Silicon Valley to the MBET class: more ambition, please!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

MBET class at the Google HQ with alumniCatherine Bischoff, Associate Director, Outreach and International Programs

A group from this year’s Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) class recently spent five days in the San Francisco Bay area to get a taste of start-up (and corporate) life, California style.

Leveraging the University of Waterloo’s incredible alumni network, we caught up with Canadian expats to gain an understanding of their innovative businesses and the secret sauce of some of Silicon Valley’s most recognized companies. We visited the impressive Salesforce offices with a view of what will be the tallest office tower west of the Mississippi, hotshot collaborative interface design start-up Figma and our friends at PayPal, Yahoo, Optimizely, KIVA, Google, and Facebook.

Founders, designers, sales execs, and technologists shared their successes and failures, and encouraged our burgeoning entrepreneurs to consider building multidisciplinary teams from the start in order to have the broadest perspective possible and think global.

"Highlights of the trip: talking directly to founders about starting a business in the valley, visiting PayPal’s innovation lab to see projects that aren't yet in the market, and watching the sunset at Land’s End Park with fellow classmates."

–Chaoran Wang, MBET ‘17

Dylan Field, co-founder of Figma, with the MBET class

At the Figma offices, with co-founder Dylan Field. 

We watched over a dozen aspiring start-ups pitch to angel investors at Plug and Play in Sunnyvale and were reassured that the knowledge and presentation skills that Waterloo students acquire are second to none. Many of our own could get on that stage and wow the audience with their novel ideas and ability to articulate their business models. In fact, three Conrad teams will be heading down to California to do just that: Landmine Boys, SpurDeal and Curiato are headed to the largest lean start-up competition, the International Business Plan Competition in Mountain View next week.

"I noticed a huge difference between our 'Waterloo' presentations and those that I saw in Silicon Valley at Plug and Play. During the feedback section, the investors mentioned that the entrepreneurs need to develop their pitches to explain how big and real the marketing opportunity is when talking with investors. Besides the professionalism of the young entrepreneurs in our region, we often approach these topics very clearly when pitching in competitions. I was proud to see that even though younger and less experienced, our business owners are as prepared to pitch to a group of investors as the Silicon Valley enterprises."

-Luciana Leao Raposo Da Silva, MBET '17

One of the most valuable pieces of advice from the trip came from C100 Executive Director Laura Buhler and Social Capital EIR Sean Lynch. When asked what differentiates the Canadian start-ups to their U.S counterparts, they responded without hesitation: “ambition.” While Canadian talent and business ideas are equal to, if not better than, those of the valley, they find that our founders aim to build a lifestyle business while American entrepreneurs set more audacious goals and shoot for the moon.

Time to strap on our rocket packs.