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Trek to Silicon Valley

A wide-eyed Daniel Dallala (MBA ‘14) toured Google’s sprawling Silicon Valley campus, taking in the upbeat office vibe, sublime weather and even the cafeteria food. Then came the high point of the West Coast trek: He and more than 60 other first-year MBAs from the Tepper School mingled inside a Google conference room with over 100 alumni throughout the Bay area.

“We met alumni back to the 1950s,” Dallala said. “They were very enthusiastic about seeing us. They wanted to hear about the next generation coming through the school.”

The program featured a panel discussion moderated by Dean Robert Dammon. Speakers included Jim Swartz (MSIA ‘66), partner at Accel Partners, a venture capital firm and early Facebook investor; Jonathan Kaplan (TPR ‘90), flip camera entrepreneur and founder of The Melt, grilled cheese restaurant chain; and David Mawhinney (MSIA ‘90), executive director of the Tepper School’s Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship.

Dallala was a planner for the West Coast trek, an annual event organized jointly by the Tepper School’s Business and Technology Club and Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club, which was held this year from Jan. 7 to 11. Some alumni greeting students -- including Google employees Anirudh Chadrakant (MBA ‘12) and Nabil Shahid (MBA ‘11) -- are former trek planners.

“It is really meaningful when students who were trek planners become our corporate hosts,” said Stephen Rakas, executive director of the Career Opportunities Center at the Tepper School and advisor for the West Coast treks for the past 10 years. “Silicon Valley has become an increasingly important destination for Tepper School graduates. We are looking for another solid year of recruiting interest from the technology sector on the West Coast.”

The Business and Technology Club group also visited the offices of Cisco, Citrix, eBay, Electronic Arts, Intel, Juniper Networks, Medallia, NetApp, SAP, VMWare and Yahoo!. “The alumni at each of the companies held a panel discussion at their offices,” said John Sengenberger Sr., executive director of alumni relations at the Tepper School.

Members of the Entrepreneur and Venture Capital clubs mapped out their own itinerary of startups. They met with Peter Stern (CIT ‘89), CEO of bitly, the ULR shortener, and co-founder of financial services giant Datek Online, now part of TDAmeritrade; Matt Rogers (BS/CIT '04, MS/CIT '05), founder of Nest Labs, which creates sensor-driven, programmable thermostats and Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, a  nonprofit that aims to spread free education worldwide.

Mawhinney said the trek provided students with the opportunity to experience “a day in the life of an entrepreneur. It is also the kickoff of networking.”

Sergey Astretsov, (MBA ‘13), a trek leader, was inspired by young entrepreneurs such as Matthew Swanson ( (MS/CS '10), co-founder of SpeakerText, a service that turns video into text; and Humanoid, which provides high-quality crowdsourced labor to business. “These entrepreneurs graduated from CMU several years ago,” Astretsov said. “They were in our shoes. They understand what we are facing.”

Astretsov had moved from Russia to attend the Tepper School so he could launch his startup Capital Round, a crowdfunding platform designed to allow alumni to invest in startups from their university. The West Coast trek provided him with direction on how to assemble the best team from scratch and launch his company. “It was really inspiring,” he said. “It showed me you can do it without many resources. You just have to leverage existing resources. CMU has many networking opportunities and the Don Jones Center for Entrepreneurship is doing a great job of mentoring.”

The trek also inspired Matthew Capizzi, (MBA ‘14) to go after his entrepreneurial dream -- Talentmixr, a startup that will provide a structured social media network for student entrepreneurs to share ideas, network, create teams and secure funding.

He said the successful entrepreneurs he met on the trek shared common traits -- they were contrarian, good storytellers and passionate about their business. Recognizing the same traits in his own capabilities made entrepreneurship feel more attainable.

“You need to dream big,” he said. “Everyone had the common theme that they can change the world. It was incredibly encouraging.”

He also said the trek provided extraordinary networking opportunities. “Being affiliated with the Carnegie Mellon Tepper School brand enabled us to get into some of the hottest startups in the world.”

First-year MBAs also ventured east in late October for a Wall Street trek organized by the Graduate Finance Association. Dean Dammon moderated a panel that included Ann Marie Petach (MSIA '84), senior managing director and CFO at BlackRock.

“It gave the students first-hand interactions with all the leading banks,” Sengenberger said. “Our alumni are key for us on Wall Street.”

Related Links:

Graduate Student Clubs 

Career Opportunities Center