Swept Up in the Silicon Valley

Text by Kassandra Bucher

Stylish young people with the latest gadgets are meeting and plotting the next big thing in sleek cafés around the city, startups are shooting up like mushrooms on every street corner—this is San Francisco and the Silicon Valley these days. This is the drive and the dream of making it big.

But startup success isn’t as simple as it looks—it requires a great idea, hard work, full commitment, and a lot of luck. How does one learn the skills it takes to beat the odds?


Silicon Valley Startup Tour

To cultivate the characteristics of an entrepreneur in the next generation, the Banque Cantonale Vaudoise (BCV) selected 10 Swiss undergraduate and graduate students from Swiss Universities and Universities of Applied Sciences to participate in the second annual BCV Silicon Valley Study Tour, organized by swissnex San Francisco, to get a unique insight in the tech hub of the Silicon Valley.

During the week of September 8-14, 2014, the students participated in several workshops on how to build up a company and went on 14 site visits to renowned enterprises in the Bay Area, including Evernote, Mozilla, Dropbox, Jawbone, and Airbnb.

During a visit to Draper University, a “school for innovators,” according to their website, the Swiss students learned that a good idea trumps a neat business plan.

“If you have a good idea, test it, because investors will care more about the results than a business plan,” said Gabe Turner, from DFJ Global Network, who works with Draper University.

In the Silicon Valley, this theme permeated the week: go for it. Failing here is believed to make you richer in experience. It isn’t considered something bad. Here, you learn from your faults and only really fail if you don’t get up again after falling down.

More than a good idea

A good idea is crucial but it isn’t everything. Nine out of 10 startups fail, according to Turner, often because they don’t have access to the right knowledge about the market. The students heard repeatedly during the study tour that they should surround themselves with mentors and advisors.

Passion and persistence

Overcoming these hurdles of finding the right idea and investors doesn’t promise success. Usually it takes a startup between four and six years to finally yield a profit. Before that you have to cope with rejection, several dry phases, uncomfortable living situations, and penny-pinching.

“You have to believe in your idea and yourself, because it won’t be easy and it will take time,” a Mozilla representative told the group during a meeting. “But if you stick to it and have enough endurance the payback when finally succeeding will be outstanding.”

Fabio Federici, CEO and founder from coinalytics, pointed out to the students that when he decided to create his startup and moved to the US from Switzerland he had to leave his friends and family behind.

“Everything you do is for your company,” said Federici. “You work late hours and don’t really have a social life anymore. Of course you go to networking events, but it’s all for your company.”

Despite the caveats, the students from the BCV Silicon Valley Study Tour got extremely inspired during this week. Some even changed their view of their own future.

Sofie Beyne, one of the participants of the BCV Silicon Valley Study Tour said, “I was going to get a Ph.D. but now I really want to do something with start ups. I learned that people here come up with ideas, because they want to solve an existing problem. This is a different approach than in Switzerland, where you firstly develop an idea and look for a target group afterwards.”

Who knows, maybe one of the Study Tour attendees will be soon one of those stylish young people enjoying their coffee while reading the latest tech news on their new iPhone 6 and planning the next great idea to disrupt the Silicon Valley tech scene, perhaps even the world.

We wouldn’t be surprised.