Following McGill Montreal Demo Day held on September 7, 2016 earlier this year, the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship alongside a number of high-potential McGill startups, traveled to San Francisco from September 21-24, 2016.
While in Silicon Valley, we had the opportunity to participate in a number of site visits to meet with McGill alumni at IDEO, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Google, and AppDirect. We were also happy to host McGill San Francisco Demo Day on September 22, 2016 at The Upload Collective virtual reality co-working space, in collaboration with the McGill Alumni Association of Northern California.
On the morning of September 22, 2016 our first full day in Silicon Valley, we traveled to IDEO headquarters in Palo Alto where we met with McGill alumni Griffin Thomson (2010), who gave us a tour of the IDEO campus. Griffin also walked us through IDEO’s approach and design philosophy to solving complex problems in the world today.
IDEO is known as a pioneer of human-centered design — a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor-made to suit their needs.
Following our visit to IDEO in Palo Alto in the morning, we then headed to the SoMA neighbourhood (or South of Market) in San Francisco in the afternoon where we paid a visit to the law offices of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati (WSGR).
We met with Elton Satusky, a Partner at WSGR who specializes in public and private corporate finance and corporate law and governance. Elton walked us through everything we needed to know to operate as a startup in Silicon Valley, including incorporating in the United States should our Canadian startups decide to go this route, as well as what to keep in mind when raising venture financing from investors in the area, among many other topics.
Following our visit to WSGR, our startups only had a couple of hours to get ready prior to the main event of the trip, McGill San Francisco Demo Day hosted at the The Upload Collective, in collaboration with the McGill Alumni Association of Northern California.
Maryam Sabour, San Francisco Outreach Coordinator for the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship and past president of the Dobson Student Executive Team (SET), kicked off the evening with opening remarks welcoming everyone to the event.
Maryam then introduced Prof. Gregory Vit, Director as well as Renjie Butalid, Marketing & Operations Advisor for the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship, to say a few words about the entrepreneurship agenda at McGill.
This included key roles the McGill Dobson Centre and different McGill alumni entrepreneurship networks around the world, including in San Francisco, will play in moving this important agenda forward at the university.
Following opening remarks, we then heard a series of 5-minute pitches from a number of up and coming McGill startups that have graduated from the McGill Dobson Centre’s entrepreneurship programs in the past year.
1. Venndor – The fastest way to buy and sell online
2. YUMiTRITION – Gourmet whole grains delivered monthly to your door
3. Taiga Motors – Building the world’s first production electric snowmobile
4. NXTSENS – Empowered tailored micro technology
5. Key2Access – Making pedestrian crossing accessible
6. Sensequake – Revolutionizing earthquake engineering
7. Sonder – Travel in style with beautifully appointed, handpicked homes
8. Retinad VR – Virtual reality analytics
McGill alumni and Hightail CEO Ranjith Kumaran then delivered closing remarks, before Maryam closed off the formal proceedings of the evening and invited everyone to stick around for informal networking session over refreshments. The energy in the room was great throughout the rest of the evening!
The following morning on September 23, 2016 we then made our way to the AppDirect offices in downtown San Francisco, where we had the opportunity to spend some time with the President and co-founder, Daniel Saks, also a McGill alumni (2007).
Daniel walked our startups through his story of building AppDirect from the ground up with his co-founder Nicolas Desmarais back in 2009, while also addressing all of the questions our startup founders had, including tips on how to land your first major paying customer while barely having an MVP-version of your product (minimum viable product) out the door.
Last year, AppDirect raised a mammoth USD $140 million Series E round led by J.P. Morgan, bringing the total amount of funding for the company to USD $245.75 million.
Following our visit to AppDirect, we then made our way to Mountain View in the afternoon where we had a tour of the Googleplex, the corporate headquarters complex of Google, Inc. and its parent company Alphabet Inc, courtesy of Mo Sedki, another McGill BCom (2006) and MBA (2014) alumni.
The next morning on September 24, 2016 the last official day of our Silicon Valley tour, long-time friend of the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship and McGill alumni Bill Mooney, hosted us for a send-off breakfast gathering at his home. This was prior to many of us catching our flights from SFO back to YUL later in the afternoon/evening.
Bill Mooney has been a long-time judge-mentor in the McGill Dobson Cup. Both Bill and Cameron Yuill, another long-time supporter of the McGill Dobson Centre, were on hand to provide candid advice to our startup founders, while also helping many of them navigate the landscape that is the Silicon Valley investor community.
Overall, we were delighted to be in Silicon Valley for a few days meeting with over 100 McGill alumni and friends at our event, as well as the tours we did of IDEO, WSGR, Google, and AppDirect. We’re grateful to have met and connected with many McGill alumni in the process and look forward to building on these outreach efforts in the year ahead!