Hubs

Once the industrial base of the US, the Midwest has struggled in the high-tech era to capture the talent-driven growth enjoyed by coastal cities like Boston and San Francisco, but the region’s fortunes are changing fast. In the past year or so, a burgeoning Midwestern tech scene has begun attracting more attention from venture capitalists and Silicon Valley giants, with many local startups and big-company expansions focusing on the middle-skill roles for which the tech sector’s demand is insatiable, but that are still in short supply nationwide. These “mid-tech” or “new-collar” jobs are described as a 21st century analog to the factory jobs of the past—and as such, a promising path to revival for the industrial Midwest.

High-tech industries including major international firms have been making some big bets in the region: The Indian IT services and business process outsourcing giant Infosys is planning a sprawling campus near Indianapolis, which aims to create 3,000 new jobs within five years, while the Taiwanese multinational Foxconn Technology Group made a deal with the Wisconsin state government last year to build a display panel factory there, which will see the company invest as much as $10 billion and hire as many as 13,000 people. Several midwestern cities are on the list of finalists in the competition to host Amazon’s second headquarters, though Detroit, for example, didn’t make the cut, partly due to a lack of readily available talent.

Yet “mid-tech” companies and regional outposts of tech giants are just one side of the Midwest’s high-tech renaissance. Over the weekend, VentureBeat reporter Anna Hensel took a look at the growing community of AI and machine learning startups in the heartland:

“The real benefit of artificial intelligence is the application to traditional problems and products that the world needs, and the really successful companies have that domain knowledge that they can understand how to apply this technology,” [Chris Olsen, a partner at Columbus, Ohio VC firm Drive Capital,] told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “We see more of those domain experts in these industries [with] massive chunks of GDP that exist here in the Midwest.”

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National Academies: Sexual Harassment ‘Rampant’ in Academic Science, Driving Women Out

National Academies: Sexual Harassment ‘Rampant’ in Academic Science, Driving Women Out

Sexual harassment is an endemic problem in the US academic science community and a major barrier to progress toward including more women in the field, a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concludes. While physical abuse and unwanted sexual advances are common, the most pervasive form of misconduct is what the report terms “gender harassment,” referring to hostile work environments in which women are routinely subject to sexist comments and crude behavior from their male colleagues, sending the message that they are not welcome there, as contributors to the report tell the Associated Press:

“Even when the sexual harassment entails nothing but sexist insult without any unwanted sexual pursuit, it takes a toll,” said University of Michigan psychology professor Lilia Cortina, a member of the committee that spent two years studying the problem. “It’s about pushing women out.”

The report complies data from multiple large surveys to get a sense of how pervasive sexual harassment and gender discrimination are in the academy. One survey from the University of Texas found that 20 percent of female science students, more than 25 percent of engineering students, and over 40 percent of medical students reported being sexually harassed by faculty or staff. Another survey from the Pennsylvania State University system found that half of all female medical students had been harassed. Women working in university science departments experience harassment as well as students: 58 percent of academic employees report having been sexually harassed at work.

Sexual harassment “has long been an open secret” in the sciences, MIT professor and report co-chair Sheila Widnall told the AP on Tuesday. In its coverage of the report, the New York Times highlights the panel’s recommendation that universities and research institutions start focusing on prevention and fixing the work environment, rather than just “symbolic compliance with current law and avoiding liability”:

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Infosys Plans Massive New Campus Outside Indianapolis

Infosys Plans Massive New Campus Outside Indianapolis

The Indian IT services and business process outsourcing giant Infosys unveiled plans last week to establish a $245 million, 141-acre campus near Indianapolis, expected to create up to 3,000 jobs in the midwestern state within five years, the Indianapolis Star reported last Thursday. The first phase of the campus, to be built at the site of a demolished Indianapolis International Airport terminal, will entail constructing a 125,000 square-foot training center, including residences, on which Infosys plans to spend $35 million:

The training center is at the heart of Infosys’ larger target of hiring 10,000 people across the U.S., company President Ravi Kumar said. Infosys is working with partner colleges and universities, including Purdue University, to educate students and feed its training center and future workforce. Infosys plans to break ground on the training center this year and complete it by 2020.

“The 10,000 jobs was always with an idea of building talent pool from schools and colleges,” Kumar said. “It always had to be that way. We would never find that kind of talent in the market.”

Infosys, India’s second-largest IT company with over $10 billion in revenue and over 200,000 employees, announced its plan to hire 10,000 US workers last year in the wake of President Donald Trump’s pledges to crack down on outsourcing and the use of the H-1B skilled worker visa, of which Infosys has historically been a major beneficiary. While this looked to some observers like a hedge against the uncertain future of the H-1B and the outsourcing sector, Trump’s policy agenda was not the only motivation for the move, which Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka said at the time had been in the works for two years.

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As US and UK Look Inward, Foreign Students Look Elsewhere

As US and UK Look Inward, Foreign Students Look Elsewhere

The influx of foreign students to US universities is slowing down and many are opting to study in Canada instead, Laura Krantz reports for the Boston Globe, in a trend driven partly by perceptions of growing hostility toward immigrants in the US since the election of President Donald Trump:

At the University of Toronto, the number of foreign students who accepted admissions offers rose 21 percent over last year, especially from the United States, India, the Middle East, and Turkey. Other universities across the country also saw record increases in the last year. … The increase is not all because of Trump. Canada has made international student recruitment a national goal to spur economic growth. It now has 353,000 international students and wants 450,000 by 2022. But the political uncertainty in the United States — as well as in the United Kingdom — has given Canada’s effort an unexpected boost.

