Some students are out to prove they’re just as cut out for Silicon Valley as they are for Wall Street.
This October, a group of about 15 students will travel to San Francisco to visit technology companies, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs as part of Tech Trek, a trip organized by four members of Students for Technology and Entrepreneurship at Penn and the Dining Philosophers.
“We really want Penn to rise at least to the level of Stanford in terms of entrepreneurship,” said Wharton and College sophomore James Feuereisen, one of the Trek’s coordinators. “Right now we’re still known as the investment banking and consulting school, and we want to change that,” he added.
The Trek will take place during fall break, allowing students several days to meet with some of the nation’s most prominent start-ups and technology-based companies.
College sophomore Matt Gibstein, vice president of marketing for STEP, wants Penn to be more known among large tech companies.
“There are absolutely start-ups and companies that are taking advantage of the students and resources at Penn, but there are also companies that haven’t and probably should,” he said.
While the roster of companies isn’t yet solidified, the group is in talks with Facebook, Twitter and Google among others. Wharton and Engineering junior Pulak Mittal, a Trek coordinator, said, “We’re trying to see which combination of companies makes sense.”
Mittal, president of the Dining Philosophers, said there are certain elements to look for when determining which companies to visit, including, “being prominent, being cool.”
The organizers are also seeking companies run by Penn alumni. “These are people we can more easily relate to because we’ve gone through the same experiences. They can talk to us on a level that connects differently than most other people in the Valley,” Mittal said.
Applicants for the Trek, like the companies, will be chosen based on certain criteria. Interested students will be evaluated based on technical talent, entrepreneurship and competence in coding. Students interested in the business side of technology are also encouraged to apply.
Applicant Randy Rayess, a Wharton and College senior, has attended multiple tech meet-ups in Philadelphia and New York, and is excited about the opportunity to meet business owners with established reputations. “In San Francisco … we’re meeting high profile people. They’re people who are already at the top, whereas in New York you meet a lot of people who are trying to get to the top,” Rayess said.
The Trekkers plan to eventually visit New York-based companies but believe San Francisco makes more sense for the first trip. “If we’re going to start off we want to start this with a bang. New York is phenomenal … but at this point in time San Francisco still trumps New York in terms of companies [and] size,” Gibstein said.
Organizing a completely student-run venture has its challenges. Students hoping to make the trip must cover their own airfare, although the Dining Philosophers’ budget will allow them to subsidize about $300 per student.
“Unfortunately this is one of those things where it has to go really well the first time and after that it’ll be a lot easier for us,” Mittal said. “My intuition is once we have a little bit of a reputation, we’ll definitely have easier means of making this more affordable in the future.”