Carnegie Mellon University

Integrated Innovation Institute

Engineering + Design + Business

Integrated Innovation Institute

Juan Vargas in front of CMU Silicon Valley

December 03, 2019

A Silicon Valley Student Seeks Entrepreneurial Heights

By Elizabeth Donaldson

“It’s an adrenaline rush. You either fly or you plummet,” Juan Vargas (MSTV ’20) says of the sink-or-swim mentality of Silicon Valley. “If you can’t fly, you’ve got to make sure you can land in one piece because no one’s there to rescue you.”

Vargas is an engineering and automation expert, and he’s eager to apply his technical skills to start his own company. Attracted to Silicon Valley's innovative energy and interested in opportunities like the Swartz Center’s VentureBridge initiative and Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley's Entrepreneurship Club, Vargas joined the Master of Science in Technology Ventures program to enrich his engineering expertise and develop the business savvy and network to launch his startup.

During the day, he learns from experienced faculty and peers at Carnegie Mellon’s Moffett Park campus, centrally located in Mountainview, California. Throughout the week, he travels the Bay Area to attend meet-ups and events, developing his networking and immersing himself in Silicon Valley culture. He learns from both hopeful and successful entrepreneurs, engineers, designers, and established investors. For Vargas, the whole Silicon Valley region has become his classroom and the region’s venture capitalists and entrepreneurs are his teachers, too. 

“There’s something happening every day of the week,” says Vargas. “There’s such an informed community here and a feeling that people will help you by either giving you feedback or connecting you with other people. You’re not going to find that anywhere other than Silicon Valley.”

Vargas at Facebook Occulus
Exploring Silicon Valley: Vargas trying out VR technology at Facebook's Oculus headquarters

As a trained engineer, Vargas says that he’s used to solving problems on his own. As an MSTV student, though, he’s learned the value of collaborating and seeking outside perspectives. He’s worked extensively with MSTV program director, Sheryl Root, to refine his venture's pitch, which he’s practiced on everyone from neighbors and family to venture capitalists and judges at competitions like TechCrunch Hackathon: Disrupt SF.

“You have to pitch as often as you can because you need as much feedback as possible,” Vargas says. He described the process of meeting and pitching to potential investors as highly competitive and even cutthroat, but nonetheless valuable. “After you mourn your pride for a few minutes, you realize they’ve made a great point and you go back to the drawing board. You may have the best technical product, but you have to learn to sell it. You have to learn how to craft a dream.”

Vargas at work
Vargas sketches out his pitch at Carnegie Mellon's Silicon Valley campus

Vargas feels confident in his skills and the expertise of his partners as well as his vision for the future. As he 'crafts the dream,' he considers how his automation venture can change the world.

“Right now, we have so many urgent problems in our society that need solving. And it pains me to know that we invest so much energy in critical zero-net-gain tasks and minutiae every single day, leaving little time for anything else. I want to live in a society in which we can solve problems quickly, delegate them, and grow knowledge exponentially.”

Vargas is expected to graduate in May 2020, though his venture launch is pending until his next Silicon Valley pitch.