Last week I was privileged to participate in the 2013 University of Michigam Weather Underground Startup Trek (WUST13). The “Trek” provided the opportunity for U-M students interested in entrepreneurship to experience the San Francisco/Silicon Valley business startup environment firsthand. Though this is the seventh year the program has taken place, it was my first time attending.
You may be asking yourself, “Why was the program called ‘Weather Underground?’ Wasn’t that a group of 1960s social radicals?” Yeah, I wondered that, too, and yeah, it was. As it turns out though, Weather Underground is also a weather forecasting business that was started by U-M graduates back in the 1990s. The business was sold to The Weather Channel last year, and the founders sponsored this year’s West Coast trip.
Overall, WUST13 was a marvelous experience for all involved, especially the students. We were able to tour some of the Bay Area’s leading tech companies and hear directly from their executives. Companies visited included Facebook, Twitter, Box, Twillio, and more. We also visited a couple of the leading law firms that serve Silicon Valley clients. One of the highlights of the trip was the session at tech incubator RocketSpace, where students interacted with a panel of young entrepreneurs, and another panel of tech venture capitalists. These sessions gave the students insight into the environment and practices in Silicon Valley that they might otherwise take years to obtain.
The centerpiece of the trip, of course, was the opportunity for student entrepreneur teams to pitch their business ideas to venture capitalist/industry expert panels. This session took place at Stanford University, and was preceded by an address from none other than Steve Blank, serial entrepreneur and author of the very popular “Four Steps to the Epiphany” and “Startup Owner’s Manual.” Despite the expected nerves, the student teams did very well, and received valuable and timely feedback from the panels.
The event was capped on off on the last evening by an alumni reception at Twitter headquarters. I missed that one due to a previously scheduled speaking engagement, but I am told that it was a fitting end to a memorable and productive week. Thanks to all the U-M alums within the Bay Area companies who took the time to mentor their young protégés.
I wholeheartedly recommend this trip to any aspiring U-M entrepreneur. Is it too early to sign up for next year? 🙂