Fourteen Washington State University students each pursuing a subset of engineering, communication and business degrees are often not seen working together, but under the umbrella of entrepreneurship each unique experience and academic background harmoniously collaborate.
The Frank Scholars is a multidisciplinary program designed to promote engineering entrepreneurial work which culminates in a semester-long project and a week spent making contacts with WSU alum and Silicon Valley industry leaders alike. During the third week of May 2018 the lesson I uncovered about the entrepreneurial culture reached across the aisles of disciplinary boundaries. To recognize the value in one’s work begins with having a keen sense of self-awareness.
The following is a daily summary of the Frank Scholars Silicon Valley excursion. The structure chosen here is intended to demonstrate the variety of the trip and how the week reached a pinnacle life lesson through the experience.
Day 1: Coming in for a landing
Agenda: Flight, hotel check-in, Santa Cruz boardwalk | 4:15 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
A 4 a.m. flight with a couple hours layover is a crash course in getting to know one’s fellow classmates. Despite spending a semester together, the members of the Frank Scholars had not spent quality time together quite like this before. It was a frenzy of which car, next location, and uncertainty that fueled each of us for the first leg of our trip. With the upcoming events in sight, last minute research and preparation lasted into the night with many of us restlessly awaiting the early morning call time.
Day 2: No one personality is required for a start-up
Agenda: Intel Sports, Rocket EMS, Whipsaw, Frank Scholars Networking Reception | 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Lasting throughout the first day the Frank Scholars were nervous to properly represent ourselves. We were asked to speak our truth, explain our dreams, and demonstrate our personal pitch.
Beginning at Intel Sports we met with WSU alum who bridged the story of academia to corporate life. At Rocket EMS we were challenged with defining what we want with who we are. At Whipsaw, we dived deep into the world of design and expanded our understanding of how engineering products require an artistic, personalized purpose. Ending with a networking reception where speed networking put our research and preparation to the test.
The first lesson was clear from the events of the day, no one type of person fits the idealized mold of an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship was about identifying an individual’s own strengths and weaknesses and carving out a path that included building a network of people that compliment both aspects.
Day 3: Lows and highs
Agenda: Qualpay, Navis, Google | 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 a.m.
A night spent up late adding those on LinkedIn we had met the prior day left the Frank Scholars with a sense of security that would be tested on day three. Qualpay introduced our group to a strong sense of collaborative teamwork. Navis brought in a variety of speakers that attested to the storytelling need of job hunting and personal branding. Upon our exit from Navis, the group was confronted by a roadblock.
Two of the rental vehicles had been broken into and we were again experiencing a crash course in learning the personality types of our classmates and chaperones. In the face of uncertainty, we rallied and made it to Google headquarters in San Francisco.
Google was an event in combination with the previous events that brought out new sides of our group. We were asked to make commitments to each other and with this exercise, I learned something about the trip that had not been obvious before.
Though we were meeting with titans of industry and role models in entrepreneurship it was the Frank Scholars that would be our greatest allies, mentors, and coworkers in the future. Forming bonds within our group would be my personal goal.
Day 4: Mentor, mentee
Agenda: Startup’s pitch with Ben Lenail, Tesla tour | 9:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
With the longest day behind us, the trip continued to build on the momentum of yesterday’s discovery. Ben Lenail and Laurie Yoler took the time to describe how they build mentor, mentee relationships. The attention to detail in how to approach a desired mentor curbed the way in which we sent our LinkedIn messages and goals for connecting with future hosts for the week.
The culture of Silicon Valley echoed the importance of mentor and mentee relationships continually, but with a step by step instruction and a day filled with start-up companies speaking with us who had built relationships with our hosts demonstrated the possibility and reality of networking opportunities.
Day 5: The future is here
Agenda: SLAC, Zoox, Facebook, Intimate meeting with a start-up and their investors | 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Day five was a realization that Silicon Valley is the hub of innovation. The speakers on this day showcased how breakthrough technology is fostered in the environments we had been visiting all week. Stanford National Accelerator Laboratory toured us through the linear particle accelerator, introduced us to utility applications of blockchain, and ended with a ride in an autonomous vehicle at Zoox. It felt like a tour through the future, the possibility of what is to come.
The evening ended with an intimate meeting with two biomedical start-ups. The change in scenery from start-ups offices, to national labs, to Facebook headquarters now ending with a private meeting in an alumni’s home felt uniquely special. The lesson throughout day five was about our possibilities to be a part of this world, to be the ones who are crafting the future tech that will mold and shape the world’s culture.
Day 6: Confidence builder
Agenda: Proofpoint, Lockheed Martin, Schmoozer | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Another late night leading into the final day was life as the Frank Scholars knew it. Each day we were awakened with a new sense of self and by the final day, we all had ambitions far beyond what we had entered the week with.
Proofpoint was a guide from start-up to initial public offering and how to handle the press. Lockheed Martin was a round of speed mentoring and a tour of satellites that amazed and delighted. The final event was the culmination of the week’s lessons. A schmoozer at the home of WSU alumni with 20 plus industry experts in attendance.
This event was a second chance at the day two networking event. A chance to re-introduce ourselves with the knowledge of the culture of Silicon Valley, with the new-found ambitions and goals defined, with the confidence to portray our value. The schmoozer confirmed that we as Frank Scholars were engaged with the entrepreneurial spirit, not just in knowledge or experience or coursework but with our self-interest and being.
We ended the trip with a vote. The Frank Scholars became enamored with taking this experience home. The group formed club positions and spoke about our desires for becoming mentors, ambassadors, and representations of what being an entrepreneur mean back to WSU.
Day 7: Leaving on a high note
Agenda: Flight, Pullman arrival | 6:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
The end was bittersweet. The euphoria of a trip that confirmed so much about each individual’s academic pursuits was hard to say goodbye to. Saying goodbye not only to the experience but to one another was hard.
The Frank Scholars are multidisciplinary, but after this trip, they are more than that, we are cohesive. The aim of the trip is sold as exposure which we received in droves. Exposure to Silicon Valley, to dedicated alum, to innovators and leaders and most importantly exposure to each other and to ourselves.
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