I fielded curious looks from my classmates as the Optional Activity period approached at the end of April in our International MBA.
“You’re going to Silicon Valley? When you’re from the United States?”
They couldn’t believe that I was passing up the opportunity for further travels, such as joining them on trips to Moscow, Beijing or Paris. Though all the options were appealing, the Silicon Valley Experience was something I had been excited about even before the MBA started and as we received more details, it just kept sounding better – so it was off to San Francisco for me.
The first day opened with a useful discussion on professional etiquette and culture in the Valley, life in San Francisco and business standards in the United States in general.
As potential business founders or managers, it is, of course, important to know how to protect our intellectual property.
Andrea Perronace outlined for us the unitary effect in establishing patents, which helps to make patents “uniformly effective” throughout the EU and saves time and energy when it comes to protecting IP across borders.
We ended the day at 500 Startups, where venture partner Zaref Younis was happy to hear some of our ideas and talk us through the pyramid-style hierarchy of investors and entrepreneurs. His message was that it is important, however difficult it obviously is, to have high-level investors because they can provide first-rate advice based on their experience and thus help entrepreneurs turn out the best technology, product or service.
The main message, both on day one and throughout the week, was that the Valley is an extremely rare and as of yet unrivaled ecosystem, complete with all the necessary components to develop and grow great businesses.
Matteo Daste started the day by teaching us about the dual company model as a possible approach to entering the US market with an Italian or otherwise international business.
Vincenzo Mitolo of First Republic Bank then explained the role of the bank for a startup, or for someone looking to move to the US in general. This was the first time I had fully understood how different the concept of a credit card was in Europe compared to the United States, and it opened the door to many other business and cultural differences for us to explore.
Roland Siebelink taught us about scaling up once a startup has found product-market fit, and then product-market dominance. His template has assisted a few startups to become household names.
We finished our second day seated at a long table with the Zappacostas, Enrica and Pierluigi — co-founder of Logitech — who chatted to us about their experiences, cultural differences and how to foster change, develop something successful and at the same time, enjoy our lives.
At the IBM research center in San Jose, Luisa Bozzano gave us a tour of the beautiful grounds and then introduced us to some researchers who presented their experiences in the States and their work at IBM.
At Google, Davide Archetti gave us a tour of the grounds and told us about how he got his job, what he liked about it and what was so special about Google.
The morning began at Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, where we were given the company history and a nice tour. The technical difference between an accelerator and an incubator is that an incubator offers office space to startups. The office at Plug and Play was busy and open-plan, with good facilities.
At Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Lab in Menlo Park, Enzo Carrone discussed with us the difference between finding funding for accelerating particles and exploring outer space. The latter gets people more excited!
A boost in general morale can lead to amazing things. Particle acceleration also leads to the possibility of incredible breakthroughs, such as a scientific discovery — a cure for cancer, say. Some questions arose here concerning how to set priorities and the distribution of funding.
At Stanford, Paul Marca gave a powerful lecture about entrepreneurship and innovation and then we had a tour around Stanford’s campus, including the d.school, where design
thinking is apparent in the flexible layouts of classrooms, works-in-progress hanging around and final projects on display.
On our last day we were sent off after some inspiring conversations with successful entrepreneurs Laslow Horvath, Francine Gordon, and Adriano Farano.
As an American, I found this trip to be useful in understanding Silicon Valley’s culture, as well as Italian culture. Things I had always taken for granted were questioned by my classmates and my experience became multi-layered. I really believe it was one of the best parts of the MBA and can’t express enough appreciation for Flavio Notari at BAIA, as well as everyone else involved with putting together such a great week