Exploring the culture of West Coast startups
Garrett Fitzgerald '18 was supposed to be just an intern.
By the end of the summer, he had a new title: data scientist at Acteris, an ambitious San Francisco startup that is developing cancer immunotherapy products.
The change of title came after Fitzgerald introduced an astrophysics algorithm he had used the previous summer doing research on galaxies with Prof. Rebecca Koopmann ’89.
When Fitzgerald showed that the algorithm could be used to analyze cell images, the Acteris CEO changed his title and made him the company pitch man for a venture capitalist.
“I went from fly on the wall intern, taking notes on the culture of my workplace … to being right in the heat of the startup fever,” he said. “Not as a participant-observer, but as a player in the game.”
Fitzgerald, who left San Francisco with a job offer, was one of six Union students who participated last summer in the San Francisco Internship Program in Innovation and Creativity led by George Gmelch, professor of anthropology.
Gmelch, who usually leads field studies in remote locales, knew that students would get the best experience through the lens of anthropology as participant-observers.
“We decided the students would get more out of this if they could contextualize their experience,” Gmelch said. “So we treated this as an anthropological study of the culture of the startups where they were interning and what it means to be creative, innovative and entrepreneurial in these workplaces.”
Students kept field notes, discussed required readings and took excursions and weekend camp trips to wine country and the California coast. Among the instances of culture shock, most students noted that jeans and sneakers were de rigeur. Lose the suit and tie.
Prior to departure, Prof. Hal Fried of Economics and Jim Cirincione ’90, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, conducted an orientation on West Coast management style.
Other alumni were vital to the program’s success, Gmelch said. Among them, Alex Johnson ’96, COO at Acteris arranged Fitzgerald’s internship. Steve Ciesinski ’70, president of SRI International, hosted the students at the R&D firm, and his wife, Diane, gave students an insider’s tour of Stanford University. Guest presenters included Andy Miller ’90, a tech startup entrepreneur and part owner of the Sacramento Kings; and Ron Pitluk ’91, an executive at Apple. Chris Bourke ’10, a global account manager for tech firm Masergy Communications, hosted a lunch before a Giants baseball game. Steve Eskenazi ’83, an East Coast angel investor with experience in West Coast startups, suggested the program to President Stephen Ainlay. Wendy Sternberg ’90, dean of academic departments and programs, directed the program from campus.
Union seeks other West Coast entrepreneurs for the summer 2017 program. For more information, contact Keri Willis, associate director of internships, at Becker Career Center at email@example.com.