Princeton students visit Facebook on their Tiger Trek trip to California.
Princeton students visit Facebook on their Tiger Trek trip to California.

TWENTY UNDERGRADUATES lived a networker’s dream when they traveled to Silicon Valley during fall break for a weeklong series of tours, lectures, and meetings with some of the giants in the tech industry.

Tiger Trek, as it is called, was organized by the Princeton Entrepreneur­ship Club. This was the second year that students have gone to Silicon Valley, although the club also hosts a Tiger Trek to New York. They squeezed in 20 meetings over five days, talking to executives at some of the largest companies (Apple and Facebook) and some of the newest, and visiting everywhere from Google’s massive, Lego-like headquarters in Mountain View to the spare downtown San Francisco office space occupied by the social networking site Path. Organizers were keen to expose students to a broad range of Silicon Valley businesses. In addition to visiting famous tech companies, the group met with several venture-capital firms, startups, and even Tesla Motors, the electric-car maker. One of the most popular stops was a visit to Khan Academy, whose founder, Salman Khan, explained his vision for providing free online education.

Silicon Valley’s lure is unique, said Joe Kennedy ’81, CEO of Internet-radio company Pandora, who met with the students and encouraged their sense of adventure. “There is a culture of innovation and pursuing new things here,” he told PAW. “Most importantly, there is a culture that failing is OK. When I lived in Detroit, if someone said that his company had gone belly up and he was out of a job, you would treat that as a very big problem. In the Bay Area, there’s a culture that companies start and die all the time. There is some pain in the transition from one company to the next, but it is viewed as all part of a process.”

Almost everyone the students met echoed that view, urging them to embrace the risks and rewards of an entrepreneurial life. Path CEO David Morin, a former Facebook executive, told them: “Entrepreneurship is a process. The only thing that matters is starting. You will fail. You will go through all of it. And it is awesome.”

Taylor Francis ’14, who helped organize the trip, said the entrepreneurs reciprocated the students’ enthusiasm. “In a sense, it was their way of paying it forward,” said Francis, co-president of the Entrepreneurship Club. The club was working with the Office of Career Services to bring Silicon Valley firms to Princeton for a Start-Up Career Fair Feb. 22.

The trip was sponsored by various University departments. One hundred and sixteen sophomores, juniors, and seniors applied for the 20 slots (the final selection was made by faculty at the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education) for the trip, which cost $500. Fifteen of the students were engineers, and many echoed Roderigo Menezes ’13, who said, “There is something almost sacred in building something.”

Courtney Fieldman ’13 was particularly impressed with venture capitalists she met: “I like how they look at the world,” she observed. “Everyone is thinking about tomorrow.”

Nevertheless, said Momchil Tomov ’14, the club’s other co-president, one of the purposes of the trip was “to show what else is out there besides Wall Street.” That resonated with Sarah Adams ’13, a civil and environmental engineering major, who said that most of her friends and classmates are headed for careers in finance or consulting. “Ditching that security for entrepreneurship is scary,” she admitted, but meeting the entrepreneurs helped her “put away the fear of failure.”

Not surprisingly, many students took advantage of the opportunity offered by Tiger Trek to position themselves for jobs and internships. Peter Grabowski ’13, a computer science and engineering major, got two job offers from companies he visited and will be joining Nest, a digital thermostat company, as a software developer. Had he not gone on Tiger Trek, he said, “I probably would have taken a job in New York. It really opened my eyes to other opportunities.”

By week’s end, Tomov recalled, one executive asked who wanted to start their own company someday, “and everyone raised their hand.”