Reflections on AIMS Silicon Valley: Year One

 

It seems like such a long time ago, but it wasn’t much more than a year ago when Rich Moran, a Miami alum and advisor for AIMS, planted the seed with Peg and I. He said “you know – you can bring us folks from the Bay Area to Oxford all you want, but students aren’t going to get it until you bring THEM to the Bay Area.” The fuse was lit. We set about creating a nationally unique program, where we would bring undergraduate students from intentionally cross-disciplinary backgrounds to San Francisco to be completely immersed in the innovation culture that defines this part of the world. (see the microsite for the program here: http://aims.muohio.edu/digitalinnovation )

Our program launched in January this year, when we brought ten Miami students to San Francisco to live, work, breathe, and network in this petri dish. The students were housed in SoMA, the hottest neighborhood for startups – within a few blocks of everyone from Twitter to Square, from Yelp to GitHub. The students represented diverse disciplines/interests from Art to Computer Science, from Marketing to Literature. They were each placed in startups – from 5 person companies to 300 person companies, from SoMa to Silicon Valley. In the evenings we had online classes and then when they were not in class, we had field trips to companies, meetings with financiers, and guest speakers. In their “free time” they were plugged in to meetups and other networking events.

As we wrapped up this semester this week, I heard the students tell me “this semester changed my life” and “I learned more in one week here than a whole semester in Oxford.” I have heard stories of how they each, to a person, had personal and immersive experiences with their internship hosts – sitting near the CEO, watching boards change, watching problems being solved, and working on mission-critical activities for their hosts. Consider this metric – most of the internship hosts asked if their students could stay through the summer! One student pitched his idea, quite successfully, at Jump Start Days and another was offered a job by an executive starting their own new venture.

The students visited Google and Apple and were able to reflect on their distinct cultural differences. They were absolutely mesmerized and energized by visits to Twilio, GitHub, Mashery, Glu Mobile, and Global Mojo (among so many others). They were inspired by guest speakers from the Kauffman Foundation (Nick Seguin, who was literally inspirational) and were transfixed by Rich Moran’s deep dive into venture capital pitch decks and war stories. From eBay to Twitter, we visited the heart of the new economy. We met with a couple different incubators/accelerators and were completely blown away by the talent on our visit to LinkedIn. But those were just some of the highlights. There was also the community building. The students all had local mentors – Miami alums in the area and met alums who are leading in sustainable business, run successful Napa wineries, and represent large venture funds.

While most of the major MBA programs have an outpost in the Bay Area, Miami University is the only undergraduate program out here. The AIMS San Francisco opportunity is unmatched. And this group of students were *our* entrepreneurs – taking a risk with an unknown program and coming a long way to a different culture in order to better understand innovation and bring that insight back to Miami.

One of the questions we asked every startup and company we visited was “what is unique about the Bay Area?” While each person had a different answer, they each painted a part of a larger picture. In the end, understanding that picture is the point of the program. This wasn’t about lectures, classroom, and theoretical projects/cases. Here our students were in the middle of it. They lived it. They breathed it. They were challenged by it. They were threatened by it. They all, at some point, weren’t sure that they could do it, but they all did. And they learned about themselves as much as the companies they worked for.

We, in AIMS, are eternally grateful to Global Mojo (and Mike Duchen in particular), Zozi, Torbit, Wildfire, Uber, eSearch Vision, Speaksy, and Zaarly. These companies took a chance on a university without a whole lot of brand recognition in the Bay Area. At least not yet. We are grateful for all the guest speakers, for Rich Moran and John Gardner, who lent us office space as classroom space. And most of all to ALL the Miami alums who made the program work. We literally couldn’t have done it without them and our advisory board out here. Next year we already have 20 students signed up and we hope to offer this program in three increments: Fall, Spring, and Summer. We are already looking to help place our Spring 2013 interns, find housing (that’s the hard part!) and are structuring the visits. We are iterating. And that’s how we roll. I can’t wait to see how we grow.

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