Fostering an Entrepreneurial Mindset at LehighSiliconValley
Innovative program steeps Lehigh students in the ways of entrepreneurship.
When Lehigh established the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation in 2010, one of its first program initiatives grew out of a fundamental idea: What if Lehigh students could literally get in a room with the founders of startup companies in Silicon Valley, as well as their primary investors, and “just get inside their heads?”
The result: LehighSiliconValley, the Baker Institute’s flagship program that has so far immersed more than 500 Lehigh students in Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and provided what many students have come to describe as one of their most impactful Lehigh experiences.
“This was never designed to be a tour of the iconic brands,” says Lisa Getzler, executive director of the Baker Institute. “It was meant to be an immersion into a world and a brain trust that students could never otherwise experience” with founders, investors, CEOs and key stakeholders at startups and established companies.
“Through our network of alumni and friends and parents like Tom [Gillis ’15P ’17P ’19P], we were able to identify key players and build this weeklong program where we would interact with them,” Getzler says. “The very first year was very much a prototype. We made decisions based on opportunity as well as logistical criteria.”
The number of students accepted each year into the competitive program? That was based on the number of bus seats available—56—to ferry students around Silicon Valley each January.
There are no PowerPoint presentations, no speeches, no “talking heads,” Getzler says. Sessions are driven by students’ questions, which they develop through extensive research about the companies, their founders and investors.
“Everything,” she says, “is about preparation.”
Now LehighSiliconValley is celebrating its 10-year anniversary with a new cohort of 25 students (who can fit together on a Zoom screen) that are participating remotely for two weeks, beginning Jan. 4, 2021, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Entrepreneurship, innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration are all hallmarks of a Lehigh education,” said Lehigh President John D. Simon ’19P. “LehighSiliconValley is an outstanding example of this, providing students with immersive experiences and educational opportunities that have proven inspiring and transformative.”
In the decade since LehighSiliconValley was created, the program went through a retooling and redesign, allowing students to dive deeper into their areas of interest through specialty tracks and extended experiential learning opportunities. The mission, however, is unchanged.
There are no PowerPoint presentations, no speeches, no “talking heads.” Sessions are driven by students’ questions, which they develop through extensive research about the companies, their founders and investors.
“We want students to learn that entrepreneurship is a way of thinking,” Getzler says. “Starting companies is one manifestation of that. If students opt to start a company, there is a whole world of relationship-building that is part of that. Learning to identify people in your network and to connect with them in a way that's mutually beneficial is very often a big part of how successful deals are made and companies are built.
“On the flip side, students who never start a company may very well join one that will value their entrepreneurial thinking and their ability to bring creativity to the process and to start right out of the gate being able to do that.”