Weekend in San Fran for students opens doors, and eyes

McGill Engineering students attend Cansbridge Fellowship Conference and learn the start-up ropes from the pros
McGill EngInE-Cansbridge Fellowship conference participants gathered with McGill Engineering alumni living in San Francisco: (from L to R) Chi Zhang (MEng ‘98), Nayem Alam (BEng ‘20), Ali Shobieri (BEng ‘20), Anne Marie Zaccarin(BEng ‘20), Ponhneath Nguon (BEng ‘20), Côme Laguë (BEng ‘89), Zachery Oman (BEng ’15, Cansbridge Fellow 2015), Gabriel Alacchi (BEng ‘20), Afreen Aliya (BEng ‘19), Katya Marc (MEng ‘92) and Professor Benoit Boulet (MEng ’92).

Last month, the McGill EngInE took a group of six first- and second- year Faculty of Engineering students to the frontier of innovation and technology during its inaugural trip to San Francisco to attend the Cansbridge Fellowship Conference. The annual event brings together past and current Cansbridge Fellows along with invited guests from tech and investment communities around the topics of entrepreneurship and leadership.

The conference is run by the Cansbridge Fellowship, a community of individuals who share a common mind for entrepreneurship, risk taking and leadership, as well as the experience of having interned in Asia. The fellowship has been in operation since 2011, and selects 15 undergraduate students per year from Canadian universities to take part. Past fellows also participate in the program by offering advice and support to new candidates. The McGill EngInE partnered with the Cansbridge Fellowship at the beginning of this year.  The fellowship plans to expand by bringing more university partners on board.

Led by Professor Benoit Boulet, Associate Dean of Research and Innovation, and Katya Marc, manager of the EngInE, the trip immersed the students into the entrepreneurial mindset. “It’s important to provide these opportunities early on so students become aware and can take charge of their careers,” explained Marc about the significance of the tour.

The students took part in a series of workshops and company visits, such as a women-in-tech panel discussion at DocuSign offices, and a mini TED talk session at LinkedIn company headquarters. Topics covered included monitoring mental health at work and how to build successful start-up teams. The group also had the opportunity to meet with McGill alumni, who shared their experience in the fast-paced and ultra-competitive world of the San Francisco Bay Area tech industry.

The inaugural 2017 McGill EngInE-Cansbridge fellow is John Wu, a U3 Computer Engineering student. In addition to the conference, he was also invited to take part in a “Geronimo” startup boot camp prior to the event with business and tech training sessions that took place at Dropbox, Airbnb, Collective Health and Capgemini. The boot camp concluded with a new start-up idea pitch session together with other Cansbridge fellows to investor Boris Wertz (Version One Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz) and innovation consultant Joe Boggio (Capgemini).

“The conference and boot camp was an amazing experience, and it really opened my eyes to all the different things that go into a successful start-up,” said Wu. “As engineers, we have the technical ability to create amazing things, but I now realize the importance of coming up with a working business model and getting customer validation before even thinking about the design of the product.” With the support of the fellowship, Wu has chosen to do his summer internship at a start-up in Japan.

Fellow conference attendee Ponhneath Nguon (BEng ’20), was also enthusiastic about her participation. “I was inspired by the talented and successful people we met, and definitely humbled by the experience,” she said. “This was the opportunity of a lifetime, and it really motivated me to dream big.”