Tech innovator Chris Coyne says he didn’t need to leave Maine to find opportunity.

It just happens that he gained important skills at Harvard and met collaborators there. Coyne and friends Max Krohn and Sam Yagan went on to found SparkNotes.com, which they started in their senior year and sold for $30 million to Barnes & Noble, and then OkCupid.com, which they sold for $50 million in 2011. Coyne and Krohn are now working on their third startup, Keybase.

To foster the creation of more tech startups in Maine, Coyne said the focus should be on giving people the necessary skills and creating the right environment.

“No one ever packs up and moves somewhere else to start a tech company,” said Coyne, who began learning BASIC on an Apple II computer in the 1980s. “They do it wherever they are. The solution is putting people in the mode where they want to start a tech company while they’re living in Maine.”

And how would Coyne do that? Introduce students to computer programming much, much earlier.

“If Maine wants more tech startups, the question isn’t what do we do to bring people here. It’s what do we do to put people in the mode where they’re starting these things at the correct time in their life,” he said. “And I think the answer to that is you need to make sure the students coming out of high school are already technically equipped to build a tech startup, meaning every kid graduating from high school in Maine should be an adequate programmer.”

Coyne admits that sounds like a daunting task given the inertia in curriculum development at public schools. But he looks at it this way: “The question I ask is why is it that every student spends 13 years studying math and 13 years studying science for 26 student years of math and science and maybe one year of it is an elective computer science class? As a math major, I think calculus is a lot less important than programming.”

In other words, if Maine wants more startups driven by technology, the solution is to put technology in everyone’s hands.

 


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