Conference Ignites a Passion for Business, One Startup at a Time
If you want to go far, you must go with others
The annual Ignite Conference brings together students, CEOs and business leaders—and attendees get to see concepts learned during class in action. Over the course of four days in March, I toured four amazing companies, listened to thought-provoking talks from industry leaders and created connections that will last long past Ignite.
Company tours — Tesla | Clover | KPCB | Zoox
It was amazing to see how Tesla manufactures cars, and my appreciation of the work that goes into making these cars increased dramatically. I was blown away that over 50 percent of the factory was robotic in nature—the jobs these robots were completing used to be done by humans. I would say more but I had to sign an NDA!
Clover is a cloud-based Android point-of-sale platform business whose biggest competitor is Square. I have noticed these systems while shopping at small businesses. It was enlightening to see behind-the-scenes efforts of how Clover helps these vendors achieve sales and independence. We had the opportunity to hear from three individuals who help run the company, and a key takeaway was to embrace failure. This concept is jarring because no one wants to fail, but failure can serve as a learning tool, especially when you look at your competitors’ failures.
KPCB is one of the oldest venture capital firms in Silicon Valley. For 45 years, they have invested in some of the biggest and most successful companies, including Google, Duolingo, Uber, Snapchat and Genentech. When I think of venture funding I always see the entrepreneur sweating as the venture capitalists decide on whether they will financially back the business idea. While visiting KPCB, I was able to chat with investor professionals and see funding from the VC’s perspective. Interestingly, the VCs are just as nervous as the entrepreneurs! I learned that the team and their drive is more important than the idea itself. The quote that stuck out to me was, “You make money on your successes, but you earn your reputation on your failures.” Tough situations build strong people and businesses; you must view failure as an opportunity and not the end of the road.
Unity is strength … when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.
—Mattie J.T. Stepanek | Poet, Peacemaker, Philosopher
The last stop was Zoox, a company that aims to become the first autonomous ride-hailing company. The concept was novel, and it was refreshing to see young people as the leaders pushing this business forward. The success of Zoox relies on different teams working together in an effortless fashion. They demonstrated that unity is strength, and when teamwork and collaboration are involved, wonderful things can be achieved (Mattie Stepanek).
Of Ignite’s 10 on-campus speakers, three left an impression: Benjamin Wang, Cate Dyer and Mark Randall. These speakers exposed the sad and hard parts of their entrepreneurial journey. They pushed us to assess if we really knew what entrepreneur life is—and if that is what we really want out of life. Ben Wang posed the question “Why?” repeatedly through his talk. He asked what our Why is because that answer will help overcome the toughest days when pursuing entrepreneurship. Self-assessment and reassurance are essential in maintaining a healthy outlook during your journey. Once you get your answer to why, you must learn to not let others cloud your vision.
Cate Dyer advised us to, “Let people underestimate you; they’ll never see you coming.” If you are confident in your vision, no one can stop you. Just because someone lacks belief in your vision does not mean you give up. Prove them wrong and leave them in the dust of your success.
On the last talk of the last day, I got the greatest life lesson from Mark Randall. On the lime green slide this quote stood out: “Amplify your unique talents with the skills of a great team to change the world, creating value for others and meaning for yourself.” I felt this talk encompassed all the concepts and insight that the other speakers touched on. Having the right team is essential in business, and if the team falls apart so does the vision. Mark became an entrepreneur to make money but quickly learned that the goal of money was neither sustainable nor fulfilling.
At any conference, the main goal besides obtaining knowledge and new ideas is networking. My background is rooted in science, so it was interesting to see some overlap between a business and scientific conference. At Ignite I met individuals from Texas, the Midwest, East Coast and overseas! Outside of the attendees, I was able to converse with entrepreneurs who were once at the very same spot I am. From them, I learned that if you want to go far, you must go with others. Your network will open doors for you, especially if you do not just view networking as collecting contacts. Networking is an investment in your business idea that pays out astronomical dividends.
I am extremely thankful that Niki Peterson, senior program manager at the UC Davis Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, told me about this conference. It reaffirmed my decision to leave academia and pursue a career in business. With these newfound connections and knowledge, I can push my business idea further, especially since I am entering the second round of the Big Bang! Business Competition.