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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Small Business: Finding good talent for your startup

It's hard enough getting a new business off

It's hard enough getting a new business off the ground, but add to that the challenge of finding good talent. Credit: iStock

The road to startup success can be a bumpy one.

It's hard enough getting a new business off the ground, but add to that the challenge of finding good talent.

Most startups struggle with that, forcing them to cast their nets wider and establish the right strategic relationships.

"Most startups actually have trouble finding people because they somehow expect people to find them," says Marty Zwilling, founder of Phoenix-based Startup Professionals Inc., which assists startups. "The key is being proactive and getting out there."

Reach out on- and offline. LinkedIn can be a valuable tool to find candidates, but also consider networking at industry organizations, investor meetings, local incubators and universities, says Zwilling, author of "StartupPro" (Packt; $39.99).

"We have strong, educated people coming out of our universities," notes Anil Dhundale, executive director of the Long Island High Technology Incubator and Stony Brook University incubators, which support early-stage, high-tech companies at four locations between Stony Brook and Calverton.

They may not be the exact fit at first for you, but you can train them, says Dhundale. Many startups, particularly in industries like bioscience and clean tech, are "so very narrow in focus" they'd have to train a new employee anyway to whatever technology they have, he adds.

The university has various programs that startups can tap for talent, including the Center for Biotechnology's fundamentals of the bioscience industry, targeted toward grad students and postdocs, says Dhundale.

Look for passion. "When you're coming out of a university, you're still filled with curiosity and a sense of passion and idealism," says Shaun Johnson, co-founder of the Boston-based Startup Institute and director of its Manhattan campus. That energy could be valuable for a startup that can harness it, he notes.

Paul Schwartz, CEO of ThermoLift Inc., which is developing a natural-gas-powered pump for cooling and heating homes, can attest to that. About three years ago he took part in the entrepreneurship development program offered through the Clean Energy Business Incubator Program at Stony Brook.

There he met another participant, Jonathan Haas, a Syracuse University graduate, and his current senior vice president.

"He didn't start as an employee," explains Schwartz. Haas volunteered to help Schwartz prepare grant applications and a slideshow presentation for an investor pitch competition.

He wasn't getting paid back then, but "he had the assurance from me that I'd find a place for him at ThermoLift when we got funded," says Schwartz, whose three-year-old firm is located in the Stony Brook Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center.

The firm eventually snagged funding in 2013, and Schwartz kept his word. He's also hired engineering students from the university and now has about 12 employees plus several consultants.

Build a network. "It's all about networking and building a network of highly qualified advisers," says Schwartz.

While in-person networking is important, Harold German, managing partner at Blu Chip SEO, a Smithtown-based Internet marketing firm, has found online resources like LinkedIn very effective.

Using LinkedIn, "we're able to assess skill sets and qualify references seamlessly," says German, noting that recruiting talent as a startup can be difficult on Long Island.

"Long Island has experienced an exodus of . . . 18- to 34-year-olds because of the high cost of living here," explains German, who has attended job fairs and expos as other recruiting tools. The firm has a 30-plus member workforce.

Attending fairs like this is smart, Johnson says. "Be a part of the community; if you're looking to attract talent, put your culture out there more broadly."

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