Stanford DFJ Fellows Head to the Real World

by Heidi Roizen

DFJ fellows Christian Talmage, Sebastian Rivera, Michael Heinrich, and Anad Sampat (left to right) rock their DFJ hoodies.

Our first cohort of DFJ Leadership Fellows is about to leave the Stanford nest and venture out to the real world. We couldn’t be more excited for them — and couldn’t be happier to have had this opportunity to work together.

The Stanford DFJ Entrepreneurial Leaders Fellowship (ELF) program was the brainchild of Tom Byers and Tina Seelig of Stanford’s Technology Ventures Program. Learning from the success of the long-running Mayfield Fellows program for exceptional undergraduates, this program is similarly designed but modified to take advantage of the talents and meet the needs of Masters students, all of whom have worked full time post undergrad and many of whom already have or are pursuing multiple graduate degrees. Given DFJ’s long-standing relationship with Stanford, our support of the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders lecture series, and the happy coincidence that I have for over five years been a lecturer in Stanford’s Department of Management Science & Engineering , Stanford approached DFJ as its first choice to be the collaborator and underwriter of this program. We jumped at the opportunity. Tina Seelig, Executive Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program and co-instructor of the ELF program, said:

“The foundation for this new program was built on preparing the next generation of entrepreneurs to take on the biggest challenges in the world.”

Our twelve amazing students were chosen in the fall through a very competitive selection process that included interviews with Matt Harvey and Anais St. Jude of Stanford as well as DFJ’s Talent partner Katie Hughes and myself. Their fields of graduate study include aerospace, mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, electrical engineering, and management science and engineering.

We began winter quarter with a reception for the students, the DFJ deal team, and the dozen tech industry luminaries who agreed to one-to-one mentoring for each student. Mentors for the group included not only our own Andreas Stavropoulos, Emily Melton, and Barry Schuler, but also Intuit co-founder Tom Proulx, Wealthfront CEO Adam Nash, serial entrepreneur Kim Polese, Greylock partner John Lilly, Floodgate partner Mike Maples, eMeter co-founder Larsh Johnson, PDI founder Carl Rosendahl, DataWise co-founder Luis Robles, and Internet pioneer Judy Estrin.

“Having the faculty as well as Kim Polese as mentors has been amazing,” said Kim’s mentee, Vikram Chauhan a graduate student in mechanical engineering. “The fact that they are willing to spend so much time with us when we are most definitely the beneficiaries in the relationship is truly a blessing.”

In addition to attending the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders seminars, and taking my discussion class “Spirit of Entrepreneurship” during winter quarter, the students have participated in lectures, discussions, exercises, challenges, and social events. We have invited potential employers and other fellowship cohorts to join the students in these activities with the intent to build their networks and leadership skills, as well as deepen new friendships.

“I wanted to get to know people just as excited about entrepreneurship and possibly meet some great mentors and venture capitalists. What I got was something much better — close-knit sessions with influential entrepreneurs and VCs, a deep appreciation for my cohorts, networking with Mayfield Fellows, Accel Fellows and potential employers. There is no place at Stanford nor anywhere in Silicon Valley I could have gotten such an experience,” said Anand Sampat, a graduate student in electrical engineering.

Among the most enjoyable — and unusual — aspects of this program have been our weekly Monday dinners. After six months of sharing a weekly meal with the students as well as with my co-lead Tina Seelig and program director Anais St. Jude, we’ve had a lot of unique moments and thoughtful conversations hard to duplicate in a classroom setting.

“The thing I’ve most appreciated about the program has been the opportunity to exchange ideas in an informal setting with people of remarkably different technological backgrounds and perspectives. As a medical student, these Monday evenings have been such a fun, refreshing change of pace from the textbook work I’ve become all too familiar with. Beyond being a forum for ideas, it’s also facilitated the formation of several relationships that I know I will maintain for years to come,” said Ryan Gallagher, who is pursuing both a graduate degree in biomedical engineering as well as his MD.

When I asked the students what their favorite session was, many brought up ‘pitch night’ — a session held at DFJ a few weeks ago. Designed by student request, we re-created the typical Monday partner meeting, with six members of the DFJ deal team hearing pitches from three different startups, asking questions, and then discussing the merits and issues of each deal behind closed doors — all with the ELFs present.

“Pitch Night allowed us to get inside the minds of a VC. As someone who will (hopefully) pitch a startup idea to a VC in the near future, the back and forth deliberation we all had after each pitch gave me insight into many of the things that VCs look for in startups, and it again emphasized that entrepreneurship and venture capital are people businesses. This was honestly so unique, I can probably count on two hands the number of students (other than us) who have gotten to do this,” said Vikram Ramakrishnan, a graduate student in management science and engineering.

Perhaps the most important benefit of the program is the tight community we have built, and the lifelong friendships we believe we are creating. Again hearing from Vikram:

“I’ve met some of my best friends in graduate school through this fellowship, which has been the highlight of this program. This has been one of the most rewarding and unique programs I’ve ever participated in. I’ve learned important lessons in managing myself, managing relationships, and managing companies. The lessons I’ve learned and friendships I’ve made will definitely pay dividends later in my career.”

We intend to keep the DFJ ELFs in our community as they go forward to change the world, and wish them the best as they head out!

Heidi Roizen is the Operating Partner at DFJ
Follow her on Twitter: @HeidiRoizen

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