Ever since the start of my entrepreneurial journey it's been a dream to visit Silicon Valley and witness its ecosystem first-hand. Instead of going there and figuring things out myself, I concluded that joining a Summer program would be a much more efficient and structured way of exploring Silicon Valley.
After some short research, I identified multiple options that matched my interests: Singularity University, Draper University or a Summer Session at a traditional institution like Stanford or Berkeley.
What attracted me to Draper University was the experiential learning and focus on entrepreneurship. The program was founded two years ago by venture capitalist (and Kairos Society mentor) Tim Draper on the vision to create more ‘heroes’ that take on the largest problems of this world. Three times a year a select group of innovators and changemakers from all across the globe are admitted into the program to be accelerated and exposed to Silicon Valley.
The application process is very unconventional with questions like ‘why were you put on this earth’ and ‘what would you have a robot do for you?’ and students also have to submit a short video. After being accepted into the program I ran a crowdfunding campaign to collect the necessary funds to pay for my tuition. Using crowdfunding to pay for tuition is something that has been done by multiple students and is even encouraged by Draper University (they recently partnered up with IndieGoGo Life.).
What followed was a 6-week journey that can best be described as an awesome rollercoaster.
To a certain extent, the program can be compared with regular educational programs: we hear lectures by accomplished entrepreneurs, are guided by mentors and sleep in double dorm rooms on the University’s campus.
But there are so many unconventional elements that let Draper University stand out from regular institutions: there are no professors and there are no exams, we are taught about the future instead of the past, and a key element of the program is to push you out of your comfort zone.
From improv classes, building a Rube Goldberg machine, selling sex toys on the streets of San Francisco or getting a written job offer in 6 hours: you will experience it all at Draper, whether you're comfortable with it or not.
A unique element of the program is the involvement of the school’s founder Tim Draper, probably the world’s most eccentric billionaire. He’s very approachable and despite his busy schedule he takes a lot of effort in getting to know the students and learn what they’re working on. Being in close vicinity to such an accomplished business man is something that not a lot of people get to do and is a learning experience in and of itself.
One of my favorite parts of the program was Survival week, a 5-day long bootcamp in the wilderness of California where we were trained by former Navy Seals and Special forces. Although I cannot go into details, I can share that it’s a unique experience that challenged both my leadership skills as well as my physical abilities.
So is Draper University worth it?
It’s difficult to give one clear cut answer as everyone will experience it differently depending on the life phase you’re in. But for me it has definitely been a rewarding experience. I made friends for life, gained a better understanding of Silicon Valley, learned from successful entrepreneurs, and enriched my network.
The program is also set up in such a way that it fosters serendipity. A key driver of this serendipitous atmosphere is the tremendous diversity of the class. There about 70 students from 33 different nationalities and a wide variety of backgrounds. With three fellows in attendance, the Kairos Society was well represented in my class, but we also had people from Global Shapers, Hive, Thousand (former Sandbox), the Singularity University, and even McKinsey.
It’s impossible to give any upfront certainties, but being constantly exposed to such a diverse group can lead to a new business idea, the finding of your co-founder, or a critical pivot for your existing business. Since the program also ends with a demo day where you get to pitch your startup to a group of 40 venture capitalists there might even be an opportunity to raise funding. To this day, Draper students have raised over $10 million in venture capital.
If you’re interested in applying, make sure you enter the program with the right expectations and always remember that the experience will largely be determined by what you make of it.
I want to thank all the people and partners that supported me, the Draper faculty and Tim for putting this awesome program together and my rockstar classmates for making this an unforgettable Summer. Let’s push the world forward!
Daniel Gaspersz is a Kairos Fellow from the Netherlands.