Michigan Ross and U-M Students Get First-Hand Look at Silicon Valley’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem During Zell Lurie Institute Program
Eleven students from the Ross School of Business and the University of Michigan recently traveled to meet with the top innovators and investors – all of whom hail from the U-M — in Silicon Valley as part of an immersive learning and networking experience.
Organized by the Zell Lurie Institute at Michigan Ross, the Silicon Valley Experience provided the opportunity for the students to engage with and learn from the founders, CEOs, executives, and investors of many of the most innovative organizations and venture capital firms on the West Coast, including LineLeap, Founders Circle Capital, Google, and Meta.
“For anybody with any inkling of being a founder or a funder, getting to Silicon Valley is like the Super Bowl of your entrepreneurship journey,” said George Okpamen, MBA ’23, who participated in the Silicon Valley Experience.
Okapmen is on the executive leadership team of the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club at Michigan Ross, along with Austin Sivik, MBA ’23, who also joined the weeklong program.
“The access and exposure to people within the Valley was outstanding,” said Sivik. “When you're in Ann Arbor, you don't really get those same opportunities day in and day out. When we got to Silicon Valley, you feel the buzz and the energy, and all the entrepreneurs are extremely passionate about their businesses.”
Navigating the Michigan Ross and U-M alumni network
With over 550,000 living alumni — one of the largest alumni bases of any university in the world — it should come as no surprise that many Michigan Ross and U-M business leaders call the Bay Area home. The students who participated in the Zell Lurie Institute program were able to experience the strength and breadth of that network for themselves.
“The intentionality of the Zell Lurie Institute around making sure that the Michigan ties were clear was outstanding,” said Okpamen. "Nearly 100% of the people we saw across all levels of the entrepreneurship ecosystem were from the Michigan network. It is one thing to go to Silicon Valley, it is another to showcase the impact of the University of Michigan on its ecosystem.”
Connecting with cross-campus peers
With the demands of classes, clubs, and more, it can be difficult to engage with students outside of the MBA cohort — especially for a first-of-its-kind opportunity. Through careful planning and applicant reviews by the Zell Lurie Institute team, the Silicon Valley Experience brought together graduate and undergraduate students from across campus — all with an entrepreneurial drive.
“Zell Lurie was very intentional about including undergrads, MBAs, part-time MBAs, and JDs all in the same trip,” explained Sivik. “During that time, we definitely came to the realization that we're kind of fragmented and we often don't really interact with the Law School, nor do the MBAs really interact with undergrads.”
That realization is causing the Michigan Ross students to build connections with their B-school and university peers. “We want to grow and cultivate a community where all the schools on campus are interacting and engaging with entrepreneurship,” said Okpamen, reflecting on his goals for the Ross Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club.
New insights into entrepreneurship
Students were able to leave the trip with increased exposure to the types of career opportunities within the tech sector and concrete ways to market their valuable skills in Silicon Valley. Many are inspired to move to the area, while others view this as connecting to another piece of the global U-M network.
“The energy and engagement is like nowhere else. I now fully understand what makes the Valley special,” said Sivik. “Everyone is networking in a positive way, and just being in that ecosystem it's really exciting and very invigorating. I could definitely see myself in Silicon Valley after school.”
Okpamen said the experience also gave him valuable takeaways for his future career. “I will be a future founder and funder, so having these relationships is priceless,” he said.
The Silicon Valley Experience, offered through the Zell Lurie Institute, is open to graduate and undergraduate students on U-M’s Ann Arbor campus. Applications for the week-long program open in February 2023.