ESTEEM's Week in Silicon Valley: Spring Break '20

Author: Will Gillach

Our cohort spent the past week in the global epicenter of innovation and entrepreneurship, Silicon Valley. With current global unrest due to COVID-19, our trip was truly wild in a number of ways, yet our travel, speakers, and tours were a true delight. Here is a brief rundown of ESTEEM’s trek to Silicon Valley. 

On the front-end weekend of break, our cohort divided and conquered, traveling to places such as Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, Denver, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas—wild times, indeed! Coalescing in Palo Alto on Sunday, we kicked off our week in the Valley over dinner and discussion about our pre-travel, and our plan of attack for the week.

Our week consisted of a plethora of entrepreneurial speakers and company tours. Many companies had shut down due to the virus, yet founders and executives from various companies still agreed to come and speak with us. In total, we had over a dozen speakers, ranging from founders of small startups to C-suite executives of market-leading corporations. Speakers included: 

  • Aisling MacRunnels, founder of a the pioneering cyber security company, Synack 
  • Gary Kirkham, global co-lead of technology investment banking at Bank of America Merrill Lynch
  • Ying Liu, ex-Apple director and current founder of sustainability startup, Blue Lake Packaging
  • Dennis Boyle, founder of the prestigious design firm, IDEO
  • Mehul Nariyawala, co-founder of a household robotics company, Matician
  • Andreas Stavropoulos, partner at Threshold Ventures, a top-tier VC firm located on Sand Hill Road

All the speakers were incredibly insightful and helpful, offering their unique perspectives on a wide-variety of topics including: the future of technology, career development, challenges of entrepreneurship, and work-life balance. I truly cannot undersell the power of these speakers, and am grateful for having had the opportunity to create relationships and learn from such inspiring people. 

Several companies had remained open despite the virus, and welcomed us for on-site company tours. These opportunities allowed us to witness, first-hand, innovations that are revolutionizing the world. Two notable tours included Verb Surgical and IrriGreen. At Verb, a joint venture started between Google and Johnson & Johnson (J&J now holds full ownership), we had the opportunity to hear from top-level business and research executives, Bill Gawkins, Dave Herrmann, and Pablo Garcia. They presented the process used to develop Verb’s state-of-the-art, AI-powered surgical system. We had discussions around the future of autonomous medicine and the business and medical challenges faced in the system's development. We then had the opportunity to see the surgical apparatus in person—it was absolutely wild! Another group had the chance to shadow IrriGreen, who is producing a smart sprinkler system that reduces water consumption. The group participated in a sales demonstration at a San Jose golf course, and then accompanied the IrriGreen team for an ideation session and happy hour. Across the board, the company tours allowed ESTEEM students to truly experience innovation throughout the Valley, and inspired us to create the change we wish to see in the world.

The wild week also consisted of great fun for our crew. We spent Tuesday evening at Tom Stephenson’s home, where we enjoyed dinner, drinks, and conversation with a handful of Tom’s friends who lead businesses throughout the Valley (huge thanks to Tom and his family for hosting us!). Further, throughout the week several groups explored San Francisco, while others ventured on picturesque hikes throughout the Valley. As the week came to a close (and people scrambled to book earlier flights home), many of the cohort rendezvoused in Mountain View to celebrate our final night together. 

In all seriousness, our week in Silicon Valley was special. It was a week of professional and personal growth, but also a week of bonding as a cohort. I speak on behalf of all that this was a week I will never forget. Thank you to all who made it happen, and long live ESTEEM.