Semester in San Francisco — Voyage through Silicon Valley
This past fall semester, I embarked on an immersive journey through the heart of the central startup environment of the world. The Semester in San Francisco program is a deep dive into the Silicon Valley, offered by Northeastern University. I have always wanted to get a better understanding of how the Silicon Valley ecosystem works and learn entrepreneurship from some of the biggest experts in the business. This semester gave me a strong overview of the startup process and what it takes to survive in this brutally competitive environment.
Although the program did not turn out as expected, as I enter the last week of the semester, I can genuinely say that this experience has helped me grow and develop a furious entrepreneurial mindset. The classes provided me with the proper resources for my teams and I to build out our ideas into scalable companies. The guest lecturers were able to bring their startup experience and investing expertise to guide us through the common challenges. By learning to apply these skills to our startup projects in the real world, I was able to walk the entrepreneurial path and get closer acquainted with what my career path might look like down the line.
There is really no better place to study entrepreneurship than the Bay Area, the birthplace of Silicon Valley and home to thousands of leading startups. The Semester in San Francisco program allows students to experience life in a very outgoing and accepting environment, having access to WeWork learning space in the middle of the financial district. As students, we received access to the building 24/7, where we can take classes individually and work on our group presentations even amidst the global pandemic.
I believe the greatest privilege of this experience was the direct contact we had with the industry experts. Apart from being our professors, they were serial-entrepreneurs with successful exits, long time investors, and unlike most of my business teachers back in Boston, they were still very active in the startup environment. They are still on the board of directors of multiple companies, having a strong presence in the Silicon Valley community.
When choosing classes to take in San Francisco, I decided to pick all 4 of my semester classes from the program, since I wanted to get the full experience despite my credits and open electives I had remaining. I ended up taking ENTR4501 Entrepreneurial Startups, MKTG4983 Special Topics in Marketing, FINA 4610 Entrepreneurial Finance, and ENTR2301 Innovation. I loved my classes and would recommend them to anyone considering doing this program. The marketing class gave great insight into what goes into successful sales channels and the content delivery methods behind them. The ENTR 4501 was the center stone class, teaching us all of the aspects which play a part in building a successful startup from the ground up. The innovation class explored whether innovation can be taught and the various ways it has come to fruition. And finally, the finance course broke down how to compile and analyze various financial documents, calculations behind the 5-year financials, and the tricks to achieve the most realistic industry-specific numbers.
Overall, the assignments were much more hands-on than textbook-based. Our professors encouraged us to get out of our comfort zone as much as possible, even introducing a rejection therapy, where we would attempt to get comfortable with rejections from strangers, introducing us to the way of life of an entrepreneur. Additionally, all classes had final team projects instead of final exams, with Innovation, ETR 4501, and Finance classes all having us work on a venture that we came up with. We had to validate it in the real world, compile secondary research, and talk to industry experts to create efficient business models, expansion plans, and financials to back it up. Furthermore, for ENTR 4501 and FINA 4610, we had to pitch in front of actual VC investors. This is something up and coming business students only see in VC clubs or SharkTank.
Apart from the courses:
Apart from the class lectures, there were other activities that made this experience stand out. Although in-person networking events were canceled, some external conferences were still made available to us, like TechCrunch which gave me a deep dive into the reality of the biggest startups and the level of questions they are exposed to. Most importantly, the guest lecturers made the biggest impact on me throughout this experience. From an engineer working on flying cars to a VC investor on over 15 company boards, the speakers had tremendous experiences to share. It truly gave a sense of what is expected of the up and coming startups. They walked us through their exits either as the entrepreneur or the investor. And most importantly, they showed us the light at the end of this long tunnel we call entrepreneurship.
The benefits you can gain:
Silicon Valley has converted you into a well-rounded business professional. Apart from allowing you to complete your whole entrepreneurship concentration, which is what I did, it helps you develop entrepreneurial design thinking which will help you see the bigger picture no matter what company you work for. Not only is this program beneficial to future entrepreneurs, but all business students interested in getting a tighter grasp on how the different aspects of companies work with another to create effective solutions. You will take away the entrepreneurial journey and the lessons you learned on the way through personal experiences and those of your teachers, mentors, and guest lecturers. Without a doubt, you will glance back at this journey and be able to use the lessons learned to tackle obstacles along your path, no matter which role you play. The voyage through Silicon Valley will forever stay afloat!