By Kevin Manne
A lifelong interest in starting his own business brought Joshua Israel, BS ’19, to Professor Robert Neubert’s entrepreneurship class in the fall of 2018. Israel wanted to get a feel for what life would be like as the founder of a startup.
Halfway through the semester, Neubert, who is a serial entrepreneur and educator who transitioned from the pharmaceutical industry, told the class about the Tech Trek: an experiential learning opportunity to visit Silicon Valley and get an inside look at large tech companies, emerging startups and prominent venture capital firms—directly from founders and executive leadership.
Israel was hooked.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the different facets of startups through the eyes of UB alumni,” he says.
So he signed up. And for five days during winter break, Israel and a group of School of Management students went on a whirlwind tour of San Francisco (coordinated by the School of Management’s Career Resource Center and its Alumni Engagement Office). Stops included the Bank of the West, Delanges Mitchell and Linder, Google, GoPro, HP, Optimizely, Toll Brothers, Virtual Office and Visa.
It was on the stop at Toll Brothers that Israel met Dan Weatherbee, MBA ’11, the company’s senior project manager. Toll Brothers is a nationwide residential developer—which piqued the interest of Israel, who is beginning the dual MS Real Estate Development/MBA program at UB this fall.
In the Bay Area, Toll Brothers is focused on multifamily developments, one of which Weatherbee took the students on a tour of: a 34-acre construction site with 1,000 units. He also showed them a demo of new virtual reality technology the company is using to sell homes.
“Traditionally when you sell a home you have a model to pick from, buy and build on a lot,” he says. “Here we can’t do that, and it’s hard to sell someone a million-dollar home without them seeing it, so they get to experience the homes through VR and renderings.”
Israel says the visit gave him the opportunity to envision his future career.
“It’s exactly what I see myself doing in the future, whether it be in Buffalo, Silicon Valley or another part of the country,” he says.
At GoPro, the students met Mary Rose Machajewski, BS ’13, a Buffalo native. She moved to San Mateo, Calif., after graduation to work at GoPro, the action camera company.
Machajewski is the company’s digital merchandiser for e-commerce, curating the digital marketing experience for customers around the world.
During the GoPro stop, students got a workplace tour (including a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean), heard from a panel of employees and visited a space known as “the barn,” featuring oversized chess pieces, foosball tables and games where the company holds what it calls its “family hangs.”
“When you’re in Buffalo it’s very different than out here in California,” says Machajewski. “So if I can help any student through a conversation, hosting at my workplace or connecting on the alumni network, I’m more than happy to because there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity, personal development and growth that can happen.”
Joe Meosky, BS ’20, says he hopes to someday work in an environment like the one he saw on the trip at Optimizely, a digital marketing software startup they visited.
“Some of us had never been on a plane before or even out of Buffalo,” he says. “Getting out and having the chance to see an entirely different life is really important because it shows you there are a lot of opportunities and a massive network of UB alumni all over the world you can tap into.”
When the group visited Ingmar Haffke, MBA ’11, at Visa, they saw what makes the global payment technology company tick. Haffke and two other School of Management alumni, Naresh Kumar Chava, MS ’18, and Preetha Narayanaswamy, MBA ’11, shared their journeys from UB to Visa, gave an overview of what the company does and discussed career opportunities.
“Looking back on the past 10 years, I realize how my time in Buffalo and my UB degree put me on the path that led me to where I am now,” says Haffke. “I am grateful for the life-changing choice to attend UB and am happy to share some of my experiences and what I’ve learned with the next generation of students.”
Thirth Patel, MBA ’20, says he saw the impact of the UB alumni network at a meetup in San Francisco, where they connected with local alumni for food, drinks and conversation.
“The alumni gave us an unfiltered look at what it’s like living there,” he says. “Now I feel like I’m ready to take on the Valley.”
Tech Trek is part of the School of Management’s Experience the 50 program, in which students explore U.S. cities to learn about business and social impact. To learn more, visit the Experience the 50 website.