Although UC Berkeley alumna Surbhi Sarna had already founded her own medical device company, nVision Medical Corporation, she felt that she needed more than a science and engineering background to take her company to the next level.
So she enrolled in Draper University of Heroes during its pilot program in June 2012.
Converted from the old nine-story Benjamin Franklin Hotel in downtown San Mateo, Draper University is an unconventional boarding school that aims to teach entrepreneurship, business and leadership through “hands-on” experience.
Each session, lasting eight weeks, features seminars put on by entrepreneurs as well as individual and group activities, including everything from public speaking and business simulations to yoga and car racing.
Draper University will start its first official session April 17, enrolling students ages 18 to 26.
Prominent venture capitalist and founder of Draper University Timothy Draper said that the activities students participate in are designed to push students to their limits and inspire new ways of thinking as well as to remind students that they are not invincible.
“Every entrepreneur has to know what his downside is, which is why we teach students survival skills,” Draper said. “They have to know what the absolute worst-case scenario is.”
According to Carol Lo, the COO for Draper University, the activities are designed to challenge students and to put them face to face with failure.
“We want them to fail, and we want them to face uncomfortable experiences, because then they will learn to become fearless,” Lo said.
Lo, a graduate of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, said she joined Draper University because it is neither academic nor traditional but rather entirely experiential. According to Lo, students don’t receive grades at Draper University and upon graduating are presented with degrees as “change agents” — that is, people who want to change the world.
Last summer, Draper University held a four-week pilot program with 40 students, two of whom were from UC Berkeley, according to Andrea Draper, program manager at the university. The program featured high profile speakers, including Ron Johnson, the CEO of J.C. Penney.
Tabor Edwards, a UC Berkeley freshman and intended environmental economics major, said that he was unsure of what to expect going into the program but that it changed his outlook on life.
“Draper University showed me how to have passion for what you are doing,” Edwards said. “It changed the way I handle myself and the way I talk to other people, and these are skills that I can take with me for the rest of my life.”
At the end of the program, Draper University held a pitch program in which students presented their ideas to a panel of successful venture capitalists. Sarna was the winner of that competition.
Before enrolling in Draper University, Sarna had commitments from investors amounting to the $3 million of the $4 million she needs for funding her medical device designed to detect the leading cause of infertility in the office of the gynecologist. She now believes that through Tim Draper’s connections, she may be able to secure the rest of the funding.
“Draper University is a good program especially for Berkeley students, because it is a chance for them to get something impressive, to network, but to also force their minds to think in different ways,” Sarna said.