Mitt Romney is growing his own. Well, sort of. His old firm, Bain Capital, is taking on the problem of hiring talented tech workers by training them itself. Bain’s StartUp Academy, launched by the company’s VC arm Bain Capital Ventures, recruits students from top universities and plants them in positions at the tech companies it funds.

StartUp Academy’s current class consists of 21 students culled from 779 applicants from schools like Duke, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford and USC. They’ll spend nine months in full-time or intern-level jobs at companies in the Bain Capital Ventures portfolio, taking time out to attend events and meet startup founders. Proselytizing for the 2013 class begins in the fall.

StartUp Academy is the brainchild of Ajay Agarwal, managing director at Bain Capital Ventures. “I spent eight years at a startup in Austin, Texas, called Trilogy,” he tells ReadWriteWeb. “Trilogy grew from zero to 2,000 people and $300 million largely on the back of college recruiting. The CEO was a huge believer in hiring people only from college. He felt that the risk-taking and out-of-the-box thinking and the feeling that you can do anything - that trumped the fact that they had less experience.”

Missionary Zeal

While the strategy worked for Trilogy, Agarwal notes that for most startups, serious college recruiting is cost-prohibitive. A startup might spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on aiplane flights, on-site interviews, career fairs - and end up with just one whiz kid from one campus. Then it would have to pay him an immense salary to pry him away from the gravitational pull of big competitors like Google and Facebook.

“So we said, why don’t we run the program? We can go to these campuses across the country on behalf of our portfolio, find great kids and match them up with our companies.”

The recruitment process is intense, almost missionary in its zeal. “We spend two weeks on each campus to really understand who are the best students, what classes are they taking, who are the profs and TAs, where are they hanging out. We really take the time to get to know these kids individually and understand what they are looking to do next and what is the right startup for them.”

Ideally, Agarwal says, StartUp Academy graduates will help recruit future classes and “become evangelists for the program.”

A Window Into Smaller Schools

StartUp Academy isn’t targeted only at institutions like MIT and Cal Tech. It also hopes to find smart students at smaller schools who might once have ended up running a database at the local Allstate office. “If you go to the University of Waterloo in Canada, how do you find a startup in Silicon Valley to join?” Agarwal asks. “That is an impossible challenge. So those kids end up going to a big tech company or consulting or banking or some other path, because those are the companies that recruit on campus. StartUp Academy is creating opportunity for these kids to go directly into a startup.”

It’s not a philanthropic enterprise, of course. And Agarwal is candid about the returns for StartUp Academy. Luring talented young workers will boost the strength of its current portfolio companies and may convince hot startups now in the market for investment that they should work Bain Capital Ventures because it can help them find good employees.

“Third, these kids in StartUp Academy will go on to start companies and this gives us an opportunity to build a relationship with them earlier in their career. Over time that will yield fruit for us.”