Accel Partners has teamed with the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP) in the School of Engineering’s Department of Management Science & Engineering to launch the Accel Innovation Scholars (AIS) program – a yearlong experience for 12 Stanford engineering Ph.D. students, focusing on opportunity evaluation, technology commercialization, and entrepreneurial leadership.
The program offers case studies, guest speakers, shadowing opportunities, workshops and field trips where scholars get exposure to startup firms and industry leaders. Scholars are assigned faculty coaches and mentors from venture capital, the corporate world and the community of AIS alumni – all providing different perspectives and access to the Silicon Valley ecosystem.
“This is the type of program that I wanted as a graduate student,” said STVP Executive Director Tina Seelig. “Ph.D. students develop deep knowledge in one discipline. The AIS program allows them to see their research from a different perspective and prepares them to be entrepreneurial leaders in their respective fields.”
AIS kicked off in July 2013 at Accel’s headquarters in Palo Alto. General Partner Ping Li joined the AIS teaching team – Professors Tina Seelig and Tom Byers, Jeff Schox and Kate Rosenbluth – to welcome the scholars.
Program at a glance
Over the summer, the scholars became familiar with each other’s research, and got up to speed on the terminology and processes of technology startups. The diverse group represents the fields of aeronautics and astronautics, bioengineering, chemical engineering, civil and environmental engineering, electrical engineering, management science and engineering, materials science and engineering, and mechanical engineering.
In the fall, scholars participated in living case studies at Accel Partners, Cloudera, Cogenra, Dropbox, Fenwick & West, Google and IDEO. Company leaders presented cases on pressing strategic challenges, and the scholars brainstormed solutions. In winter, teams of scholars worked with leaders at Braintree, Couchbase, Dropcam, Facebook, Lookout and Prezi to deliver case studies at each firm, building upon what they had learned in the fall. “The scholars brought a fresh perspective and high-level problem-solving skills to our portfolio companies’ everyday challenges,” Li said.
The upcoming spring quarter will focus on entrepreneurial leadership, with a formidable roster of thought leaders to speak in the sessions: Steve Blank, Tom Byers, John Hennessy, Geoffrey Moore, Ann Miura-Ko, Heidi Roizen, Noam Wasserman, Liz Wiseman and Paul Yock. In parallel, the scholars will craft a “Personal Happiness Design” – their AIS Ph.D., so to speak – capturing their values, leadership style and goals.
Compelling stories of inaugural scholars
Thomas DiRaimondo received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering in the fall and co-founded Sitari Pharma, Inc., an Avalon Ventures-GlaxoSmithKline portfolio company focused on developing new treatments for celiac disease. He continues to participate in AIS, sharing his insights from Sitari. “AIS taught me valuable communication and leadership skills entrepreneurs need to excel in a startup environment,” DiRaimondo said.
Ryan Bloom will receive his Ph.D. in bioengineering in June and co-founded Factor 14, a Rock Health portfolio company focused on intelligent anticoagulation management. “AIS helped me to formulate my company’s strategy and think critically about our value proposition and product-market fit,” Bloom said. “AIS also helped with softer skills: how to give and receive feedback, present ideas and manage our time – skills I use everyday at Factor 14.”
Vic Miller will receive his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering in June. He and two colleagues won two internal Stanford grants to translate technology developed for propulsion and energy industries to the clinic for diagnosing gastrointestinal cancers and monitoring certain rare metabolic deficiencies. “Through AIS, I’ve learned to distill problems to their most actionable items and convey complicated thoughts in a straightforward, easy-to-understand manner,” Miller said.
Melina Mathur plans to complete her Ph.D. next year and take what she learned in AIS to an internship in a life-science startup. “I value the candid discussions with startup leaders that give us insight into how they tackle strategic challenges,” Mathur said. “AIS has helped me identify my core values and skills and how I can develop them as an entrepreneurial leader.”
Anaïs Saint-Jude runs the Accel Innovation Scholars program. She previously ran BiblioTech at Stanford, a program that connected Stanford humanities Ph.D. students with the entrepreneurship community.