I live in San Francisco, where tech is literally in every direction I look, as in I can see Twitter when I look out of my window. I was really confused as to why, when I stepped outside, I’d see a different person taking a photo everyday, but then I realized they were visitors who were so excited to see the little blue bird they needed to capture this special moment.
The takeaway: sometimes those of us on the west coast become a bit desensitized to it, and when I spoke with studentson the east coast, most of them told me that there is really a lack of opportunities to connect with startups. This was surprising not only b/c of my everyday surroundings but because I’m originally from the east coast, and want to make sure I do my part to bring more awareness.
1. They bring the best and brightest students together
Focusing primarily on the northeast region, students apply to be part of the conference. If accepted, they are reimbursed for travel and lodging expenses. Moreover, they really look for those who have a passion for entrepreneurship and want to be at the forefront of technology. One of the 1st students I met had his startup featured in WSJ as one to watch - not an easy feat!
2. Location, location, location
Through a partnership with Princeton, the first year it was housed on-campus, but the organizers quickly realized they had an opportunity to reach more students from a centralized location and shifted since to NYC. Not only does this help logistics, but allows more opportunities to bring together companies who are right in the heart of the tech scene in NY or have remote offices there. The Metropolitan where it is held is also a great open space that makes it easy to move around and converse with others.
3. Women represent!
2 of last year’s organizers are Women Who Reign: Kelly Zhou and Mihika Kapoor. They had to handle a LOT of details and planning during the semester and pulled it off with a smile! Beyond that, when I looked around the room I saw and met some amazing women like Kelsey Hrubes and Jackie Luo – all down to earth but with so much potential. Additionally, the panels were well balanced to show female engineers as well. One of my favorites was a panel with the CTO of Rent the Runway and Birchbox.
4. Timing is key
The conference started off in the spring, but due to employer feedback they moved it to October to stay competitive with recruiting. The final day of the conference has interviews baked in, so companies can kick off the process right then.
5. Roundtable discussions give you direct access to companies
We all know how awkward it can be to go up to a random person and start a conversation, but SaaS has found a good medium: roundtable discussions. Students are broken up into small groups of 10 students with a facilitator, and the format is very open ended. Everyone introduces themselves, and after that they have free reign to ask any form of question they want, be it about their business, operations, culture, opportunities, etc. Students then rotate to different companies, so by the final day there is already an established rapport.
I applaud what Sequoia is doing and hope this serves as a baseline for others to surface! We’d love to hear about any other conferences or initiatives that you’ve participated in!