Alumni give students in Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship an immersive semester-long experience in Silicon Valley.
Junior business major Michael Krantz learned “how to work with brilliant people in a fast-paced environment and meet deadlines.”
Junior health policy management major Pooja Joshi learned to be comfortable interacting with powerful chief executives in her field.
Senior psychology major Tiana Petree changed the trajectory of her career path.
The three UNC undergraduates were among 16 students from the College of Arts & Sciences’ entrepreneurship minor who participated in the inaugural Burch Field Research Seminar in Silicon Valley. The entrepreneurship minor and Honors Carolina introduced the program last spring.
Thanks to UNC’s vast and growing alumni network in the region, students gained unprecedented access to leaders of iconic tech companies — including Apple, Cisco, Facebook, GoDaddy and Google — as well as innovative startups. They also received intensive education in the principles and practices of business venturing.
“Understanding the San Francisco Bay Area — Silicon Valley — is a very important part of understanding business today. It’s the most important geography in the world for technology innovation,” said Jennifer Halsey ’94, the UNC entrepreneur-in-residence based in Silicon Valley who mobilized UNC’s alumni network to offer the unique experience.
“We have a close community of UNC alumni here who are willing to mentor and facilitate career opportunities for Carolina students,” Halsey said.
The Silicon Valley semester grew out of a Maymester Summer School course developed and taught by history professor James Leloudis with help from UNC’s Northern California alumni network. He had connected with that network through his development work as associate dean for Honors Carolina. (Read about the Maymester course at gazette.unc.edu.)
Among the area’s alumni was Halsey, a political science and communication studies double major who had parlayed her liberal arts education at UNC into a successful Wall Street investment banking career before moving to California in 1998 to advise and invest in high-growth medical technology companies.
Halsey initially agreed to host students during Maymester, and that experience inspired her and others to explore expanding the course to a full semester. She reached out to UNC alumni and they responded by offering to host internships and site visits, share experiences on career panels and meet with students during networking and social gatherings.
The resulting Silicon Valley semester offered an intensive boot camp on entrepreneurial principles and practices, a venture workshop course featuring site visits and informal interactions with Silicon Valley elite, a group project to develop and pitch a startup business plan to a panel of investor judges, and a semester-long internship at a Silicon Valley company or nonprofit.
Petree had been on a fast track to start a nonprofit when she began her spring internship at Peninsula Bridge, a Palo Alto nonprofit. But exposure to every aspect of running such an organization made her realize that sustaining a nonprofit financially would be a tough path right out of college.
At a Carolina-Duke basketball game watch party hosted by Halsey, Petree talked about her goals and experiences with UNC chemistry professor and entrepreneur Joe DeSimone. He invited her to spend a day learning about the corporate world at his 3-D printing company, Carbon, in Redwood City. After meeting with marketing, sales, business development and human resource teams, she found herself drawn to HR. And over the summer, she returned to California to intern for Carbon’s HR department.
“This experience has really changed the path of my life,” Petree said.
Joshi interned at Evidation Health, a fast-growing behavioral data analytics company.
“I think the biggest thing for me was getting the opportunity to learn how to talk to and get help from people who are leaders in your field,” Joshi said. “It’s sometimes very intimidating. But it was amazing to have really intimate conversations with people like that and find they are so willing to help students all the time.”
For Krantz, an aspiring investment banker, the semester offered the opportunity to work alongside prominent senior vice presidents at GoDaddy, thanks to the small business technology provider’s open office plan and collegial culture.
“This is the tech hotspot of the world, where most venture capital is done,” Krantz said. “I don’t think I’d have been introduced to this world if not for this program.”
The goal is to provide access and opportunity, said Halsey, “inspiring students to create the life they dream of living.”
“Every major college in America is competing for access to Silicon Valley right now,” she added. “Our students have access.”
By Cyndy Falgout
Published in the Fall 2017 issue | Features