Making Your Trip to the West the Best: 5 Must-Dos for Your Bay Area Immersion
By Kate Toporski, CFE Content Development Intern
Never mind that “winter is coming.” I choose to focus on the much more inviting and inspiring tagline: “spring break is coming.” And with said break from the grey, the cold, and the snow, comes many decisions of extreme importance.
Of the utmost weight: what the heck to do with your week of freedom?
Sure, you could fly to Cabo or Daytona or PCB with 7,000+ of your nearest-and-dearest. Or – for the fiscally mindful – you could binge watch House of Cards on your parents couch (again).
You can join the Center for Entrepreneurship on its annual trip to the Bay Area. Yes, that Bay Area. California. Where Silicon Valley is not just a show on HBO, fog is a perfectly acceptable alternative to snow, and innovation runs rampant. This is a rare opportunity to grow your professional network, work alongside business leaders and entrepreneurs, and share your startup with Michigan alumni now living on the West Coast. For two days, you can be a resident of the Bay Area. And since we know some of you are of the fiscally-minded set, you can politely decline Frank and Claire’s invitation this year: all you have to do is pay for your plane ticket.
This is WUST, otherwise known as the Weather Underground Startup Trek. It’s 48 hours that will broaden your connections, build your entrepreneurial brand, immerse you into the challenges faced by today’s startups, and put you in front of – and working alongside – Bay Area experts, advisors, and mentors. On March 3-5, 2016, CFE will take an elite and diverse cohort of student entrepreneurs, innovators, makers, leaders, and creators on the trek. Will you be one of them?
Confirmed keynote is University of Michigan School of Law alumnus Josh Tetrick, Founder and CEO of Hampton Creek – a startup “making food healthier for everyone, everywhere” and disrupting an industry that some saw as non-disruptable. Oh, and Josh is the guy behind that letter in the New York Times that was addressed to you, to your great-grandma, and to President Obama.
Whether you’re looking to grow your own venture, learn more about the entrepreneurship scene on the west coast, or want to have a once-in-a-lifetime kind of spring break, check out these tips on how to make the most of WUST – and the Bay Area:
- Dress to Impress: Silicon-Valley-style
Most Michigan students have had their fair share of days getting jazzed up for a career fair. Researching all the companies and perfecting the elevator pitch, on top of looking like you’ve worked on Wall Street all 20 years of your life, can be quite stressful. In the Bay Area, expectations on how you present yourself and your experiences are just as high, but the attire is a lot less formal.
Caroline Rooney, featured in Inc. Magazine as the founder of The Bearon, a fashion and lifestyle blog and ecommerce portal, is the perfect U-M alumna to ask about the Bay Area dress code: “The SF tech community gets a bad reputation for their fashion sense, but with more eyes on the hot fashion/tech space, and lots of publicity surrounding the thriving SF community, more and more techies are starting to adopt a slightly more grown up look with their fashion choices. Caution: A clean, dark wash and slim fitting pair of jeans (that you could ride a bike in, and sit coding for hours in), a fresh V-neck or crew neck t-shirt in a dark color (in case you spill your $6 cold brew from Blue Bottle on it) and a pair of sleek sneakers may lead you to be mistaken for even the buzziest co-founder in Y Combinator.”
- Network [insert exasperated eye-roll here] with one and all
In Cali, networking isn’t a confined concept. We asked Bay Area-based M Engage Director (and the woman behind WUST), Jessica Henry, her thoughts on networking out west, hoping for some pearls of wisdom from her career in external relations and business development.
But instead of pearls of anything (plus, who wears pearls in the Bay Area? See tip 1), she just rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically… “The thing is, I am so over that word, because it makes it sound like ‘networking’has a start and a stop. Which is not the case. You are out in the world all of the time, right? As a functioning human person? On the bus, on the sidewalk, on a barstool (no judgment), you always have the opportunity to meet someone, hear their story, and share your own. So you don’t need a ‘networking reception’ to tell you to start meeting people. Because that’s kind of like needing a reception to tell you to start making eye contact, greeting others with a smile, and introducing yourself – stuff you likely (or should) do every day. So just be interesting and be interested and, ta-da…you are networking.”
