Guest blogger: Max Jahn MBA ’11

Entrepreneurship is at home in Silicon Valley—and one of its most fertile breeding grounds is MIT Sloan and its Entrepreneurship and Innovation (E+I) Program. Under the banner “East meets West,” around 90 MIT Sloan E+I Trek students set out to meet entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, alumni, and like-minded students to bring the best of both coasts together Jan. 2-6. The experience was “nothing short of amazing,” as one classmate put it.

The response of my classmates who joined the trek could not have been more enthusiastic. Over the course of five days, we bonded as a group, met with the movers and shakers in the valley, got an insight into some of the hottest start-ups, and had enough fun to now face the Boston winter head-on.

Sloan E+I Trek students celebrate the trek's end in Napa Valley.

Sloan E+I Trek students celebrate the trek's end in Napa Valley.

On a typical day, we would have a VC speaker in the morning, then visit a start-up, have a lunchtime speaker before heading to meet another company. In the evening we had a great alumni event one night and a mixer with Stanford and Cal students on another night. All in all, each student met with six companies. The company visits were in smaller groups of approximately 10 people, giving us the opportunity to get a good insight into industries of interest and ask questions.

Personally, I met with friend.ly, a facebook-related dating start-up; content-sharing website digg; naturalpath.com, a sustainable lifestyle blog; C3 Carbon; Intel Capital; and Aardvark, a social search engine. In five of these companies, I got to talk straight to the CEO. Everywhere we went, we were met with great interest and hospitality and all companies were extremely well prepared.

I noticed that the Silicon Valley community is very tightly knit and entrepreneurs and venture capitalists all seem to know each other well. While I heard repeatedly that there is an “acceptance of failure” on the west coast, reputation is vital. If you have a blemished reputation, it’s “game over.” Some of the people we met with pointed out that the truly great entrepreneurial ideas tend to come from people in their early twenties and often have foreign-born founders. Sobering news for most of us. The best advice I received was to “apprentice yourself to someone you think is a genius” and discover how to make yourself indispensable. At MIT Sloan, we are two phone calls away from anyone and should take advantage of that opportunity.