An Entrepreneurial Summer

Michelle is a junior at Stanford studying Product Design, interested in the intersection of technology, design, and business. This is her third year in BASES and second year as co-VP of Marketing.

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On day one of my summer internship, I was given a team, a general “problem area”, and $25,000. This was the kickoff of the ZX Ventures Accelerator, which brought about 40 undergraduates, MBAs, and full-time employees together to launch beverage-focused companies. We were matched with teams and broad project directions, given a two-week bootcamp on Design Thinking and Lean Startup Theory, then set loose to create a company in 11 weeks. At the end of the program, we would be pitching to leadership of Anheuser-Busch, the parent company of ZX Ventures. If we created a feasible, viable, and desirable business, we would get funding to make this part of the AB-InBev portfolio.

My team’s goal was to help AB-InBev disrupt the health beverage industry. The first few weeks were categorized as the research phase. We dedicated our time to learning about the health drink consumer and pinpointing the problems in the industry. My main role was product strategy, so I interviewed hundreds of health drink consumers, conducted surveys and focus groups, and worked with research companies. We pivoted from our health benefit focus to taste and then to lifestyle. In the end, we found an exciting opportunity in the health drink space for a low-cost, high-benefit, shelf stable drink with a strong lifestyle component. We found the perfect solution in apple cider vinegar, the second fastest growing health ingredient. It had all the buzz and trendiness we needed (in surveys of our target audience, 95% knew what apple cider vinegar was!), but was currently a commodity. This left a huge opportunity for a large player to make it into a good-tasting premium lifestyle drink. With Anheuser-Busch’s resources and existing fermentation capabilities, we were perfectly positioned to do that.

Over the next few weeks, we learned how to brew and carbonate our own apple cider vinegar drinks by working with flavor houses. We learned how to create business models, P&L statements, websites with high click-to-purchase ratios, and sales action plans by talking with experts at AB-InBev and within our network. One of my proudest moments was, after several exhausting sales days running around NYC in the rain, I got my 15th grocery store to sign a letter of intent to purchase our product. Now, we’d validated our value to both consumers and retailers.

This is not to say that we didn’t go through our fair share of struggles as well. My teammates, Jake Heller and Danny Pantuso (a fellow BASES member!), were incredibly talented and driven, but all 3 of us were undergrads. Meanwhile, most other teams had majority MBAs and full time employees with 1 or 2 undergrads. At first, being the only all-undergrad team seemed like a disadvantage. We didn’t have any more resources than the other teams, and there were many times that we didn’t know how to approach a problem because we didn’t have 7 years of management consulting experience to train us to do it -- we just had ECON 1. However, we took advantage of the incredible resources around us and learned. We truly couldn’t have done it without all the experts in AB-InBev willing to offer their time and expertise to train us. It required more effort and reaching out to get to the same “square one” as others, but it also meant that we each got to take a larger role and learn a lot.

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The final few days were a rush to the pitch. I attended trade shows like the Fancy Food Show to get inspiration for our booth. We brewed, bottled, and hand-labeled hundreds of bottles, created design materials for our booth, and wrote a killer pitch that highlighted many of the things I wrote about in this blog post. I was fortunate enough to get to pitch (see the photo!). Our company got amazing reception at Demo Day -- we ran out of drinks! And, a few weeks ago, we got the exciting news that AB-InBev decided to move forward with our drink and fund our project with our ask of $700,000.

This was an incredible experience. I became much stronger in my product management and product strategy skills, and created a real product that is becoming part of the AB-InBev portfolio. I developed new skills in sales, web design, business strategy, and many other areas. After spending so much time learning about entrepreneurship through BASES and small projects at startups, it was incredible to actually get to build a company of my own. This was the embodiment of getting scrappy, failing early, but learning quickly. I wish I had more room to speak about my incredible teammates, who could probably all write blog posts of their own, and the mentors that helped us along the way (Al and Maisie)! I’m thankful for this experience and excited to see what’s to come.

How to become involved in entrepreneurship

        While Stanford may not offer business as a major, it is far from lacking in entrepreneurial opportunities.  In fact, in the four years of attending the school, it doesn’t even seem possible for one student to be able to participate in all the many entrepreneurial options Stanford provides.

