TEC News Stories

6/8/2012 9:41:00 AM

Story Highlights

By Heather Punke, ECE ILLINOIS
June 8, 2012

Each year over winter break, some U of I students get the chance to mingle with successful entrepreneurs and alumni that call Silicon Valley home. That’s all thanks to the Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC), which hosts the trip each winter.

In January 2012, a total of 28 students went on the Silicon Valley Workshop weeklong trip—eight of whom were ECE undergraduates ranging from freshmen to seniors.

Students traveled to California for one week. They visited 18 startup companies and even attended a networking party held by Luke Nosek, who is a U of I alumnus and a co-founder of Pay Pal and currently Partner at Founders Fund. Many of the attendees were inspired by talking to Nosek and noted the party as their favorite part of the trip.

Some of the startup offices had interesting cultures that made them stand out in the minds of students on the trip.  A lot of the companies had pets in the office, including dogs and rabbits. One of the offices even had a kegerator and DJ booth inside, which the students enjoyed seeing.

“It’s a lot different from the ‘regular’ corporate environment that we’re used to,” said Stephen Rice, an ECE junior who went on the trip, during a panel about the TEC trip. He also noted that the employees said they sometimes work from 10AM until 10PM, which he found exciting.

Most of the students who participated were interested in having startups of their own and said they, and their future companies, benefited from the Silicon Valley experience. “We gained a lot of resources. If you need a developer, now you know someone on this trip can develop for you,” said Rice.

“It was a good experience because you got personalized feedback,” added ECE senior Karan Uppal, who also participated in the trip and the panel. “You learn a lot from that and you come back and recreate or change your software and change your strategy.”

Rice is working on developing software for elementary school teachers after his older sister gave him the idea. “[The trip] changed my attitude towards starting a company,” he said. “It pushed me into it.” He is currently doing everything for his startup himself.

One of Rice’s favorite parts of the experience was meeting Shawn Fanning, a co-founder of Napster and the new startup AirTime, on the roof of his new company. “He doesn’t do a lot of media [interviews], so the fact that we got to talk to him was really special and really cool,” said Rice.

Uppal’s favorite moment was a speech given on the last day of the trip by ISE alumnus Michael Callahan. “It really pumped me up to come back and really work on my startup and take it to the next level,” he said.

Jed Taylor, the assistant director of TEC, encourages all entrepreneurial students who are interested to apply to the trip for next year. He said people in Silicon Valley are interested in meeting University of Illinois engineering students. “That’s why the trip takes place,” he said.

The trip will happen again in January 2013. More information on this trip and other resources TEC provides can be found on the TEC website.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Tom Moone, communications coordinator, at or (217) 244-9893.

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