My Time in Silicon Valley

Author: Notre Dame ESTEEM

John Vernon is a current student and a member of our student development team.  Below are his reflections from the class trip to Silicon Valley.

When I joined the ESTEEM program I was aware of the traditional Spring Break Trip for our program, but the amazing adventure that we experienced last week in Silicon Valley and Palo Alto exceeded my expectations.  We were busy non-stop, meeting and greeting as we toured a number of successful companies. We had the opportunity to spend time with very accomplished people in a variety of industries who graciously shared their stories and insights with our group. It was definitely a highpoint for me, as well as the rest of the eager young entrepreneurs in my ESTEEM program. In order to get a day-by- picture of this trip, please enjoy our blog posts.  This recap will be an overall summary of the entire experience, and worthy of a special notation in our graduate school memory book.

A Welcome Leprechauns Sign

I am a proud Annapolitan from Maryland, and haven't spent a significant amount of time on the west coast.  My personality is a little bit more “East Coast formal” than the laid back culture of California. With that orientation, I was not sure what would be in store for the cohort and me when we came out to visit.  I was ready for anything and committed to learning as much as I could about the business models, and networking with as many people the people as I could. Fortunately, I can say that the opportunity to achieve those goals was a mission accomplished!

Our first couple of days was spent in San Francisco at WeWork, a startup incubator space in the city. It was great to hear from Notre Dame alumni working in that environment, as well as those working in the venture capital (VC), innovation, and entrepreneurial fields. This was a real learning experience for me because it brought a number of the skills we covered in the classroom to life in real world scenarios. A few of our students even had the unique chance to pitch their ideas to venture capitalists and received great feedback. I presented on my thesis research, and I received positive and encouraging remarks along with suggestions to keep moving forward on the right track. This feedback was extremely valuable for me, and will help in continuing to build our start up business.

John on a Da Vinci Machine

When I returned from break several people asked what was the most impressive and inspiring experience. For me, this was our time at Intuitive Surgical. This company develops and sells Da Vinci Robots for surgery practices. I had previously heard of these machines, and seen one at a hospital back home, but I never actually had the chance to demo one.  We talked with the engineers that work on these machines every day, and the patients that were treated with them. I was amazed at the passion that the team had about working to improve the overall experiences of the patients and doctors.  All of the members of the cohort had a chance to do a practice surgery with some rings and cones. Perhaps because we are all Millennial Tech types, everything seemed so easy to operate.  We really could see how valuable this instrument was, and realized that they adapted their product to the needs of the surgeons. As we were leaving we were reminded of their company mission, which is “patients first…always.”

One of the other things that was a true take away for me was the extension of the Notre Dame family in California.

We felt right at home with support from alumni and those in a wide range of fields that are immersed in the entrepreneurship community in the Bay Area. With the expansion of the Notre Dame California Initiative, we were able to get an exciting preview of the future plans for a significant ND presence on this landscape.  Another thing that stood out was how many people really identify as a friend of Notre Dame, and want to see our students succeed. At yet another networking event, we were exposed to new and cutting edge scientific discoveries, as well as local entrepreneurs and leaders from many different fields. Several members of our group commented about how nice it was to hear the positive support from the business leaders we met who expressed interest in helping us in our career development.

Class Picture in the Valley

By the end of the trip I felt that I had fully (well almost) embraced the lifestyle and the Northern California culture. We bonded even closer as a class during the trip by sharing some downtime in a new and stimulating environment. Many of us toured the parks, the city landmarks, and other surrounding areas. It is definitely on my list to visit this area in the future for work and play. Who knows, maybe some of our ESTEEM Class of 2015 will be relocating out in the “Valley” launching new companies and furthering the Notre Dame legacy of success across the country.

Excited and exhausted from a full “spring break”, I know my classmates and I had a truly memorable learning experience that we’ll be talking about for years.