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Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Silicon Valley Entrepreneurship Trek

The BEST Program and the College of Engineering sponsored students to participate in a Silicon Valley Entrepreneurship Trek organized by Michael Roach, the Clark Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. The trek took place on March 6-8 to expose PhDs to various companies and organizations, including university spinouts, incubators/accelerators, venture capitalists, and large innovative firms. The event included a full day of site visits and a networking dinner with Cornellians working in the area. The trek exposed participants to about a variety of careers in start-ups, large innovative firms, finance, law, and consulting, and was an excellent opportunity for PhDs to network with over 500 Cornellians attending the Cornell Silicon Valley Conference.

BESTies Jocelyn Wang, Immunology; Ezen Choo, Pharmacology; Colin Jermain, Applied Engineering and Physics; Harvey TianPoornima Gadamsetty, Tiffany St. Bernard, Biomedical Engineering; Mitchell Ishmael and Levon Atoyan, Material Science, received the generous support of the College on Engineering, Cornell BEST Program, and Cornell Silicon Valley to be part of this opportunity. For more information read the article "Silicon Valley Tech Trek: Seeing the Ecosystem" in Entrepreneurship@Dyson.

I was honored to be one of the 8 Ph.D. students at Cornell to be selected to participate in a trip to CA to visit the Silicon Valley startup scene! We had a VERY booked schedule. Our days were packed with startup related activities from 8AM - 10 PM each night. We got to meet with successful entrepreneurs, a Venture Capitalist (Canaan Partners), and alumni. Additionally, we visited Y Combinator, Stanford and StartX. Lastly we attended the CSV16 conference where we met amazing Cornell alumni that were happy to share their wisdom and experiences with us. I was even able to connect with the Head of Policy for Pinterest and she will be meeting with me this coming week to advise me on HairDays. My highlight of the event was getting to know with my fellow Cornell peers that are also passionate about being in the startup scene once they graduate. We were able to swap ideas and discuss challenges we might face in the future. 

A couple of the speakers during CSV16 mentioned things that could directly help me right now. For example thinking about customer service when releasing a product, and how you should consider having a person on your team that has had an exit before. These things seem obvious but when you have so much to think about it is helpful to have someone remind you of things that should be prioritized. One suggestion that may change the direction of my research is that there may be a way to enter the market sooner with my nerve stimulation project. My initial goal was to go through the long FDA approval process. However, after talking to a Cornell Alumni at the conference they gave me the idea of creating a lower barrier initial product that could be sold without FDA approval, and then to later secure FDA approval.-Tiffany St. Bernard

The Silicon Valley PhD trek was a great opportunity to learn about the entrepreneurship scene in California, and to build relationships with founders, alumni, facilitators, and classmates. Prof. Roach organized two full days of meetings and events that encompassed all different aspects of starting a company, from the challenges of founding to the role of working as an early startup employee. From meeting with over 8 PhD founders and having informal Q&A discussions with our group, I learned about building a team, funding issues, acquiring mentors, and keeping employees incentivized. Each speaker had a different perspective to add from their experience, which allowed me to build a fuller picture of the startup scene. I also enjoyed learning from my fellow classmates, who each brought up interesting questions and engaged in the conversations throughout the trip.

Overall, the Silicon Valley PhD trek pulled together all of the essential elements for working in a startup, and how that relates to having an advanced degree. The trips focus on PhDs substantially distinguishes it from the Boston trek. I highly recommend this trek be repeated each year, to help other PhDs understand the Silicon Valley scene and engage with alumni in the area. Having Abby and Felix for part of the trip was a great addition. This trek was made possible by the funding and support of the BEST program and the Engineering school. I'm grateful for the proactive and insightful organization of Prof. Roach, and his leadership of the trek.-Colin Jermain (See Colin's complete write up about this trip here.)

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to visit the bay area and attend the Silicon Valley Tech Trek with Michael Roach. This trip has been absolutely invaluable to me. For the past five years that I’ve been at Cornell, I’ve had an interest in pursuing a career in entrepreneurship post- graduation and having lived in California during junior high school before moving with my family to Arkansas, I have always longed to return to the San Francisco bay area and Silicon Valley one day.

For me, this trip has truly solidified my desire to enter entrepreneurship as well as to eventually move to the Silicon Valley. Having already stayed in touch with friends both from my lab as well as undergrad that have joined startups in the bay area, meeting local entrepreneurs on the Tech Trek and getting an intimate feel for the strong entrepreneurship culture in the valley truly sold the idea in my mind.-Harvey Tian (see complete feedback here)