Draper Univ. opens unconventional entrepreneurship school

November 16, 2012 8:55:16 PM PST
In San Mateo, there is a school unlike any other. The students are exceptionally bright and competitive and the classes are unconventional. Its founder is an icon in Silicon Valley, and if you do well, you could graduate with the money you need to start your own company.

The school is housed in the old nine-story Benjamin Franklin hotel in downtown San Mateo. Its name is still above the entrance. But now out front, there are pictures of Apple founder Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, who started Tesla Motors. This is Draper University of Heroes -- an unconventional school that teaches young entrepreneurs how to succeed in the real business world.

Its founder, famed venture capitalist Tim Draper, has investments that include Hotmail, Skype and Tesla. Now, he's spending millions of his own money, starting the school.

"What I wanted to do was create a school of the type that encouraged people to step out there and become heroes. To stick their neck out to as we say in the credo 'to fail and fail again, until they succeed,'" said Draper.

It's not open yet, but the school held a month-long pilot program for some 40 students this summer.

Each morning starts out with a superhero pledge that includes sayings like, "My brand, my network and my reputation are paramount," and "I will treat people well. I will make short term sacrifices for long term success."

Students sit on bean bags. The curriculum is just as unusual: there's yoga, go carts, kayaking, painting, urban and rural survival contests. Draper says these activities teach them how to take on challenges out in the real world.

"A few people will succeed at and many people will fail at them. Our goal really is for them to understand what it's like to fail and to move on," said Draper.

Students have to apply for the eight week program, with tuition at $7,500. They're divided into teams, competing against each other.

"I think people working in teams do extraordinary things they wouldn't do for themselves," said Draper.

Students learn all the fundamentals of business in traditional classes. They're taught not by professors but through lectures given by Silicon Valley executives.

The pilot program ended with students pitching a business idea to a panel of venture capitalists. Each student had two minutes to make their case. Berkeley graduate Surbhi Sarna won the competition and got funding for her idea -- a better testing device to diagnose ovarian cysts. She returned to the school recently during an open house for prospective students. Sarna says Draper University changed her life.

"I not only have a prototype, a product that's working in human tissue. I have a term sheet for the next round of funding which will be a total of $4 million," said Sarna, the CEO of Nvision Medical Corporation.

Those we spoke with at the open house all said that the school attracted them because of its free spirited approach to entrepreneurship.

"It's a place for young people to come and learn about being innovative thinkers and to reinvent the way that they look at the world," said Stanford student Lauryn Isford.

"I'm looking for something that pushes me outside my comfort zone, that gives me a chance to fail, gives me a chance to be creative," said Stanford student Anders Mikkelsen.

Draper University is set to open in April with 80 selected students, or as they're called here, 80 heroes.


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