Dress Like a Startup

Today, July 1, 2016, I officially became the Director of the Xavier University Center for Innovation. I switched the two hats that I still continue to wear (until we can sort out who is eventually going to wear hat #2…) and thus became the interim Director for the School of Arts and Innovation at the same institution. Confused? So is half the campus! Part of my job in the upcoming academic year is to provide a resolution to the confusion and clarity for the mission and vision of both the Center and the School.

Late this past spring, a few of us sat down to retool the mission, vision and purpose statements for the Center for Innovation (CFI). These are:


Our mission is it to educate people who want to make a difference, facilitate understanding through hands-on experiences, and collaborate to solve the problems of an increasingly complex world.


We solve problems, and by design, make a greater world.

Purpose:                                                                      Tagline

To innovate.                                                                Ask why – solve with X.

If you have had the opportunity to visit our CFI, you know that it is a rambling space, very open, filled with IKEA furniture, 3D printers, prototyping materials, rolling white boards, and toys; lots and lots of toys. It is a creative, fun, and engaging space.

It is our privilege to host three startup companies in the CFI: Batterii, Benobe, and Cerkl. As someone who has worked in the same space with these companies over the past months, it has been my pleasure to welcome them into our space, watch them as they navigate seed stage funding (funds that are raised prior to the all-important Series “A” funding), hire new employees, work to gain MRR (monthly recurring revenue) or ARR (annually recurring revenue), anticipate depth of runway (how much operating capital is on hand), and learn to thrive in uncertain economic times. I have watched them celebrate, deliberate, be confused, have intense conversations, work long hours, and dress like a startup.

If you are close to the startup world, or know someone who is, you know the attire: in the late spring through early fall it is invariably a t-shirt, baggy shorts and either sandals or athletic shoes; cooler temperatures may bring in sweatpants, sweatshirts, and boots instead of sandals.

Recently, one of the startup CEO’s remarked to me, “Hey Tom, if you’re going to run this place now, you need to dress like a startup.” I thought a lot about that statement over the next few days. I even put on the “uniform” one day to prove to him that I could do it.

Now, you should know that I rarely wear a coat and tie. My standard work attire is a button-down shirt, nice trousers and comfortable shoes. Add a sweater in the fall; a jacket in the winter. In July and August, the seersucker shirts make an appearance.

But what I have come to realize is that dressing like a startup isn’t about the clothes. It is ALL about the attitude. Dressing like a startup means that you are so focused on the work, that attire is inconsequential. You put on what you need to in order to get the work done. Have I seen startups in suits and ties? You bet! That is likely because they are meeting with an investor, a big client, or about to give a huge pitch.

Dressing like a startup means that you bring a passion to each day of your work. Your focus is on strategy, growth, sales, and your employees, not on what you wear, what you eat, or what you drink (unless it is a monster energy drink).

I’ve not read any research on attire vs. growth in the startup world. But if the passion and drive I see on a daily basis from the startups we house in our building is any indication, I suspect they are wearing the attire of success.


CFI circle