Kate Fuller is sitting and speaking into a microphone.
Kate Fullen. Image: TES

What this Irish student learned during her time in Silicon Valley

19 Mar 2020

Travelling from Dublin to San Francisco with Silicon Valley Bank gave student Kate Fullen the chance to learn from peers, leaders and the wider entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Kate Fullen is president of the Trinity Entrepreneurial Society (TES) and is in her final year of law and business at Trinity College Dublin.

At the start of this year, Fullen arrived in San Francisco to begin her journey with the SVB Trek, an initiative run by Silicon Valley Bank that brings 25 students from around the world to “build a network of peers and advisors while gaining insights to propel them to the next stage of their career development” in the region.

Here, she discusses how she spent her time on the programme and what she learned for her future career.

‘Learning about the career paths of some seriously successful and ambitious leaders made me challenge the subconscious barriers I had put up in my mind’

Do you know what you’d like to do after you graduate?

This is the big question! Studying the combination of law and business is brilliant but it also makes for a tough choice when it comes to deciding which path to take after college. I did a brilliant internship in the technology law department in Arthur Cox after my second year of studies and was pretty set on going down the law route at that stage.

That said, the latter years of my studies have been shaped by my involvement in the entrepreneurial society, through which I’ve met the founders of some seriously interesting start-ups and learned more about the world of venture capital.

I’ve got a keen interest in emerging technologies and am currently doing a part-time internship in blockchain company ConsenSys Ireland, through which I’m involved in organising Blockchain Ireland Week 2020, so things have taken a turn.

In short, there are a few things I’d like to do when I’ve graduated. Which path I’ll end up taking is still undecided.

How did you secure a place on the SVB Trek in San Francisco?

Being president of the TES has opened up a lot of unexpected doors this year. One of these was certainly the SVB Trek. Our society has a great partnership with the Tangent Innovation Space in the Trinity Business School.

In October, Alison Tracey in Tangent kindly nominated me as one of a few students who were chosen to apply to the SVB to be considered for a spot on the trek. The application involved highlighting my interest and experience in the world of innovation and entrepreneurship to date. I was thrilled to have been selected by the SVB team to fly out to San Francisco.

What were the most rewarding aspects?

The trek was a whirlwind of an experience. I met students who have founded companies, worked in the big tech firms and won amazing awards, and also some of the leaders of the Silicon Valley ecosystem who seem to see no barriers to what they can achieve.

It was extremely rewarding to come away from the experience feeling that I had taken every opportunity to ask questions and build relationships with my cohort.

I would have to say that being surrounded by so many successful and interesting people can make you experience the notorious imposter syndrome.

However, another rewarding aspect of the trip was realising that I too had earned a place on it and that I wasn’t willing to waste the experience by shying away from getting stuck in.

What was your biggest learning from it?

Learning about the career paths of some seriously successful and ambitious leaders, such as Stuart Coulson and Alfred Chuang, made me challenge the subconscious barriers I had put up in my mind. It seems that these people don’t think ‘oh no I couldn’t do that’ – they just give it a go.

That being said, I also came away from the experience realising that many of these serial entrepreneurs had failed in their former efforts or pivoted many times in their ideas before they found the one that worked. The success stories that we read in the media usually leave out the gritty details and tough times that founders go through before they hit the big time.

Do you think taking part in the programme will impact your career path?

In fact, on my flight home I thought about this exact question. The conversations I had with the other 24 members of the cohort gave me a taster of the diverse career paths that they were all planning on taking.

Hearing these and seeing first-hand how fast paced and dynamic Silicon Valley is made me realise that I wanted to be part of an ecosystem like that. This was a sign to me that perhaps going down the legal route, in which I would need to sit a few more sets of exams and train for three years, may not be for me.

Was there anything you found challenging?

I think the most challenging thing was trying to write down and retain all of the information I learned during the trek, from advice to a budding entrepreneur and tips on pitching to investors, to book recommendations, blog recommendations and more.

Would you recommend that others apply for the programme? What would your advice be to them?

I end up telling anyone and everyone involved in entrepreneurship how brilliant the SVB Trek programme is. I think it’s important for anyone applying to make sure that their interest in innovation comes across in their cover letter – there is no copy-and-paste model.

You can tell when a person has a real passion for something and usually it’s being authentic in your expression of that interest which gets that message across.

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