Thought Leadership: ESTEEM Explores Silicon Valley!

Author: Anderson, Mohra

ESTEEM students eating lunch at Plug and Play in Silicon ValleyESTEEM students eating lunch at Plug and Play in Silicon Valley

This year’s ESTEEM Spring Break Trip featured gifts of unexpected novelty - a lesson in “resilience, gratitude, [and] flexibility,” said advisor Ellen Dutton. On Sunday, March 12th, students embarked on a week of networking, shadowing, and business enrichment in Silicon Valley at the behest of the ESTEEM program. Weeks in advance, the Spring Break Committee had scheduled Silicon Valley Bank to be a featured speaker for a lunch and learn on Wednesday, March 15th. On Thursday, March 9th, Silicon Valley Bank collapsed. When Silicon Valley Bank’s (SVB) investments in Federal Treasury bonds plummeted in value, the bank had insufficient cash to pay depositors. Fearing a bank run, regulators shut SVB down – a shocking start to ESTEEM’s week in Silicon Valley. 

The SVB collapse might have been the bad omen that started off the ESTEEM trip. After a successful first day at Plug and Play, an innovation platform that connects large-scale corporations with promising startups in Silicon Valley, students toured Stanford and saw the landmark of where Silicon Valley started. Unfortunately, a few speakers had to either cancel or present via Zoom due to the SVB bank crisis. The next day, power at Hotel Zico and surrounding areas ceased to exist due to a windstorm. The hotel, not having access to a generator, communicated that power would not return until Friday, March 17th. Too many cold showers, resourceful phone charging in public, and shenanigans in the dark prompted the ESTEEM staff to find new hotels for all the students. In the late evening on Wednesday, March 14th, students moved their stuff out of Hotel Zico and into a nearby motel. To make matters more humorous, Hotel Zico managed to supply a generator earlier than expected, and had the power running when the moving occurred. Other than a spontaneous shattering of a bathroom window within the motel, students were thankful that lodging and power were secured. 

Wednesday’s shadow day was a diamond in the rough for students. SVB’s collapse resulted in students having a round table discussion with Haresh Patel, founder and CEO of Mercatus, and networking with A.J. Altman, Founder and CEO of Hover. Despite being exchanged for an SVB coffee chat, both visits received incredibly positive feedback. The remaining students visited local innovation centers such as UC Berkeley’s BioEngenuity Hub, Tesla, Vitalize Venture Capital, One Valley, and met Steve Blank. At the end of the day, several students toured Salesforce Park and may or may not have joined an impromptu free Zumba class before watching the sun set behind the Golden Gate Bridge.

Thursday started without a hitch, and five ESTEEM student-led teams pitched to a group of Silicon Valley investors at Notre Dame(ND)-California’s facilities. Comma, an app based startup to combat social media addiction, won best presentation, and Tipoff won best idea for their female-focused, crowdsourced bar safety rating platform. But when it rains, it pours. During the next presentation, a pipe burst in ND-California and flooded the building. Students, staff, and the speakers evacuated the building and were greeted with sunny, 65 degree weather. With an extra hour of time freed up, students completed their tour of the computer history museum early and relaxed until their Team Dinner to tie up the week. Before heading back to winter weather in South Bend, many students in the ESTEEM cohort enjoyed St. Patrick’s Day festivities in San Francisco.

In spite of water, wind, and inflation, ESTEEM’s Silicon Valley trip succeeded in giving students an accurate picture of the high-tech mecca. Networking opportunities increased tenfold through speakers, ND California events, and connections to local alumni. The Silicon Valley trip might seem, after all the incidents of the week, amateur compared to the offerings of other programs. However, the purpose of this article is to emphasize the opposite. The undocumented conversations between students and VCs, meetings with executives, roundtable conversations with gritty entrepreneurs, and beyond make this trip uniquely competitive among similar adventures. As in previous years, it is to be expected that many students will secure jobs through the connections they made on this trip. After shadowing the workday of a venture capitalist, a few students realized their dream occupation and now want to strive for it. The growth of each student is evident after coming back to Notre Dame - an illustration of  how such a short time in the Valley with the right resources can be distinctly impactful.