March 8, 2018

Silicon Valley tour puts students at the nucleus of startup culture

Study Abroad partnership between Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking and Haskayne School of Business leaves big impression
Silicon Valley Discovery Tour group visits the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. Photo by Jenn Delconte
Silicon Valley Discovery Tour group visits the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. Phot

Pop culture depictions of Silicon Valley success show us scrappy young startups pulling all-nighters, followed by a meteoric rise to the top of the tech world, leaving everyone asking them, “How did you do it?”

In February 2018, 16 University of Calgary students travelled to Silicon Valley to learn from successful entrepreneurs how they did it — and how much more there is to it than we may have been led to believe.

Students got up close and personal with entrepreneurs and investors — big names like Uber, Shopify, Azure Capital, and Relay Ventures — and the culture of Silicon Valley. Professor Sharaz Khan (Haskayne School of Business) and professor Alexander Whalley (Department of Economics, Faculty of Arts) were academic directors for the Silicon Valley Discovery Tour, working with Jenn Delconte (community manager, Startup Calgary) to organize site visits and lead the students in conversation about lessons learned along the way.

Community plus collaboration equals more for everyone

“I was pleasantly surprised with the ‘growing together’ philosophy exhibited by many of the tech legends,” says Manpreet Deol, an undergraduate student in the Schulich School of Engineering. “The degree to which the community is interconnected and willing to work together was impressive.”

“The energy and collaborative culture creates an ‘all in this together’ mentality which visibly results in a tide that rises all boats,” agrees Alex Cossette-Fleurant, an undergraduate student from the Haskayne School of Business.

Tour participant and Faculty of Arts student Jonah Zankl shares some photos from the Facebook and Google campuses.

Tour participant Jonah Zankl shares some photos from the Facebook and Google campuses.

Jonah Zankl

The ecosystem is critical

“It was an amazing experience to be given the opportunity to compare that to what I know about Calgary’s entrepreneurial community, to see ways in which Calgary can continue to develop our ecosystem, and to fully understand the opportunities Canadian entrepreneurs have both at home and abroad,” says Miranda Mantey, an undergraduate student in the Haskayne School of Business.

Above all — get ready to work hard

“Every single entrepreneur we heard from told us that even though they are successful, they struggled for success the entire time,” says Mantey. “Their experience has been characterized by putting out fire after fire, fixing problem after problem. Even some that have a thriving company say they still find it as difficult as when they started, because they never stop caring.”

“‘Not here for second place’ — the energy that surrounds the Silicon Valley ecosystem was summed up in five words on the wall of Shopify Kit, words that resonated deeply within myself and my peers,” says Jonah Zankl of the Faculty of Arts. “Regardless of dreams, plans, backgrounds, and the struggle that entrepreneurs face, everyone is united in their pursuit of solving customer problems and delivering incredible value.”

Tour participants visit the offices of Shopify Kit, featuring a sign that reads "not here for second place."

Participants visit the offices of Shopify Kit, with a sign that reads "not here for second place."

Maggie Young

Tour created opportunities for students to learn and network with the greats

The Silicon Valley Discovery Tour included visits to venture capital firms, tours of several incubators/accelerators including Rocketspace, and social events where students networked with Calgarian, Canadian, and UCalgary alumni entrepreneurs who are active in Silicon Valley.

“The students were amazing ambassadors for the university and the city of Calgary, and we had an incredible time within the group, and with our hosts and guests,” says Claire Dixon, director - operations for Creative Destruction Lab – Rockies. “I believe that these types of experiential opportunities are incredibly meaningful and inspirational for the students, and will be an aspect of their UCalgary experience that they look back on as something that fundamentally impacted their learning and professional development.”

The program drew over 70 applications from undergraduates, graduate students and postdocs from across campus. In the end, 16 were selected on the basis of their academic and/or professional engagement in technology, entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial thinking and experience in the startup community. Twelve of the 16 participants are actively engaged in a startup. 

The Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking is the University of Calgary’s new multidisciplinary initiative to engage and immerse students, faculty, staff, alumni and the community in a culture of entrepreneurial thinking, challenging them with a new and bold approach to teaching, learning, discovery and knowledge-sharing. To stay up to date on Haskayne School of Business tours and events, visit the website

A collage of photos from the Silicon Valley Discovery Tour.

A collage of photos from the Silicon Valley Discovery Tour.

Maggie Young, Jenn Delconte and Miranda Mantey