2024 Silicon Valley Experience

Zell Lurie Institute
May 29, 2024

Every spring, the Zell Lurie Institute sponsors a select group of student entrepreneurs and investors to travel to Silicon Valley for a week-long immersive experience. Students attend sessions and events hosted by some of Silicon Valley’s leading founders, CEOs, executives, and investorsall of whom hail from the University of Michigan and are eager to meet the next generation of Michigan talent.

This year’s group of students included Adam Belkebir (JD ‘25), Pavani Chennamsetti (MBA ‘25), John Delisa (MBA/MS ‘25), Catia Lai (BA ‘25), Lara Lasic (MBA/MPP ‘25), Rebecca Macies (MBA/MS ‘25), Andres Ramirez (BSE ‘25), Dillon Rich (MBA ‘25), Brianna Ross (MBA ‘25), and Kevin Wang (BSE ‘25). The students were joined by Sarika Gupta, Managing Director at ZLI, and Jasmine Jaggers, Program Coordinator at ZLI.

The group landed in San Francisco on Monday morning and wasted no time kicking off the trip. First, they met with Mike Jung, Founding Partner of Founders Circle Capital, a technology-focused growth fund with over $1.3B under management. Mike candidly shared his non-linear path to becoming a venture capitalist and expressed the importance of good leadership when founding a startup. Following that, the team met with John Mannes, an investor at Basis Set Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund focused on supporting startups using machine learning to address big problems across industries. John stressed the importance of constant knowledge-seeking and active self-reflection, which resonated with the students as they consider the multi-faced nature of venture capital. Before the final presentation, the studentssporting their U-M gearwere spotted on the street by U-M alumnus Gordon Rubenstein who graciously invited the group to tour his firm, The Raine Group. A testament to the strong Michigan presence in Silicon Valley! Go Blue!

The first day wrapped up with a presentation by Asheesh Birla and Sagar Shah of Ripple, the global blockchain technology platform. Touring the space, the students saw behind the scenes of the groundbreaking discoveries being made in the financial services industry. The most exciting part of the day was diving into Ripple’s enormous wall of snacks which had everything an entrepreneur needs to power through the day.

Tuesday’s schedule was jam-packed with exciting meetings. To start the day off, the students met with Scott Beechuk, Partner at Norwest Venture Partners. Scott’s background in product and computer science drove him to pursue a career at Salesforce, where he built an ecommerce SaaS platform. As a former Product Manager, Scott offered a unique perspective on early-stage investments in enterprise SaaS. Vineet Shahani, General Counsel at Mill, gave the students an overview of the food recycling company that transforms food scraps into ingredients for chicken feed with its state-of-the-art composting bin. Having just moved to a new location, the group witnessed the transitional nature of building ventures from the ground up.

Jennifer Temple, Executive Vice President & CCO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, shared with the group about how effective communication is essential for entrepreneurs, and the lessons she learned from her experiences in rebranding HPE as a separate entity from HP. Punit Chiniwalla, Managing Director at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, gave insights about his journey from developing frontier technologies to his role at HPE. Punit relayed that forming strong connections early on was key as he built his career and transitioned from a more technical role to driving investment decisions.

Stacey Bishop, Noah Gross, Peter Giordano and Shayan Shafii represented Scale Venture Partners, and provided an overview of their individual journeys. Noah, a more recent Ross School of Business graduate, highlighted his appreciation for the upward mobility opportunities at Scale. Stacey spoke about the competitive nature of venture capital and the importance of differentiating yourself from others firms. To further differentiate themselves, Scale hired Peter to work with startups on GTM strategy, his primary field of expertise. This inside look into the nature of deal sourcing and competing with other VCs revealed the intricacies of a venture capitalist’s work and how driven they are to secure the best companies for their portfolio.

On Wednesday morning, the group met with Eugene Lee, Partner at OMERS Ventures, followed by Matt Garratt, General Partner at U.S. Venture Partners. Eugene spoke about his experience being on startup boards and emphasized how board members carry significant responsibility in managing a startup’s success. Matt, a former deep-tech engineer and investor, invests in software solutions that improve legacy industries and tackle larger issues around climate change.

Scott Darling, Gary Liu, and Song Kim from Upstarta fintech company and the leading AI lending marketplacespoke about their work in the financial services industry and their mission to improve credit access for all. With AI being the key focus for investments in today’s market, Scott provided the group context on how AI is shaping the finance industry and the legal parameters around potential biased data in the platform. Gary focuses on B2B marketing for Upstart, while Song manages the company’s capital market relations.

The day concluded with a meeting with Nan Li, Founder & Managing Partner of Dimension. Dimension offers a unique approach to its investments by specifically targeting companies creating innovative solutions in life sciences. By combining research-driven methodologies with an investor’s systematic approach, the company offers an unparalleled investment thesis that is revolutionizing the biotech industry for good.

Thursday included a meeting with Andrew Lebovitz and TJ Nahigian, Managing Partners at Base 10, a technology investment firm. Andrew and TJ both attended the University of Michigan and later reconnected when Andrew decided to join Base10 as the first employee. TJan investor turned entrepreneurfounded Jobr, a mobile job platform that became highly profitable and was acquired by Monster. After working at Monster as the VP of Product & Head of Mobile Globally, TJ co–founded Base10, a firm dedicated to investing in companies that are creating a positive impact for the largest sectors of the real economy.

The group then went on an exclusive tour of the HF0 headquarters with Founder Dave Fontenot. Davethe creator of M-Hacksshared his vision for Hacker Fellowship Zero, a startup accelerator providing a 12-week immersive experience for repeat founders to focus on building and removing outside distractions. The tour included an inside peek into the archbishop’s mansion of San Francisco, which is currently being rented out by HF0 for the fellowship.

On Friday, the students attended the Innovation Conference. Sharon F. Matusik, Edward J. Frey Dean of Business, Stephen M. Ross Professor of Business, kicked off the event with opening remarks and a fireside chat with Jenn Tejada, CEO of Pager Duty. Throughout the day, students had the opportunity to engage in fireside chats with various University of Michigan alumni.

The trip wasn’t all business. In between meetings, the student had the opportunity to explore San Francisco, including a trip to the Fisherman’s Wharf, Dolores Park, and a walk around San Francisco’s serene botanical gardens.

“Reflecting on that trip, it really was a highlight of my time at Michigan. It gave me a renewed sense of confidence in my career choice and left me feeling motivated. I felt a strong connection to the community, and it makes me want to give back once I’m an alum. I feel lucky to be part of such a strong and passionate alumni network.”

John Delisa (MBA/MS ‘25)

The Zell Lurie Institute offers our sincere thanks to all of the participating University of Michigan alumni. Your engagement and investment help further our mission of igniting exceptional careers in entrepreneurship. This unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience will impact our students for years to come. We are extremely grateful for your continued generosity and support.

Learn more about the Silicon Valley Experience.