Startup hub San Francisco is a hotbed for students in the Lehigh Silicon Valley program, despite being situated on the opposite side of the country from Lehigh.
The program provides the opportunity for students to learn valuable information about entrepreneurship. It was created eight years ago by professor Dale Falcinelli in partnership with the Baker Institute. According to Lisa Getzler, the executive director of the Baker Institute, Falcinelli found an opportunity for Lehigh to form relationships with companies in Silicon Valley.
“We (the Baker Institute) see entrepreneurship as more than just starting companies, we see it as a way of thinking,” Getzler said. “When students have the opportunity to be immersed in the culture of entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley, it provides a great example that using an entrepreneurship mindset can solve problems, innovate solutions and create value for other people.”
This year, 55 Lehigh undergraduate and graduate students traveled to the Bay Area to network with and learn from entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, inventors and product design experts who are well recognized in the startup industry.
The students collaborate in teams to tackle live cases and present recommendations to CEOs and founders as if they themselves were investors. The four preselected tracks include Arts Entrepreneurship, FinTech, Software Engineering and Start Up. Each track encompasses the students’ special interests.
“I ended up networking with a bunch of people and got the opportunity to have conversations with CEOs and presidents of these companies,” Olivia Reinold, ’19, said. “The opportunity to ask questions, hear their advice and hear their stories about how they got there put a lot of perspective on what we expect post-graduation and how much work they had to go through.”
Reinold, a graphic design major, said she applied to Lehigh Silicon Valley because she was enticed by the networking opportunities, but ended up also acquiring more realistic expectations of the growing creative art industry after completing the Arts Entrepreneurship track.
“I expected to get a job right out of college, but then I hear about these people taking years and taking risks to get to where they’re at,” Reinold said. “It’s really important to see that it takes time, and for any student, whether they’re a sophomore, junior or senior, that’s valuable information.”
Julia Pietruszka, ’20, said she was initially hesitant about Lehigh Silicon Valley because she didn’t expect to make connections as an environmental engineer. However, through the Start Up track, she said she realized students of any major can benefit from the program and make significant connections.
Pietruszka said the program extends beyond just those who are interested in starting their own business.
“It’s about innovating, whether that’s innovating within the framework of a large corporation or a small startup, it doesn’t matter,” Pietruszka said. “You learn to think outside the box and challenge your own ideas and be open to criticism.”
Pietruszka said her biggest takeaway from Lehigh Silicon Valley is that adaptability is huge, no matter what industry.
She learned that it’s important to move forward with a revised plan if your “plan A” doesn’t work.
Pietruszka said she also realized the importance of “investing in yourself,” which she says is recognizing your own value and taking the time to develop your skills — whether it’s now or asking for professional development opportunities in the future.
Lehigh Silicon Valley, the first immersion program of the Baker Institute, has had years of success. Getzler said the Baker Institute has realized students learn better when immersed in a different experience and culture.
The Baker Institute’s mission is to produce more immersive programs and expand to other entrepreneurial hubs across the country, and internationally, for more students to have similar opportunities.