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Lehigh University logo
Lehigh University logo

Innovate to educate

LehighSiliconValley takes students to the heart of entrepreneurship

Many an investor, competitor or inventor might wish to be a fly on the wall of the nation’s most innovative companies to find out what makes them tick. a select group of Lehigh students and alumni have that opportunity through LehighSiliconValley, a weeklong journey into the venture community of California’s Silicon Valley.

Now in its second year, LSV takes participants into the world of Silicon Valley’s CEOs and founders, intellectual property lawyers and investors, and bankers and key players. There, students inhabit the innovative spaces where ideas are developed and key decisions made.

As company leaders share insights into their challenges, strategies, growth opportunities and successes, students listen and take notes. Then they meet in teams, develop suggestions and take them back to company presenters.

This “full immersion” approach to teaching entrepreneurship sets Lehigh apart from other schools, students said.

“You gain more practical experience in one week than you do in a semester of lectures,” said participant Tyler Walton ’12, a finance graduate who opened his own self-serve frozen yogurt stores after graduation. “The people we read about in normal case studies were suddenly in front of us, and we were in the position to ask them whatever we wanted.”

The range of experiences specific to each entrepreneur was eye-opening for student Timothy Moulton ’14, a mechanical engineering and finance major in Lehigh’s honors program in integrated business and engineering.

“I’ve always been interested in starting my own business and watching my idea blossom, but I never thought it would be realistic because of the rate of failure,” Moulton said. “This program has opened my eyes to the fact that if I pursue my passions with a diligent drive, I might succeed, but the most important part is that I end up happy with my life and career.”

LSV, says its founder, promotes learning through relationships and inquiry.

“You’ve got real people, real companies, real situations, real problems, real needs, and if you mix that all together, you get real-time analysis and real-time inquiry, and that’s where the heart of learning takes place,” said dale Falcinelli ’70, ’72G, professor of practice in Lehigh’s College of Business and Economics.

Coming from engineering, business, liberal arts and sciences, Lehigh participants share an interest in learning the nuts and bolts of launching a company, whether they harbor their own inventive ideas or are looking to join an existing startup or established company.

They come away, in the word of several participants, “transformed.”

“Not only was learning a crucial aspect of LehighSiliconValley, but the overall hunger and the drive to learn and gain every possible lesson were profound,” said Lauren Farrell ’13, a design arts major who participated in 2012.

“LSV was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Farrell attended LSV with an idea for a fashion accessory product that she has since patented. she plans to form a company after graduation.

“LSV was a wonderful chance to be exposed to the world of entrepreneurship and all of its incredible potential,” she said.

Lucas Savage ’12G said LSV opened new opportunities for him in his current job as IT project manager for a major healthcare system, where he interacts with earlystage companies looking for customers.

“I have a much better network with some very useful connections,” said Savage, who holds an MBA from Lehigh and a bachelor’s in bioengineering from the University of Illinois. The program also inspired him to develop his own business ideas for personalized medical care for patients with cancer and other illnesses.

Michael Bacci ’13G, an MBa student, already had his business in mind when he attended LSV in 2012. His Zippy Bites, an energy-packed chocolate snack, won honorable mention in the 2012 Joan F. and John M. Thalheimer ’55 student entrepreneurship competition awards. The awards are offered through Lehigh’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation, which coordinates LehighSiliconValley.

“The LSV case studies helped our group pick up on the weaknesses of a company even if they weren’t obvious,” Bacci said. “now, as I’m forming my business plan, I feel compelled to be as thorough as possible so I can show investors that I’ve covered and thought of every possible weakness.” Bacci is awaiting word from two companies that may provide trial runs of his product at their retail locations.

This year’s LSV program added a daylong “New York City Experience,” exploring the nation’s newest startup community, and will also feature a trip in the spring to the established innovation hub of Boston.

LSV presenters—hailing from finance to social networks, medical technology to product design—described Lehigh participants as inquisitive and well prepared. They said they get as much out of the experience as the students.

“They were a very curious, engaged group and they inspired me in so many ways,” said Tim Eades, CEO of Silvertail Systems, a web security firm. Eades has been exchanging emails with about 10 students from the 2013 trip and has held conference calls with two students about the possibility of forming startups.