Attending my first business conference was quite a daunting experience. The fast paced, innovative environment in Silicon Valley comes with a lot of pressure. The United States alone is home to over 4.8 million start-ups, and according to Forbes Magazine, 9 out of 10 start-ups will fail. Despite the long odds, start-ups and inquisitive business people have a unique place to go to, a place called GSVlabs, where they can develop their entrepreneurial aspirations while receiving guidance from business experts.
I recently attended a business conference at GSVlabs called the Pioneer Summit, which is an annual business conference hosted by investment firm GSV (Global Silicon Valley) at their start up incubator and accelerator based in the heart of Silicon Valley. GSVlabs is an incubator and accelerator for startups, and is sub-branch of GSV, a modern day merchant bank that collectively identifies, advises, accelerates and invests in start-ups and entrepreneurs with the goal of developing world-class businesses. The Pioneer Summit conference is a gathering of 100-plus, top business CEOs and world-class executives that come to share with over 1300 attendees what it is they are doing in their own businesses in order to stay ahead of the competition and share their insights in this rapidly changing world.
During the Pioneer Summit’s opening speech, GSV Co-Founder & CEO, Mr. Michael Moe, stated “the goal of this event is to inspire you, the attendee, to think about breaking through, innovating, and creating game changing ideas to create positive solutions for our world’s many complex issues; we at GSV want to take these ideas and catalyze them into action.” Mr. Moe also highlighted that times are changing fast and cited studies that predict the changes to come. For example, by 2030, an estimated 12 million white collar jobs will vanish due to innovations in robotics and other technologies that can do the same job in a fraction of the time and cost. It was fascinating, and alarming in some ways, to hear about all of the progress and development that is happening right now!
I remember calling my dad for advice on how to act and what to say, and all I got from him was “it’s simple, be yourself and smile.” Growing up in a small beach town does not quite prepare a person for the professional tech-mecca of Silicon Valley. My family and I tended to dress on the more casual side, occasionally dressing up for an important event like a birthday dinner or graduation, but even then, it was a collared shirt with shorts and flip-flops. So, a formal yet business casual type of setting can be intimidating. It’s very easy to start to doubt yourself for being under prepared in the topics of business relations and not being used to dressing professionally. The environment was a bit intimidating yet exhilarating, inspiring and elevating. I came to a sudden realization “look, I’m here and can only move forward, this is why events like the Pioneer Summit exist in the first place”. The whole point of places like GSVlabs is to empower entrepreneurs and help accelerate growth. I realized there is not a cookie cutter look to an entrepreneur. The Summit brought all kinds of different people together with a similar goal; success in the business world. The event inspired me to get out and research what I don’t know and to be aware of the next things to come and to think ahead, to the future.
The atmosphere at the Pioneer Summit was something one needed to experience in person in order to fully grasp the level of energy throughout the building. The brightest, most driven, most motivated entrepreneurs were wide eyed, dressed to impress, and ready to soak in as much knowledge as they could. Among those in the crowd were members of Menlo’s Pioneer Club, a handful of the many entrepreneurial minded students attending Menlo College. The Pioneer Club is an entrepreneurship based club that helps students with their entrepreneurial aspirations and connects them with mentors. I came to Menlo with the hope of joining a club that would strengthen and shape my business expertise. I wanted a club that was going to be active and didn’t just meet once a semester. I wanted to be connected to the students at Menlo that were serious about entrepreneurship and valued incorporating their studies while on a path for accelerated growth in becoming a business leader of tomorrow.
I shared with Dr. Richard Moran, Menlo College’s President, my goals and how I wanted to be involved with a more hands-on club that demanded involvement to ensure personal and professional growth in business. While speaking with President Moran, he informed me about a club that he is a board member of – the Menlo College Pioneer Club. Pioneer Club (PC) Founder and CEO, Mr. Maxwell Barnes, founded it last spring semester with the goal of connecting student-entrepreneurs with entrepreneurship mentors. Maxwell and Mr. Ngozi Harrison, the PC’s CDO, have recently been directly working with GSV executives Mr. Li Jiang and Mrs. Diane Flynn to establish an ongoing working partnership between GSV and the PC. Mr. Li Jiang is both a venture capitalist at GSV and Chief Evangelist for GSVlabs (as well as the PC’s corporate advisor), and Mrs. Diane Flynn is Chief Marketing Officer for GSVlabs and Co-Founder of GSV Reboot, an accelerator for women returning to the workforce after taking time off.
During the Pioneer Summit, PC members had the pleasure of working with Mr. Jiang and Mrs. Flynn to help promote and market the event, using the “mighty tools” of social media like Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram to boost awareness in the digital airwaves. Thanks to everyone’s efforts, the Pioneer Summit became the number two trending topic on all of Twitter for the first day of the event! PC member Carolina Gonzalez had an unexpected surprise when Summit speaker, Nikesh Arora, former COO & President of Softbank, responded to a Twitter Post she had live-tweeted during his speech about his advice toward millennials and recent grads responding, “You said it better than I did!” I also really appreciated hearing Mr. Nikesh Arora, and one of the world’s top technology executives, who emphasized the importance of balancing one’s life. Mr. Arora shared how he makes sure he spends time with his family while also working on cutting edge companies. It was exciting for the PC members to attend such an auspicious event and know they were a contributing factor to the successful of marketing for GSV’s Pioneer Summit. It also provided the Pioneer Club members with some hands-on marketing experience that is crucial for their own growth and development as they pursue a career in business.
Attending a private college like Menlo provides many unique opportunities, and the students here are very fortunate to be able to take advantage of such fresh opportunities during their entrepreneurial journey. Mr. John Donahoe, Chairman of the board for PayPal, emphasized this when talking about the up and coming generation of entrepreneurs when he said, “if you’re a millennial and you’re here at the Pioneer Summit, then you’re on the right path.” Hearing motivational reassurance from top executives reinforces the importance of the Pioneer Club to its members, as well as others attending events like the Pioneer Summit. Expanding our knowledge and experiences grants us more opportunities to give back to fellow Menlo College students. Michael Moe summed up this amazing experience when he announced “imagine a world with no boundaries, a global Silicon Valley,” and ended with, “dare to be great.”