A new course sends 40 students deep into the “Silicon Valley ecosystem.”
“We are young, and now is the time to pursue your passions. And if you fail—that’s OK,” says Wharton junior Brooke Kiley.
For Kiley, this was a major takeaway from a pilot course offered to undergraduates this year—WH 297x: Wharton Industry Exploration Program: The San Francisco Bay Area Tech Sector.
Another junior, Lauren Li, learned about the fierce competition for engineering talent in Silicon Valley and about the importance of acquiring a basic knowledge of computer languages—“at least enough to gain empathy for engineers,” as she wrote about her experiences for the Wharton Entrepreneurship Blog. Among the many highlights of the trip for Li was “trying on Google Glass for the first time at the Googleplex in Mountain View.”
Li and Kiley were among 40 undergraduate students who spent a week in San Francisco in early January for a unique on-site look at what Lori Rosenkopf—vice dean of Wharton’s Undergraduate Division, the Simon and Midge Palley Professor and the course’s instructor—termed the “Silicon Valley ecosystem.”
View photo highlights of the Wharton Industry Exploration Program in San Francisco, including the talk by Mark Pincus and Andy Rachleff.
Rosenkopf said she wanted the students to understand “all the different parties that have to interact to make the place so successful.”
The group visited growing (and Whartonite founded) startups such as Prosper and Ampush, established giants such as eBay and Google, venture capital firms like Greylock and NEA, and financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs.
Local Wharton alumni played a key role, according to Rosenkopf, who called their participation “an incredible outpouring of support.” Among them was Joseph Ansanelli W92, a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Greylock. Ansanelli became involved with the project early on, working with Rosenkopf to shape the itinerary; fund the students’ travel; and marshal, as he said, “some of the amazing alumni in the Bay Area” to participate on panels, host site visits and attend gatherings.
At the Greylock site visit, Ansanelli “witnessed firsthand the incredible passion and insightful questions” of the students.
“I remember [how] when I was an undergrad, that hearing from and meeting with alumni in various industries helped to open my mind to all the various career opportunities,” he says. “And my hope is that some of the students think about careers in technology and entrepreneurship.”
The four-day-long course included several classroom panel discussions at Wharton | San Francisco, including one featuring prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Mark Pincus W88, founder of the game developer Zynga, and Andy Rachleff W80, co-founder of the automated investment service Wealthfront, as well as moderator Dean Geoffrey Garrett.
Rosenkopf hopes to repeat the trip next year, as well as add a second course that explores Los Angeles’ media and entertainment industry.
Student demand appears there to support it.
“I know we all think about going to Wall Street out of Wharton. … But there is a whole other exciting world out there,” Kiley says.