Stanford Entrepreneurship Week: Little Fish, But in Big Pond

Published on February 27, 2011
by Joe Ciolli

The opening day of Stanford University’s Entrepreneurship Week–E-Week, for short–concluded on Wednesday with a presentation from Idealab founder Bill Gross.

In front of a crowded auditorium and a glowing overhead screen, Gross discussed his business incubator, which has given rise to such successful companies as Picasa, Overture and Citysearch.

While such famous guest speakers and panels make up a considerable portion of the E-Week schedule, which runs through Wednesday, March 2, Gross’ lecture-style presentation isn’t necessarily par for the course.

E-Week also serves as a launching pad for student start-ups to get their ideas out into the open, at the university that has spawned some of the most important tech companies in Silicon Valley.

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The week-long, campus-wide event series is ultimately designed to encourage interaction between student entrepreneurs and potential investors, and to burnish Stanford’s credentials as a hub of tech and business innovation.

And while start-up conferences are a dime a dozen in Silicon Valley, with seemingly endless companies trotted out as can’t-miss targets for investors, E-Week organizers hope their event has one key differentiator: Early access to Stanford brainpower.

The event’s organizers believe that this alone is enough to attract high-profile investors hungry for that first piece of the action.

“There’s no shortage of companies or firms here in the Valley that would love to get on the inside and make contacts with students coming out of Stanford engineering, business or any other department,” explained Matt Harvey of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP), the event’s main organizer. “So many students go on to make major impacts in their fields–there’s a great deal of interest in what they’re up to.”

Perhaps the most notable event has been VC3, which took place Friday, giving students three minutes to pitch an idea to venture capitalists, after which they received three minutes of feedback.

But don’t expect a handful of Stanford students to walk away from VC3 with freshly cut checks in hand. Harvey noted that the event is geared more towards critiquing the early plans of start-ups and making initial introductions to investors.

“We try to offer a more holistic approach to starting up,” added Laura Chau, president of the Asia-Pacific Student Entrepreneurship Society, which sponsors the event. “Our goal for this is introductions, although a lot of times, after presentations, VC people will invite students back to their offices and have sessions.”

Chau cited one success story from last year’s event, commercial satellite company Skybox Imaging, which received funding following its presentation at VC3.

The event continues this week through Wednesday.

On Monday, for example, the Graduate School of Business Energy Club and Stanford’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies will be co-sponsoring a presentation by Dan Yates, chief executive officer of OPOWER, a clean-tech company. The following day, E-Week will switch gears entirely as the Stanford Biodesign organization hosts its Medtech Career Fair.

The STVP will also be busy throughout the week as it hosts several sessions, most notably its daily “Coaches-On-Call” event–a sort of office hours for curious students who wish to ask questions and bounce ideas off industry experts.

In addition to matching entrepreneurs with investors, E-Week also encourages collaboration between disciplines, especially since Stanford students often become insulated in their respective departments.

“Sometimes there are people involved in the same sorts of interests and passions that may not know each other,” said Harvey. “Being introduced to people with similar ideas can be a great benefit for an aspiring entrepreneur.”

And, for many students, it will be the first exposure they have to the world of private financing, and to bigger fish who live outside the Stanford pond.

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