From treading the halls of renowned product design companies to hearing Google developers discuss the latest app, 56 Lehigh students got the experience of a lifetime over winter break, participating in the latest LehighSiliconValley immersion trip to California’s Silicon Valley—a trip that took place as Lehigh is rapidly expanding its presence on the West Coast.
The cohort of undergraduate and graduate students spent 10 days in the hub of entrepreneurship, birthplace of cutting-edge technologies and world-changing business models. They interacted with CEOs, investors, entrepreneurs, inventors, product designers and others who play key roles in building new enterprises to learn about the ecosystem and culture. Along the way, they met Lehigh alumni who lead and innovate at such companies as Google, Adobe and Alaska Airlines and in industries spanning venture capital, software, startups, data analytics, consulting, technology, finance and marketing.
Now in its seventh year, the program is a three-credit course built on a “live case” learning environment that focuses on real companies, real players and real situations. Students meet with experts, immerse themselves in fast-paced business environments and learn how to apply lessons to their own entrepreneurial journeys.
“You don’t need to be a founder to have a founder’s mentality,” said MBA student Will Kane ’18G, a healthcare technology manager at Johnson & Johnson. “Really, it’s like a mindset that can be applied in all aspects of life. Whether you’re starting a company, funding a company, or, like me, part of a larger corporation, you can be an innovator in that space, even if you’re not starting your own company.”
The program, a flagship of Lehigh’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation, is one of a growing number of Lehigh initiatives on the West Coast. Among the most notable is the university partnership, launched last year, with the nonprofit Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco. The university has also continued to expand its Western Regional Office, which aims to create new opportunities for current and prospective students and greater connections with industry. Lehigh has about 8,000 alumni in the western region and about 2,000 in the Bay Area.
For the first time, LehighSiliconValley participants could this year take an additional deep dive into one of three specialized learning tracks–Design Thinking, FinTech (Financial Technology) or Software Engineering. This new option was implemented to further engage the academically diverse group and provide experiences immediately applicable to student studies, co-curricular efforts and entrepreneurial goals, said Lisa Getzler, Baker Institute executive director and director of LehighSiliconValley.
FinTech students visited Silicon Valley Bank and Visa/TrialPay, where they learned about commercial banking, blockchain, cryptocurrency, and opportunities and innovations driving this new area. The Design Thinking group learned about ideation, worked with founders of LUNAR Design and visited global design firm IDEO. And the Software Engineering cohort learned about being a Silicon Valley software engineer in settings ranging from startup to established tech powerhouses, visiting Google, Adobe, Cisco Systems, the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, OSIsoft and Bracket Computing.
“If you’re thinking about entrepreneurship or starting your own company, you need to be here [in Silicon Valley],” said Tom Gillis ’15P, ’17P, ’19P, founder and CEO of Bracket Computing and an ardent supporter of Lehigh’s West Coast efforts. “If you are here, things happen.”
As a capstone to the experience, the Lehigh students engaged in a “Design Sprint,” in which they used design thinking to generate solutions for companies that completed Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center’s Milestone Makers program. The sprint took place at the Lehigh@NasdaqCenter, a 4,500-square-foot space opened in 2017 in Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center to provide educational, internship and research opportunities and host alumni and admissions events.
IDEAS major Rachel Shields ’18 said the sprint inspired her and her fellow students to approach issues from all angles and brainstorm in search of innovative solutions. “I think we all had a lot of cool ideas and some of it seemed to be aligning with what the company wanted to do, so I think we definitely inspired more ideas in them, and they inspired more ideas in us,” she said.
The group also learned about Bitcoin and virtual reality at Boost VC, witnessed product evolution at LUNAR Design and heard how startup SpotHero took over the parking space market after gaining VC investment from Paul Martino ’95. At Adobe, they learned about drones and digital experience software and met Ann Lewnes ’83, executive vice president and chief marketing officer.
The LSV experience gave Alex James ’19, a computer science and business major, new perspectives on job opportunities and exposure to the West Coast. “I hear about it, but it’s definitely different to be here and to feel the culture,” he said.
See more LehighSiliconValley coverage online at the Lehigh News Center and student blogs at lehighsiliconvalley2018.tumblr.com.
Photos by Christa Neu