Students and staff pose with a flag that reads

Written by Nick Moroz, Director of Entrepreneurial Practice at the Center for Entrepreneurship


Each spring break, students in the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program (ELP) and Perot Jain TechLab series of programs join CFE staff on excursions to the nation’s most robust startup ecosystems. This break, 30 students traveled to the San Francisco Bay Area for the Weather Underground Startup Trek (WUST trek) to experience the lauded Silicon Valley entrepreneurial ecosystem and some incredible startups changing the transportation, food, and aerospace industries.

Cathy Huang speaks to students during the WUST trek.

Day One

After spending the previous evening discussing the Bay with more than a dozen U-M alumni, 25 CFE students began the first day of the WUST trek visiting Cathy Huang (BA Philosophy, BBA ’15), cofounder of offers a suite of services and utilizes relationships with VC firms to connect talented students with internships at growing tech startups. Joining Cathy to lead our students’ initial trek session was long-time CFE champion Alan Steremberg (BSE Comp. Eng. ‘94). Under their guidance, students tackled an innovation challenge that forced them out of the conference room and into the public square to interview local business leaders about the experience of hiring interns (read: customer discovery).

Students complete an activity with Checkerspot.

Following their education with Cathy and Alan, the students boarded a ferry to Alameda to tour bio-engineering startup Checkerspot. This innovative company is leveraging biology and design labs to develop, test, and commercialize consumer products aimed at reducing the global dependence on fossil fuels. The insightful and energetic team, led by Nina Reyes (a trained scientist and the company’s Director of Communications), took students on a tour of Checkerspot’s facilities explaining their proprietary bio-based materials developed through a fermentation process.

Students listen during the presentation at JUST.

Continuing with the theme of lab-based batch processing innovations, CFE students then visited a pioneer of plant-based alternative foods: Eat Just (& Good Meat). Hosted by Carrie Kabat (Director of Global Communications) and Josh Tetrick (founder and CEO; Law ‘08), students walked the state-of-the-art labs used to craft the company’s core products (the company has sold over 500M eggs since launching in 2019). True to its founder’s driven nature: the company isn’t stopping there. Eat Just has perfected a bioreactor manufacturing process that has the potential to produce most cell-based meats (another realm the company has pioneered). Students shared with Josh and his team their ideas for hybrid products in global markets, leading to a stirring conversation about the future of sustainable food production.

A student participates in a simulation at NASA

Day Two

Energized after the first day of trek stops, the students began day two by traveling to NASA Ames Research Center. The group was greeted by Suzie Cisneros, Program Analyst, who provided a history and tour of the research center. The tour was conducted by Dr. Jeffrey McCandless, Associate Director of Aeronautics, and Dr. Susie Go, Chief of the Systems Analysis Office. Students had the opportunity to fly a Joby (an electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft) simulation through the skies above San Francisco in NASA’s Future Flight Simulator. They were also thrilled to experience Ames’s Air Traffic Control Simulator, used to research the integration of new eVTOL aircraft with present-day air traffic.

A group of four students pose in front of a mural of the NASA logo.

The crew then traveled to early-stage startup Antora Energy, which has designed a massive thermal battery using heated graphite. This technology, potentially critical to achieving net-zero emissions for industrial and manufacturing sites, was introduced to the students by the company’s Head of People and Culture, Seb Lounis (Physics & Philosophy, ‘07). Students were able to tour the brand-new manufacturing facility for Antora’s thermal batteries and also share their insights during an innovation challenge focused on industrial processes that could leverage process heating from the graphite being used.

Students enjoy a tour of a laboratory, wearing special goggles to protect their eyes.

The students ended the day in the heart of Silicon Valley at a gathering with alumni in Palo Alto.

Day Three

For the last stop of our WUST trek, students visited renowned venture capitalist and intellectual property attorney, Jeff Schox (ME ‘94 and MSE EE Systems ‘04). Jeff shared lessons from his journey as a graduate of U-M seeking a career in the automotive industry, only to find that his actual passion was law and technology; a path that led to his founding of the Schox Patent Group and later the mobility & transportation focused investment firm Trucks Venture Capital. It was a particularly captivating set of anecdotes tackling a broad set of subjects that included leveraging intuition when investing, technological trends, and the muscle of organically layering skills to construct a deeply fulfilling career.

Students cross the street in Downtown San Francisco.

This concluded a tremendous trek, filled with networking, the seeds of mentorship, and inspirational entrepreneurial endeavors that left students, staff, and trek hosts with a shared sense of purpose: to use entrepreneurship to tackle big challenges and make positive change in the world.

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