Every Berklee Career a Startup: Students Explore Silicon Valley over Winter Break
This winter break, Berklee’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE) took a group of 20 students from diverse backgrounds and majors to the frontier of innovation and technology during its second annual trip to Silicon Valley. The students were given a view into the careers and creative headspace of leaders who are pioneering the future in companies ranging from startups to industry giants such as Google X, Facebook, Pandora, YouTube, Skywalker Sound, and Sony Interactive Entertainment.
Led by Panos Panay ’94, founding managing director for BerkleeICE, and Nicole d’Avis, operations and events manager, the trip immersed the students in the embodiment of the institute’s vision—that an entrepreneurial mindset is the underpinning of a successful career, both in traditional and nontraditional music career paths. The trip exposed students—undergraduates from Berklee’s Boston campus as well as a couple students from the Global Entertainment and Music Business master’s degree program at Berklee’s Valencia, Spain campus—to the vast opportunities that are available to them when they view their creative minds as assets and leverage their skills as musicians in collaboration, improvisation, and negotiation.
Meeting of the Entrepreneurial Minds
According to student Jonathan Feeney, the trip was a highlight of his college experience, reinforcing his vision to explore the world of creative entrepreneurship as a musician.
“Despite having intentions for creating music and performing to be the centerpiece of my career,” said Feeney, “I became more aware of the general acceptance and enthusiasm that the world of innovation has when it comes to allowing and encouraging such people with a creative disposition to branch out.”
When touring Facebook, Google X, and Apple, among other companies, students were pleasantly surprised to find and interface with Berklee alumni, gaining exposure and inspiration from their real-life experiences. At Facebook, Berklee alumnus Spencer Selmon '12 was working in their sound design and music division; at Google X, serial-entrepreneur and former music production and engineering major Mike Cassidy '84 was leading Project Loon, an initiative to provide internet access to two-thirds of the world; at Apple, a group of Berklee alumni were creating the sounds behind Garageband’s virtual instruments.
“We visited [people] with ideas that better our everyday lives,” said electronic production and design major Sherry Li. “However, ideas were not the most valuable assets there—time was. That is why it was a luxury to converse with some of the best minds. Many shared their personal journeys on top of their professional work, revealing the difficulties they overcame and the pivotal choices that led them there.”
Turning Creativity into Careers
In addition to visits to the industry titans, the trip also included visits to venture capital firms, smaller companies, and up-and-coming startups. At Zoo Labs, Vinitha Watson, founder and executive director, discussed pioneering a nonprofit music accelerator to provide artists with mentorship and access to world-class recording studios. Tim Chang, managing director of Mayfield Fund, is also an active musician, and spoke on various strategies to incorporate music with new technologies, such as virtual reality and interactive experiences at live shows. At Indiegogo, students learned about the company’s crowdfunding model and additional benefits that come from crowdfunding, such as capturing data and interacting with a fanbase.
From tours to meeting rooms, the students were challenged to raise questions and draw parallels between what they were seeing in the startup mecca and what may already be ingrained in them as creative individuals.
“One of the things that BerkleeICE has done incredibly well is to consistently compare our common traits as musicians to the stereotypical qualities shown by entrepreneurs,” said Karin Harvey, a music business major. “ICE has provided exposure for me to understand what happens across all different fields within the music industry and the tools and inspiration to go out and get it.”
At Silicon Valley, where the word “disruptive” is not only a buzzword but a culture, the students found themselves absorbing a new, disruptive way of thinking about the world and their futures. In an age where technology is shaping the way people live their everyday lives, the Silicon Valley trip provided an important window into the intersection of music, innovation, and technology.
“It is especially important that Berklee is fostering connections with companies in Silicon Valley, which is one of the areas in the world where the technologies of tomorrow are created,” said contemporary writing and production major Ayanna Jacobs-El. “I think there is an immense amount of possibility for music to be used in new and unusual formats and I am looking forward to learning more about that and joining the ranks of the next generation of music innovators.”