Overall, the number of international students in Canada has grown 92 percent since 2008. They now make up 1 percent of the country’s population. By comparison, the United States has about 1 million foreign students and a population ten times that of Canada. The number of foreign students in the United States has been growing for years, but last year it grew at the slowest rate since 2009.

Seeing a potential advantage over the US and UK, Canada has been making a significant push to lure international talent away from competitor countries, advertising itself as a more welcoming destination for immigrants, and expressing a full-throated defense of diversity and multiculturalism. The campaign is beginning to show results, with some tech startups and talent choosing to set up shop or look for work in Canada rather than the US.

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How Will Trump’s Travel Ban Affect the Workforce?

How Will Trump’s Travel Ban Affect the Workforce?

In an executive order issued on Friday night, President Donald Trump, temporarily barred citizens of seven countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen—from entering the US for 90 days, in addition to a 120-day freeze on the entry of all refugees. The order arrived with next to no warning and reportedly little guidance: People in transit with valid visas, asylum claims, or even green cards were stopped at airports and blocked from entering the country. Public backlash to the order then led to multiple protests throughout the country, particularly at airports, and several judges quickly issued orders blocking federal agents from enforcing parts of the order, and several lawsuits have been filed to challenge the ban’s legality, including by the attorneys general of Washington State and Massachusetts.

On Sunday night, the Department of Homeland Security clarified that the order did not bar the entry of lawful permanent residents, but green card holders and dual citizens may undergo additional screening and it is still not entirely clear how the order will be applied to them. Some companies, particularly in the tech sector, which employs a large immigrant workforce, have recalled foreign-born employees to the US, cancelled planned business trips, or advised them against leaving the country in response to the ban. Numerous companies have issued statements to their workforces as well, offering assistance to affected employees.

The DHS intends to continue enforcing the order notwithstanding the legal challenges to it, but there are several unknowns at the moment, including whether it will hold up in court, whether it will be evenly enforced, and whether it portends more significant changes to US immigration policy. While this order affects roughly 90,000 people from specific countries for a limited period of time, the possibility or expectation of an expanded or extended ban could have an unpredictable impact on hiring, immigration, business travel, tourism, and academia. As Melanie Zanona explains at The Hill, while the given rationale for the executive order was increasing America’s border security, obtaining a balance between the Trump Administration’s stated goals and the needs of American businesses and institutions may prove difficult. Indeed, the order may even discourage foreigners — and not just from the affected countries — from attending American universities and applying for American jobs, which could have a disproportionate impact on the technology, healthcare, and transportation industries.

The Los Angeles Times spoke with an immigration lawyer who has been trying to help those affected by the ban:

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Is the AI Talent War Causing Academic Brain Drain?

Is the AI Talent War Causing Academic Brain Drain?

Artificial intelligence expertise is one of the hottest commodities in the talent market today, and large, wealthy tech companies are taking the lead in hiring the best minds in AI, to the point of raising concerns about smaller firms being unable to compete. Just last month, Microsoft Ventures launched a fund dedicated to investing in AI startups and Uber bought a small AI startup to turn into its in-house research lab.

While the startup scene is one important source for these AI hires, universities are another. In November, the Wall Street Journal reported that tech giants were poaching AI experts from academia at such a rate as to raise concerns that this hiring frenzy might jeopardize the growth of the AI talent pool by leaving behind a shortage of teachers for the next generation:

The share of newly minted U.S. computer-science Ph.D.s taking industry jobs has risen to 57% from 38% over the last decade, according to data from the National Science Foundation. Though the number of Ph.D.s in the field has grown, the proportion staying in academia has hit “a historic low,” according to the Computing Research Association, an industry group.

On the other hand, Lauren Dixon adds at Talent Economy, the high technology industry has been moving toward a less secretive approach to AI development, with projects like OpenAI aiming to democratize the field. That increased openness was necessary to attract star academics into the private sector, and because of it, their employment at private companies may not hinder the free exchange of knowledge as much as some fear:

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When It Comes to Social Mobility, How Do UK Employers Stack up?

When It Comes to Social Mobility, How Do UK Employers Stack up?

Marianne Calnan at the CIPD highlights the Social Mobility Employer Index, “a joint initiative from the Social Mobility Foundation and the Social Mobility Commission [that] aims to showcase organisations improving social mobility in the UK by recruiting the best talent for job vacancies, regardless of their social background”:

The index is primarily aimed at companies in ‘elite’ sectors that have a poor track record of encouraging social mobility, including law, accountancy, media, banking and science. Research has consistently shown that people with more affluent backgrounds – including those who attended private schools and elite universities – take a disproportionate number of the ‘best’ jobs available. Around half of diplomats, 47 per cent of newspaper columnists and 38 per cent of members of the House of Lords attended either Oxford or Cambridge University, compared with less than 1 per cent of the British population as a whole, according to government figures.

Many organisations have turned their attention to social mobility in recent months: the BBC has started to collect a broader range of information about job applicants’ backgrounds, while the civil service is also deploying HR metrics to open up access to a broader range of candidates. Companies that wish to be listed on the new index will need to answer questions about their recruitment, selection and career progression practices. They will be ranked by a panel of experts, and receive recommendations of areas for improvement. Those that fail to make the grade will not be ‘named and shamed’, said the Social Mobility Commission.

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