Bay Area Inspiration
A New Year's Trek to Silicon Valley helps James R. Swartz Entrepreneurial Fellows start the year off on the right foot.
The highly selective program develops the skills of graduate students passionate about technology entrepreneurship. Through the support of James Swartz (TPR'66) the fellows receive mentoring, networking opportunities, hear prominent entrepreneurial speakers and more.
"The Swartz Fellows' Trek is an immersive cohort experience designed to introduce the students to the Silicon Valley culture and ethos," said Dave Mawhinney, co-director of CMU’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). "It helps to prepare them for their coming summer internships at Silicon Valley VC-backed startups, where they learn first-hand from founders what it takes to build a successful startup."
The current group of fellows traveled with the Tepper School's Graduate Entrepreneurship Club to Silicon Valley in January. Students visited more than 20 startups, accelerators and venture capital firms in industries from health care to robotics.
"In meeting with the entrepreneurs and investors, we were able to hear their stories and advice on navigating the entrepreneurial landscape," said Matthew Cantele (TPR'16). "While there were common threads, everyone's story was unique. We learned there is no 'right' way to do something."
The fellows prospected and interviewed for internships with many accepting offers. Cantele was seeking a startup where he can "improve people's lives through smart, connected devices" while classmate Alison Alvarez (TPR'16), was looking to continue her work in data strategy.
"I gained valuable connections and useful advice, particularly in learning about the setbacks that this highly successful group of entrepreneurs encountered," Alvarez said. "It's misleading to think that the path to success is a straight one."
"It's always exciting to talk to such motivated, exceptionally bright students," said DJ Kleinbaum (S'05) of Emerald Therapeutics. "The chance to talk with a whole cadre of CMU students with diverse backgrounds and business acumen was fantastic."
Emerald, co-founded by Kleinbaum and Brian Frezza (S'05), has 24 employees including five CMU alumni.
"We maintain strong ties to CMU and return every year to recruit there," Kleinbaum said. "CMU was an amazing and influential place for us, and we were honored to host part of the trek."
Additional events included a reception with Swartz and past fellows, an alumni panel of tech entrepreneurial leaders and an alumni happy hour.
"The students on the Trek gain immeasurable value in building their contact networks, speaking directly to founders and C-level executives at the startups, the VCs and talent partners at the investment firms, and CMU alumni at the host companies," said V. Emily Stark, CIE associate director. "The boost in the students' confidence levels and intellectual growth was almost palpable."