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Gill Scholars gain entrepreneurial experience in Silicon Valley

Eight Lamar University graduate students recently traveled to Silicon Valley as Gill Scholars to participate in Ignite, a three-day program aimed at providing students an immersive entrepreneurial experience. LU students joined with others from Rice University, UC-Davis and Texas Medical Center in visiting start-ups, high-tech firms and venture capital firms and gaining motivation, advice and exposure to innovation cultures from several key technology guest speakers.

Two doctoral engineering students and two graduate students in the sciences attended as Gill Ignite Scholars: Saeed Rabbanifar, a Ph.D. student in chemical engineering, Tehran, Iran; and Ajit Patki, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, Solapur, India; Bharatkumarr Tejwani, a master’s student in computer science, Ahmedabad, India; and Regina Kuebodeaux, a master’s student in chemistry, Silsbee.

Four LU MBA students attended as Gill Scholars: Kristeen Reynolds of Port Arthur; Crystal Embury, Warren; Abby McManus, Liberty; and Brittni Thibodeaux, Vidor.

The conference is hosted by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Rice University and University of California-Davis, Graduate School of Management. Lamar University alumnus Jack Gill, Houston philanthropist, successful entrepreneur and former Silicon Valley venture capitalist supports the scholarship program that is now in its fourth year with its partner Texas Medical Center.

In the immersive, three-day entrepreneurship program for engineering, science, business and medical students, the Gill Scholars visited successful startups like Skype, Lyft, Gilead Sciences Dropbox, Proteus Digital Health, Square, and tech capital firms such as Benchmark Capital. They also heard first-hand lessons from startup founders, field leaders and CEOs, including Gill himself.

“The trip was a perfect combination of visits to Silicon Valley companies followed by two days of presentations at U.C. Davis for both students and faculty,” Stefan Andrei, associate professor and computer science department chair said. “Being an academic, I enjoyed Dr. Gill's presentation the most, as he impressed me with his vast and real experience with entrepreneurship.”

Upon their return, the students described Ignite as the “experience of a lifetime” and spoke of feeling motivated to take steps and risks toward bright futures.

“I would describe the whole experience as mind-bogglingly awesome. It was such an inspiring program that I feel I’ll stay motivated for the rest of my life,” Rabbanifar said.

“We had the chance to see how a curious mind can conquer the world through perseverance without losing hope from repetitive failures. I most liked a presentation from the young German entrepreneur, Alex Schuelle, who had come up with the business plan for a coating cover that could stop bleeding during surgery in 30 seconds.”

The students also learned the value of networking and a quenchless search for knowledge in entrepreneurial endeavors and in life.

“If I had to sum up what I learned in one sentence, it would be that making connections and learning are the two most vital parts of entrepreneurship,” McManus said. “And this trip allowed me to do both of those things. I had a great experience!”