WUST is ripe with networking opportunities (sorry, Jessica, but there doesn’t seem to be a great synonym for the word yet)! But what makes WUST not-your-everyday experience is that you meet people you don’t see all the time. I.e., I doubt you’ll be running into the VP of Innovation at Sephora on the bus in Ann Arbor anytime soon. But you can run into her at WUST! Bring your smile, your handshake, and your story (and sure, bring your business cards just in case someone asks for one). The Bay Area, flooded with some of the best and brightest in the tech industry, is a breeding ground for ideas, opportunities, mentorship, and advice, and WUST’s goal is to put you in front of as many of your Wolverine predecessors as can fit into an incubator work space. A quick glance at the barrage of events for meeting people in the Bay Area shows that it’s never-ending, and ingrained in west coast culture.
- Treat. Yo. Self.
Whether it’s a trip to the beach to catch some sun (or fog, as the case may be, but we’ll take it) or a quick stop at Dynamo Donut, immerse in the San Francisco culture. That’s right: Treat. Yo. Self. A trip to the Bay Area can be beneficial for professional purposes, but it’s also a chance for you to explore and enjoy a new, exciting and delicious city. If you get to San Francisco before WUST kicks off, grab a Blue Bottle/Sightglass/Philz Coffee, and take a seat in the shop to sip that soy latte…you never know what deal is being negotiated right next to you. Take a walk down Pier 39, or snap some selfies by the Golden Gate Bridge. Feeling super lucky (and super foodie)? Try to grab a reservation at the always-booked State Bird Provisions (and invite me to go with you), or try the slice of heaven quisines that are the Bay Area food trucks. The point is: write your own San Francisco story (and use the #cfeWUST hashtag while you are at it so that we can share it, too!).
- Businesses are Booming – SO BE THERE.
The Bay Area is riddled with businesses that are known across the globe – a walk down mid-Market or a stroll through SoMa is a life-size Monopoly board of the disrupter giants; Pinterest is right next to AirBnb and Uber shares a main lobby with Square. And at many of these businesses, Michigan alumni reign. Last year, WUST students visited companies that ranged from social media to make-up, iOS apps to cloud-based
communication. Big names such as Pinterest, Keynote, Sephora, Twilio, and LinkedIn welcomed students into their professional homes, bringing opportunities to connect, present ideas, and debate business challenges alongside Michigan alumni and Bay Area business executives. In addition to providing students with tours and cocktail hours (which, sure – everyone loves a good cocktail hour), WUST attendees actively engage with employees and executives, as if they are co-workers and colleagues. Take advantage of this opportunity to get the inside scoop on some of the most innovative companies in the world and see how they work.
- Relax (Be. Yo. Self.)
Does Silicon Valley feel a little intimidating? Untouchable? Unreachable? The deal flow alerts from TechCrunch or the leadership profiles found in the Business Insider can make it seem so. But take a deep breath. People in the Bay Area get to the point and don’t waste a lot of time, but it’s also a place where authenticity is respected, expected, and attractive. So, after all of the prep and polishing and practicing,
remember to relax, be yourself, and don’t be afraid of conversations that might veer from your original intent, your current venture, or your future aspirations. Talk to alumni about your background, interests, and life in Ann Arbor today, and remember to listen and be engaged in their stories as well! We aren’t strangers, we are all victors; so, show them your best, true self.
Cabo is covered, PCB is overrated, and Netflix will be there when you get back. If you’re ready for 48 hours of warm weather, fun, challenge, and some serious business casual on Spring Break 2016, apply TODAY for WUST. Apply as an individual or as a team for an entrepreneurial experience you’ll never forget. See you there!
See what students from WUST 2015 have to say to YOU about their experience here.