IESE MBAs Tour Silicon Valley Startups

 The bus weaves its way through San Francisco traffic before stopping outside another warehouse striped with windows – the Hatchery, recently renamed Hatch Today.  The co-working facility has hosted a wide mix of companies, ranging from technology startups to wine makers and writers. The students amble through a familiar maze of whiteboards, conference rooms and ergonomically correct chairs to cram into a conference room. They’re here to meet IESE business school alumna Anna Binder, the enthusiastic head of client services for Readyforce, a career network that links college students to startups.

IESE students enjoy a working lunch at the headquarters of Lemon, a virtual wallet application

IESE students enjoy a working lunch at the headquarters of Lemon, a virtual wallet application

Binder, a sandy-haired woman with an infectious smile, didn’t get into IESE on the first round. So she did the logical thing – bought a ticket to Spain and showed up outside the admissions office, she says with a laugh.  It worked. She returned to Silicon Valley in 2005 with an IESE MBA. The degree gave her an advantage in the area, she adds. “People would say, ‘That’s in Spain, that’s high risk, why did you do that?'” she says. “That fits with the culture.”

Her advice to the students? “If you really want it, jump on it,” she says.  “There’s no shame in failure here.”


The students are eager to put the morning’s advice into practice – Silicon Valley might be forgiving of failure, but it’s much easier to fall on your face in front of your classmates than a roomful of investors. En route to the next destination, the bus transforms into a shark tank.

IESE MBA student Josh Lehr presents his business pitch en route to the next stop.

IESE MBA student Josh Lehr presents his business pitch en route to the next stop

Josh Lehr, a former Marine Corps intelligence specialist from Portland, Oregon, presents his proposal over the bus’ loudspeaker.  His pitch? Sani Lock, a foot-activated door lock for portable toilets. He got the idea after observing the spread of germs on an aid trip to Peru with his wife. An encounter with a particularly nasty toilet lock at a barbecue back in the U.S. confirmed his suspicions that there was a market need. He’s patented the technology, launched a website and developed a prototype. But that doesn’t stop his classmates and two accompanying professors from grilling him on everything from the financial benefits for investors to his plans for preventing Sani Lock theft.

A lot has changed for Kemperman since last year’s Silicon Valley trek, partly as a direct result of the trip.  He leveraged advice, connections and mentors he gained from the visit to help launch his startup Treeveo, a business-to-business merger tool.  The concept was picked up by Wayra, one of Spain’s most sought-after startup incubators.  “Right now I’m an incubated, founded entrepreneur. Last year I was just a student with an idea,” he says.

When asked why he decided to come back, Kemperman, who graduates in April 2013, responds without hesitation: “It’s a little bit my baby because I created the trip, but also because there’s so much more out here to see,” he says. “Now I come as an entrepreneur, last year I came as a wantrepreneur.”


Word about the 2013 trip travelled fast.

For this year’s trek Kemperman organized a first-come, first-served signup on Eventbrite. It sold out in less than two hours.


MBA John Henry was among the team of nine students who organized the trip

The in-person networking opportunities are a big draw for students, according to Knudson. By the end of the first day she had set up four meetings. Her ideal job blends the innovative startup mentality with an established company name, such as Salesforce, which is on the itinerary for Thursday.  Throughout the day, the students are asking questions,  exploring networks, exchanging business cards and feeling out summer internship possibilities.  The evening offers another opportunity for networking with a Founder’s Dinner in San Francisco, where students mix with Silicon Valley’s movers and shakers.

And the trip has only just begun. Despite the flight from Spain the day before, no one is calling it an early night. Either the adrenalin is still surging, the caffeine is potent or the spirit of the Valley has infected the bus. The group is pumped for the next event, or perhaps they’re just proving their mettle in a world where sleepless nights and triple-shot espressos are the norm.

If Silicon Valley is the land of dreams, it’s also the land of hard work, Knudson says while reflecting on the lessons from the day. Would-be entrepreneurs are assessed on more than their ideas, business plans and spreadsheet savvy, she observes. “When it gets really tough and you have to eat Ramen Noodles and live with seven people, is he going to drop out, or is he going to take it all the way?” she asks. This group is clearly prepared to go the extra mile, in fact, 5,972 of them.

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