Paying It Forward in San Francisco

By Miranda Wang C’16, Co-founder of BioCellection Inc

The phrase that was said the most during my 4-day trek in the Bay Area with the Silicon Valley Bank team and 19 peers from 10 universities was “paying it forward.” From as early as one and a half months before heading into the program, it was clear that the relationships formed during this Silicon Valley crash course and socializing bootcamp would be life transforming. The trek took us from the homebase WeWork in SF, the hippest co-working space, to Twitter, and Sand Hill Road. Spending 8AM-8PM for three consecutive days with a very impressive group of young innovative business minds facilitated the formation of some truly valuable relationships. By the end of the program, participants were exchanging funny Groupme texts and sharing contacts of influencers that we have met throughout the week. Everyone was adopting the lessons learned about “paying it forward” to beneficially build onto one another’s networks.

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Trek orientation.

The program was also designed to help students connect with potential mentors. Before the trek began, each student was paired with a speaker to host a session. In my case, I introduced Wharton MBA alum and a personal mentor of mine Gareth Keane WG’10, who is the Investment Manager at Qualcomm Ventures. He brought together a panel of entrepreneurs who are revolutionizing biotech (Twist BioScience), GPS navigation (Swift Navigation), and satellite technology (Spire). The rest of the speaker list was comprised of names like Scott Kupor (Andreesen Horowitz), John Maeda (KPCB), and Sam Altman (Y Combinator), and the session topics were also incredibly diverse. In interactive conversations ranging from “The Neural Map of Silicon Valley” to “Building the New Frontiers,” innovators and investors who are in positions to see the bigger picture and patterns discussed their bets for the future. In the case of John Maeda, I probably learned one of the most valuable lessons in my life about people and winning. For an undergrad senior, like me, who has founded her own startup and is hoping to take it to Silicon Valley, there was no better program to introduce me to the culture and spirit of this community.

As with anything fancy in the Bay Area, the program was in no way short of perks. On arrival I was welcomed by a black car service, which brought me to the comforts of a single room in Hotel Zetta. A gift bag stuffed with useful things that a college student would appreciate waited for me. The program also provided healthy meals and fancy dinners at places like the Presidio Social Club throughout its duration. Coaches took us from one location to the next, and the itinerary was perfectly planned. Few hosts could be more welcoming than the SVB folks.

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I’d like to summarize some of the teachings from my favorite speakers by highlighting some quotes that my Harvard friend Jacques helped everyone compile:

  • pic 2 300Jennifer Lum (Adelphic Mobile): “In order to be a credible co-founder, you need at least one unfair advantage/insight about the problem you’re trying to solve.”
  • David Barzelay (Lazy Bear): “SF has a culture of re-investment that exists nowhere else. In other places people who make it take the money and run.”
  • Jeff Ma (Twitter): “If you start a company intending to sell it, you’re a bad entrepreneur.”
  • Emily LeProust (Twist BioScience): “In the near future, scientists will design their experiments and let their robots perform them. Afterwards, scientists can get their data on the cloud from anywhere in the world. That is the future.”
  • Tim Harris (Swift Navigation): “Investors are plagued by Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO); play on that. Remember: YOU have all the candies.”
  • John Maeda: “Design exists after a product matures. Cars, for example, used to be just a utility. But then came issues of comfort and beauty.”
  • Scott Kupor (Andreesen Horowitz): “There is no such thing as an A in management. A good job is getting a C.”
  • Nan Li (Obvious Ventures): “We need to have more accurate models because right now average VC returns are worse than public returns over the last 10 years. My vision is to have a giant logic model for startup success.”
  • Nakul Mandan: “You often start from scratch when you’ve just arrived here. Go back to basics and prove yourself.”

And finally, if you’re ever wondering whether the TV series “Silicon Valley” is accurate, I can say that from my first glance, it appears to be pretty on point.

Editor’s note: Wharton Entrepreneurship was proud to sponsor Miranda Wang and Christianne Molina to attend this trek.

Headshot 200Bio: Miranda Wang is a synthetic biologist, environmental advocate, and student entrepreneur. As the Co-founder and CEO of BioCellection Inc., a seed stage synthetic biology startup that is using bioengineered bacteria to transform polystyrene waste into valuable products, she is a member of the Wharton VIP and Weiss Tech House communities. Miranda is currently a senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying molecular biology, engineering entrepreneurship, and philosophy.