Letters to the Editor

Start-Up Companies' Grievances Against Colleges Aren't News

November 18, 2011

To the Editor:

Your article about start-ups from Startup Alley being welcomed in a dialogue with Aneesh Chopra, the U.S. chief technology officer, portrayed them in a manner that was a disservice to the process of innovation ("Start-Up Companies Tell White House Tech Chief of Struggles With Colleges," The Chronicle, October 21).

As the organizer of Startup Alley, and as the person who invited Mr. Chopra to speak at Educause, I found the comments on all sides of the open dialogue among leading CIO's and start-ups fairly predictable. Mr. Chopra started the conversation: "How do we get more innovation? What are the barriers to innovation?" At his talk earlier, his theme was releasing data held by the government so that innovators can build great products around it.

The start-ups' collective reaction to the two questions? The data we need is actually institutional data (we're in the process of publishing our requests through Startup America) and this data is either disorganized or locked up. Oh, and what's the biggest barrier to innovation? An unnecessarily inefficient and opaque sales cycle—bundled with a ridiculous RFP process that favors big companies that overcharge for terrible software (for the most part). These grievances aren't news to any start-up, and we didn't bring it up because we're befuddled and helpless. Everybody in higher education knows this, and everyone even inside our institutions vents about it, but I have yet to see a single institution do anything to meet the challenge. If we can't address the issue with leading CIO's, Educause, and major policy leaders at a roundtable designed to ask the question "What are the barriers to innovation?," where can we address them?

Michael Staton
CEO and Co-Founder
San Francisco