Most people in their mid-20s are just getting started in their careers. Some are taking tentative steps towards management roles or continuing on to get postgraduate degrees. But very few are taking the giant leap of starting their own companies and also being responsible for the employment of others.
This is what puts Sean McGrath, an iCons alumnus and the co-founder and chief technical officer of a New York City software startup, in a league of his own.
McGrath graduated from UMass Amherst in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in physics, a minor in computer science, and an iCons certificate in renewable energy. Soon after graduation, he was hired as a software engineer for the travel search engine KAYAK. He then moved on to travel tech startup Hopper, where very quickly he was promoted to lead engineer. McGrath learned a lot in those positions but found himself drawn to the energy of startups, wondering what it might be like to run his own company.
So when a startup accelerator recruited him to help launch a new business, McGrath tapped the entrepreneurism he experienced in the iCons Program and leaped at the chance. He has since created LaunchPad, a “software-as-a-service” (SaaS) company that provides user-friendly online tools for businesses that operate youth services, like martial arts studios and gymnastics centers. He and his partner officially launched their business in November 2021, and since then have been busy hiring new employees to fill vital roles as the young company grows.
“Recruiting is the most difficult part of my job,” McGrath explains. “The market for tech talent is ridiculously competitive – I have to reach out to 100 potential candidates to get on the phone with just one person. I look for the skills that iCons teaches: technical expertise, the ability to learn quickly, and most importantly, advanced communication skills. It’s critical that engineers be able to describe problems and solutions clearly. We try to hire for ‘culture add,’ not culture fit — we want people who bring new and useful perspectives to our team.”
McGrath explains that he gained a lot of these skills himself in the iCons science communications class during his second year. During that time he learned valuable skills about communicating complex ideas and how to listen and read critically to learn new concepts. He also learned a lot about working with others with diverse educational and personal backgrounds, who share a common interest in giving back to the world in meaningful ways.
“iCons both attracts and builds students who are interested in helping people and the planet,” says McGrath. “Part of the benefit of iCons is that you may come into the program predisposed to help others but then you spend four years with peers and faculty who are like-minded, and this reinforces and expands any natural altruistic inclinations.”
McGrath encourages other employers to consider hiring iCons graduates.
“I would hire more iCons graduates in a heartbeat,” he explains. “Any hour that you spend talking with a candidate who is an iCons grad is an hour well spent in your hiring process. They play well with others and think creatively. These are important skills to have on any team.”
McGrath has played his part in connecting iCons graduates to each other and to potential employers — he co-founded the iCons Alumni Network (iCAN) with fellow iCons alumnus Isaac Han so that alumni around the world could stay in touch with one another and with the program after graduation. He knows that many of these future innovators have and will go on to accomplish great things and excel in their fields, and he’s also sure that they will be likely to share their accomplishments and knowledge through the network for the benefit of other communities.
For this entrepreneur, it is just as important to mentor his employees and give back to the communities he serves as it is to be successful in his new venture.
“A friend of mine once told me something that really stuck with me — ‘take actions that expand the universe, not contract it.’ These are the words that I try to live by.”