One of the best ways to become involved in entrepreneurship on campus is joining student organizations! Not only does this give you the chance to meet people with similar interests, but your involvement has the potential to develop into leadership opportunities.

I’ve found being a BASES member very fulfilling. It’s the largest student entrepreneurship group at Stanford and offers a range of roles and responsibilities, such as raising funding, working with top entrepreneurs in the Valley from Mark Zuckerberg to Joe Lonsdale, running hackathons and startup pitch competitions, event marketing, design, and more.  If you want to learn more, please come to Fall Recruitment this week!  BASES gives you the chance to make lifelong friends whiles also learning and exploring the world of entrepreneurs. We also work with a recommend other business and entrepreneurship clubs including Stanford Consulting, Stanford Marketing, Stanford Women in Business, and ASES. 

Another great way to become involved in entrepreneurship is by taking a class! Not only does this provide a great opportunity to learn about the ins and outs of starting a business, but it also gives you a chance to meet other people with similar interests.  One of my personal favorites is MS&E 473, the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders series, which is a speaker series offered each week with guest speakers every week who come to talk about their ventures in the entrepreneurship world. Past speakers include Mark Zuckerberg and Meg Whitman, and this quarter’s lineup includes the CEO of 23andme and Zillow Group.The corresponding class, MS&E 178 is a great complement to the class.  Not only does this provide an off-the-record Q&A session with the each of the speakers, but it also is a great chance to learn in-depth about valuations, business models, networking, and accelerators.  It is offered twice a week for fifty minutes and is a great way to become involved in entrepreneurship in a structured classroom setting, with minimal outside work.  If you enjoy classroom participation, this is definitely the class for you! Learn more at etl.stanford.edu.

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If you are looking for a more comprehensive class, CEE 246, Entrepreneurship in Civil and Environmental Engineering is an incredible opportunity, which I got to take last Spring.  Taught by a team of seasoned venture capitalists and angel investors, this course is solely focused on building a business and takes you from the idea phase all the way through customer acquisition, financial modeling, go-to-market strategies and developing an in-depth pitch to investors.  Disclaimer: the class takes about 30-40 hours per week (depending on how much work you put into it) and has presentations every third week.  Also, the class is primarily offered for graduate students, but if you email the professors, they are often willing to accommodate undergraduates who are passionate about entrepreneurship!  So, if you really want to take the course, I would recommend that you make this your priority class for the quarter.  That being said, this class is life changing.  It provides you the real life experience and interactions with real investors, which is hard to find in many class environments here on campus.  Rather than learning through books, you learn through actually building the business.  Many teams that have come from the class have actually received funding! Today, I am still working on the startup that I built through CEE 246, which has raised a pre-seed round and has been accepted into accelerator programs Plug and Play as well as Smart Cities Accelerator.

Other hands-on entrepreneurship classes include ENGR 140A: Leadership of Technology Ventures, ENGR 145: Technology Entrepreneurship, and ENGR 245: The Lean Launchpad (taught by Steve Blank!). You can find more information for all these classes from the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (http://stvp.stanford.edu/) and the Lean Launchpad website (stanfordleanlaunchpad.weebly.com). You can also look out for classes at the Stanford d.school for more design thinking-focused classes! (dschool.stanford.edu).

Finally, Stanford and Stanford student groups are always offering events and workshops to help you learn more about starting businesses and hosting events where entrepreneurs come to share their experiences.  The hardest part is just knowing where to find them! Always keep an eye out for posters on campus, and join lists of relevant student organizations that will send this information right to your inbox. Clubs like BASES and SWIB send weekly email digests with event information. But the best part is that, if you already join some of the groups and classes above, you’ll already be on all the right lists and hear about even more entrepreneurial opportunities.

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Welcome to the BASES Blog!

 

Hi everyone! Welcome back to school and to the first edition of the BASES blog!  We are excited to bring you all the latest about BASES and about entrepreneurship in general, so please check back in for more updates.  To kick us off, we have a special question and answer session from our presidents Valerie and Udai who wanted to talk about the best parts of their BASES experiences and why they are excited for the new year.  Here is a little background information about our two amazing presidents:

Udai is a senior studying economics and co-terming in computer science. He is excited about meeting all of the new BASES members who join this year! He will be joining Bridgwater after graduation, and in his free time he loves to ski and try new food. 

