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Northeastern launches ‘Semester in Silicon Valley’ entrepreneurship program

Northeastern students visited Astro Studios in San Francisco this fall as part of the Semester in Silicon Valley program. Photo courtesy of Astro Studios

Rebecca Dragon arrived at Northeastern intent on seizing new opportunities at every turn—and she’s succeeded with flying colors.

Now a fourth-year student, Dragon has lived and studied in Greece and Scotland, worked on co-op in Boston and New York, and even joined IDEA—the student-run venture accelerator—to launch her own business. “I love Northeastern because I can explore and learn at the same time,” said Dragon, DMSB/SSH’19, a combined major in economics and business administration.

This semester, Dragon is putting that attitude into action once again. She is one of 25 members of the first-ever cohort of Northeastern’s Semester in Silicon Valley program. The entrepreneurship program enables students to take courses in entrepreneurship and business while working at local startups, launching their own businesses, and networking with alumni and other professionals in the area. The program also focuses on teaching budding entrepreneurs how to integrate design thinking into their ventures and business plans. The courses are taught by serial entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley area with vast experience across industry and academia.

During Northeastern’s State of the University, Dragon and another student, Alexy Santos, shared their experiences and encouraged their peers to consider the program if they’re interested in entrepreneurship.

‘Students will live and breathe entrepreneurship’

The Semester in Silicon Valley program is open to all full-time undergraduate students. Participants will complete the program with either a minor or concentration in entrepreneurship, depending on the student’s college and program of study.

“Students will live and breathe entrepreneurship throughout their time there.”

P.K. Agarwal Regional dean and CEO, Northeastern University-Silicon Valley

Student interest has been strong. More than 200 students applied for the Fall 2017 semester on the first day the program began accepting applications. The program is still accepting applications for Spring 2018.

“Students will live and breathe entrepreneurship throughout their time there,” said P.K. Agarwal, regional dean and CEO of Northeastern’s Silicon Valley campus. “We want this to be a life-changing experience for our students. We’re taking the core of our experiential model and weaving it into every aspect of the program.” He added that Jim Goodell, partner and chief operating officer of San Francisco-based Astro Studios, made invaluable contributions in the design and execution of the program.

Marc Meyer, the Robert J. Shillman Trustee Professor of Entrepreneurship and one of the Semester in Silicon Valley program executives, also underscored the experiential nature of the program. A scholar of innovation and entrepreneurship, Meyer noted that the program’s rigorous and immersive approach is particularly beneficial for budding entrepreneurs.

“If students want to be involved in ventures and entrepreneurship, they should do a tour of duty in California. It’s a hotbed for innovation, and it’s got its own rhythm,” said Meyer, who co-directs the Northeastern University Center for Entrepreneurship Education. “It’s extremely important for someone who wishes to become an entrepreneur to have an intense, immersive experience like this because that’s what starting a company is going to be like. You don’t dabble in it. You enter and engage in it fully.”

‘There’s just an innovative and creative energy in the air’

 Students in the first cohort have raved about the program. Tian Xia is a second-year student from China and a combined major in computer science and business. He enrolled in the program in hopes of one day starting a company. In class, he is developing a digital platform to help construction companies improve communication throughout a project, while outside the classroom he is interning two days a week at TeleSense Inc., an internet of things company that provides real-time monitoring of food quality and safety.

Xia said he’s paid particularly close attention to TeleSense’s CEO in order to learn how to lead a startup team, and guest speakers in his classes have shared invaluable advice—particularly about how to market your products and converse with prospective clients. “The experience has been great,” said Xia, CIS/DMSB’20, “and it’s been a great opportunity to enlarge our networks.”

“The most attractive part for me was being able to see what it takes to start and run a business.”

Alexy Santos DMSB’20

Santos applied to the program for similar reasons as Xia: to acquire the skills and the entrepreneurial mindset to ultimately launch a company. Only a couple weeks into the program, he said his courses and other experiential learning opportunities have already set him up to succeed.

“The most attractive part for me was being able to see what it takes to start and run a business,” said Santos, DMSB’20, a business administration major with a concentration in marketing. “There are so many startups here and so many people who are very ambitious. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve already been asked ‘What are you working on?’”

This semester, Santos is doing a marketing internship at Groove Labs in San Francisco, while at the same time working with two other Northeastern students on a classroom project to launch a startup clothing line that bridges casual and formal wear.

Dragon is interning at a physical security company that leverages technology to increase the safety and efficiency of its clients and security guards. In one of her classes, she’s also concentrating on developing an app that will connect students using their location and augmented reality. She said her goal at the end of the program is to launch a business—and so far, the experience has provided fertile ground to do so. “There’s just an innovative and creative energy in the air,” she said.