What MBAs Do Visiting Silicon Valley


Not all B-schools can rest at the footsteps of the world’s startup hotbed. Some schools, including Stanford’s GSB and UC-Berkeley’s Haas, hold a geographical advantage. But that’s not thwarting others from setting up satellite campuses or taking entrepreneurial pilgrimages into Tech’s Mecca. To ensure their most entrepreneurially inclined students have another access point to California’s Bay Area–and the startups, blue chip tech companies and venture capital firms that increasingly scatter it–the Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business simply moves them there.

For the past three years, Professor Arthur “Art” Boni has given MBAs in his Designing and Leading a Business capstone course the opportunity to move to the Bay Area for the final seven weeks of the semester. After the first portion of the semester-long course, half of the class stays to work in Pittsburgh while the other half packs up in mid-March and moves to the Bay Area to finish their capstone projects. The projects range from launching a business to raising investments for a business already established to tagging along and learning from a local early stage venture. For Boni and the students, the course’s previous five-day long Bay Area trek just wasn’t enough.

“You could do a program like this anywhere,” believes Boni. “Doing it here in such an exceptional place is special. You have within a 20-mile radius a concentration of money, technology, people and companies that doesn’t exist anywhere else. If you want an immersion program, this is the place to immerse. You can feel the energy.”


Part of the CMU Tepper students to spend six weeks in California's Bay Area as part of Prof. Art Boni's capstone class in entrepreneurship. Courtesy photo

Part of the CMU Tepper students to spend six weeks in California’s Bay Area as part of Prof. Art Boni’s capstone class in entrepreneurship. Courtesy photo

And they’ve absolutely immersed–professionally and socially. Some of the 15 students to take the trip have pitched top venture capital firms, including Sand Hill Angels. Others have been jet-setting around the country to various business plan competitions. They’ve sipped Merlot in the nearby orchards of Napa. About seven of them have even moved into an AirBnB together in downtown Mountain View–Silicon Valley’s epicenter. And they’ve tapped into the minds of Carnegie Mellon’s tech network at some of the area’s leading companies.

It’s evident the MBAs have caught the energy Boni spoke of as we navigate our bowls of phở with chopsticks in a Vietnamese restaurant in the middle of San Francisco. They boast of Carnegie Mellon’s robust tech and computer science chops and how Pittsburgh’s tech renaissance is booming in the midst of the city’s steel bust. Sidharth Sahoo, who is the co-president of the Graduate Entrepreneurship Club at Carnegie Mellon and sits next to his co-president, Kunal Parekh at lunch, ticks off the examples of Carnegie Mellon’s burgeoning entrepreneurial scene. His club is flourishing with a sizable uptick in entrepreneurial interest among the incoming MBA class of 2015, the Business & Technology Club has also grown to be one of the most popular on campus and treks to the Bay Area, Seattle and Austin, Texas have far surpassed capacity this academic year. All of that growth and support and yet, Sahoo and his fellow MBAs have uprooted and braved the Bay Area housing headache to fully engulf in all-things startup in the waning days of their MBA experience.

“I feel like you can throw a stone in any direction and hit something that has to do with a startup,” Hayden Cardiff observes as we walk from lunch at the Vietnamese restaurant to the next meeting, which will be with Philip Bouchard, the founder and CEO of TrustedPeer. Cardiff is truly a walking marketing pamphlet for Tepper entrepreneurship. After an undergraduate football career at Nichols State University and a year on Carnegie Mellon’s team as a first-year MBA, Cardiff was awarded the coveted Swartz Entrepreneurship Fellowship. He has run the gamut of Carnegie Mellon entrepreneurial options including on-campus incubator, Project Olympus, and Pittsburgh-based accelerator, AlphaLab. And yet Cardiff echoes Boni in the value and energy of an extended Bay Area stay.


“The types of interactions you get out here are next level,” insists Cardiff, who left behind his wife and one-year-old daughter to take the trip. “We’re interacting with the best and the brightest in the Valley and getting their thoughts on industry and leadership or what’s hot and what we as founders should be thinking about.”

Indeed, on the day of Poets&Quants’ visit, the group met with Matt Humphrey, the CEO of LendingHome and a Carnegie Mellon grad, Michael Preysman, CEO of Everlane, Shanna Tellerman, the founder and CEO of Modsy and a former partner at Google Ventures and Bouchard. The students spend every Tuesday and Thursday making their rounds throughout the Bay Area having similar meetings with blue chip tech companies, startups and venture capital firms. Wednesdays are spent working at Carnegie Mellon’s satellite campus in nearby Mountain View. On Mondays and Fridays the MBAs are given free reign to work on their capstone projects, which they present back in front of a panel of early stage investors just before heading back to Pittsburgh.