The Year in Review

Author: Notre Dame ESTEEM

John Vernon, a recent ESTEEM graduate, provides a reflection on the past year as a member of the Class of 2015. John will be starting in August with enFocus, a South Bend Start-up consulting firm, and continuing with the business project developed from his Master’s Thesis.

“Let it be known that we never dreamed too small…”

It is hard to believe that 11 months ago the Class of 2015 arrived in South Bend energized, engaged, and excited to get started with the ESTEEM Program.

ESTEEM has been an incredible journey for each and every one of us. Our graduate student cohort consisted of 34 researchers and entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds and a broad range of life experiences.

At orientation students get to know each other through a field trip to a local State Park

Although we were initially strangers last June, we soon became “fast friends”, bonding together to form long lasting connections.  The ESTEEM administrators wisely planned a night out at the South Bend Silver Hawks game to get us to relax, and we just hung out getting to know each other better and talked until we closed the place down. Another Orientation highlight was our ‘field day’ at the park grilling out, playing soccer, and learning about the sport of hurling from our Irish Naughton Fellows prior to beginning full steam ahead.  

We dove right into our BMC projects, and most of us were bustling around the town of South Bend and the Notre Dame community conducting customer interviews. If I had a dollar for every time our advisor, Sunny said, “get out of the building” I could probably start my own VC (Venture Capital) firm.

As the year progressed, we learned valuable skills in marketing, finance, design, and ethics. Thesis projects were a major focus, and students dove deep into investigating subjects such as big data, mobile computing, medical devices, motors and mechanical engineering, and the latest cancer treatments.

Students participate in a Business Model Canvass exercise

Students are greeted by one of the Vice Presidents at Google's Chicago headquarters

Immediately after Christmas break we took an enjoyable and enlightening trip to Chicago and visited some amazing companies such as Google and IDEO.  Then ESTEEM students formed teams to design and develop their business ideas in preparation for the McCloskey Business Plan Competition.

However, our most unforgettable time this past year was our trip to Silicon Valley, California over Spring Break. It was so impressive and rewarding to see how the Notre Dame network stretches all the way to the West Coast. We felt right at home surrounded by welcoming fellow alumni who are making their mark in a wide range of fields.  We visited exceptional companies on the cutting edge of their industry, and learned some valuable lessons from venture capitalists, innovators, and entrepreneurs. I’m sure that my fellow classmates agree that this trip was truly inspirational, and the opportunities presented and memories made will be cherished now and in the years to come.

Once we returned from “the Valley” all of our attention shifted to finishing our thesis as we worked on preparing our final Defense of our project.  There were also a large number in our class that made it into the final rounds of the McCloskey Business Plan Competition.  In fact, 10 of the 20 semifinalists for the McCloskey Competition included teams with ESTEEM representatives. Many members of the group were traveling throughout the country interviewing for post graduation employment opportunities.  And six ESTEEM students decided to purchase an old school bus, renovate it, and embark on a cross-country road trip following graduation.  

ESTEEM Students at WeWorks in Silicon Valley

As part of the ESTEEM Class of 2015 we have learned so much over the course of this year. It required a lot of hard work, but resulted in creating a band of budding entrepreneurs with a valuable skill set that combines science, business, and strong leadership potential. We have become keenly aware that we now know how much more we need to learn, and to always remember to stay focused on the “Why” of what we are doing.  In preparing to enter the ‘real world’ of business and budding startups, this past year of training will definitely play a valuable part in preparing us for the experiences ahead. ESTEEM has given us a solid and ethical foundation on which we can continue to develop our personal and professional goals.

A word that frequently came up during our ESTEEM program was “Impact.” The mission of the program is to help us use the training and newly developed skills to make a difference in the companies, communities, and overall business climate wherever we go.  ESTEEM encourages us to challenge the status quo, and look for ways to make improvements in the way things are done.  As future leaders we are looking for more than mediocrity, and our focus needs to be on making a real positive difference for good in the world.

I feel blessed to have had the chance to study and learn in a supportive environment where our patroness, Notre Dame Our Mother, is always watching over us.  I have found that this same caring philosophy is also embraced by the ESTEEM staff, from the top of the chain on down. They are always up to the challenge, and I believe our eclectic group of budding entrepreneurs has all learned to appreciate the wisdom and guidance they received throughout this past year. My sincere gratitude goes out to the professors, advisors, mentors, and administrators for all they have done to make this year so personally and professionally valuable.

Let me again say congratulations to my friends and fellow graduates of the ESTEEM Class of 2015. I am so grateful for these friendships and I know that we will remain connected.  You each amaze me with your abilities and accomplishments and I look forward to hearing about all your success in the future and being proud to say “I knew you when.”

Each one of us is now part of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Family. So, I’d like to close with an old Irish Blessing.

“ May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind always be at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.”