Udai is a senior studying economics and co-terming in computer science. He is excited about meeting all of the new BASES members who join this year! He will be joining Bridgwater after graduation, and in his free time he loves to ski and try new food. 

Valerie is a senior majoring in Economics and coterming in Management Science & Engineering. As a former Frosh Battalion member, she is super excited to welcome incoming frosh into BASES! In her free time, you will most likely find her grazing at Bare Bowls.

Valerie is a senior majoring in Economics and coterming in Management Science & Engineering. As a former Frosh Battalion member, she is super excited to welcome incoming frosh into BASES! In her free time, you will most likely find her grazing at Bare Bowls.

1. What are you looking forward to most about this year in BASES?

U: I'm most excited about seeing the new freshmen and welcoming them to the BASES community. The object of all our events is to get people excited about entrepreneurship, and it's great that every year we get to spark an interest in entrepreneurship in a new group of people. As a senior, I'm especially excited about this class of freshmen because it'll be my last time welcoming new people to the organization.

V: I'm very excited to welcome the incoming freshman into BASES this year! Four years ago, I came to Stanford rather unfamiliar with startups and venture capital. BASES gave me an amazing community of upperclassmen and alumni mentors to learn about Silicon Valley startups and develop my pitching skills. Now, I'm excited to get to know the youngest minds at Stanford and give back as mentor during my last year on the farm.  

 

2. What has been your most valuable memory from the club?

U: This club has taught me so many skills - managing a team, giving and taking feedback effectively, organizing complex events, setting a budget. But the most valuable memories I have are the many nights I've spent talking to my fellow officers and VPs, the brunches and lunches and coffees spent discussing the exciting projects my peers are starting, and all the great opportunities BASES gives to meet and learn from the most exciting thinkers in the Valley.

V: I've had so many amazing memories in BASES - ranging from enriching pitch opportunities to traveling with some of my best friends - but a fun one that comes to mind was when I went to Escape the Room with my team (business development) during my sophomore year. Working together while a "zombie" was trying to eat you in an hour was a thrilling experience that revealed a lot about our team dynamic! Another memorable opportunity was heading to Helsinki, Finland last fall for a conference and learning about the European startup scene and, as a special bonus, meeting the crown prince of Denmark!

 

3. Why should others join BASES this year?

U: This is one of the most valuable experiences Stanford offers. The chance to work on an organization that has been running high quality events independently for the past 20 years. BASES raises its budget, selects programming, recruits officers, and interfaces with a dozen partners in and outside of the university. This is a chance to meet the most exciting people in the Valley while also learning the skills needed to execute and lead effectively.

V: It's hard to condense this since I have so many reasons! On top of meeting some of the brightest, entrepreneurial minds in the valley as well as lifelong friends and mentors, one very unique aspect of our organization that I have yet to see in others on campus is our culture of 360 feedback. I have never received such thorough feedback in any professional or organizational setting. Learning about my contributions to the team on a quantitative and qualitative level through the eyes of my peers and then VP has been instrumental to my personal growth.

4. What has been the most exciting project you have worked on for the club?

U: My most exciting project was definitely organizing our Startup Career Fair last year. This is an event that attracts around a thousand students every year and it was really exciting to lead my team in setting up every aspect of it, from selling tickets to companies to logistics to advertising.

V: When I led the Business Development team last year, honing in on our pitching and outreach strategy was one of the most difficult yet enriching learning experiences I had. As a team, we had to effectively mold the BASES value proposition to fit certain audiences in order to develop strong partnerships with firms in the valley.

5. If you had one piece of advice for a freshman coming into the Activities Fair, what would it be?

U: You're free - savor that. Unlike in high school, there are no arbiters who will judge you in four years for the choices you make. Use that freedom to try something exciting and new in addition to pursuing what you already know you're interested in.

V: Close your eyes and imagine what kind of person you want to become after three years at Stanford. Then, as you meet the leaders of these student organizations, see if the vision of yourself in three years resonates with the leadership of the group.