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Timeless Tech Treks: from San Francisco to London

From the 30th annual WesTrek to the inaugural London Tech Trek, students learn about AI ecosystems and form relationships with HBS alumni and other business school students.

On February 9-10, over 60 students made the trip from Boston to San Francisco to engage in an annual tradition: WesTrek. The following weekend, a smaller group of students took a similar-length flight in the opposite direction to explore a new tech ecosystem, but in a different geographical direction: London. WesTrek has been running for 30 years to date, whereas this was the inaugural London Trek. Despite the differences, both shared a common theme: students learned a considerable amount from alumni and professionals across technology companies and investment firms. Along the way, they formed relationships with students at other business schools, including The Graduate School of Business at Stanford, Berkeley Haas School of Business, and London Business School.

Standing the test of time: the 30th annual WesTrek

Early on Friday, February 9, WesTrek Co-Organizers Yiwei Zhao (MBA ’24) and Ankit Tandon (MBA ’24) addressed over 60 jet-lagged students before starting the day’s visits. It was hard to know what exactly to predict, although a safe bet would likely be that AI would be a key part of the day’s discussions. And it was. Another theme emerged throughout the day: the power of WesTrek, a tradition that started before many participants were even born.

For the first visit, students split across San Francisco to visit either Google, Databricks, or Scale AI, the latter two of which were hosting an MBA group for the first time, perhaps a sign of how more technical-focused companies are opening up their business lines towards less-technical users. From there, it was off to a highly anticipated visit: OpenAI. The group was hosted by various members of Open AI’s go-to-market team and Zhao shared that “the highlight [of the Trek] has to be that the entire group of us visited OpenAI and four HBS alumni put together an amazing panel. It was incredible to see HBS alumni’s representation at a company that is at the spotlight of AI development for the whole industry.”

The group split once again and three sub-groups headed to the South Bay to visit different pairings of companies: data warehouse company Snowflake and NVIDIA, the AI computing company that has taken the world by storm and is now valued nearly $2 trillion; Microsoft and autonomous vehicle software supplier Applied Intuition, hosted by co-founder Qasar Younis (MBA ’08); and financial app Robinhood and Tesla. A group of students remained in the city to visit Microsoft-owned LinkedIn and Meta, meeting with product leaders on Meta-owned Instagram. 

Across the company visits, students were hosted by HBS alumni, several of whom had participated in WesTrek as a student at HBS – some had even found their current opportunities through the relationships they formed through WesTrek. Zhao shared that the “WesTrek visit has reinforced the tech industry… is gradually shifting towards more networking-heavy and just-in-time hiring.”

After a long and captivating day of company visits, the full group reconvened in the city, along with dozens of alumni, for a reception hosted by Ubiquity Ventures, a VC firm founded by HBS alumnus Sunil Nagaraj (MBA ’09). Zhao reflected that she was “pleasantly surprised that this year’s WesTrek not only connected current students with alumni, but also allowed so many alumni to connect with their peers.”

On Saturday, it was time for students to explore the venture capital and AI ecosystem across the Bay Area. Students had their choice of visiting Bain Capital Ventures, Radical Ventures, Ubiquity Ventures, Nexus Venture Partners, or Cohere. These small group chats allowed students to learn about the journeys of different venture capitalists to their current roles and how their firms are thinking about the current investing landscape – including AI. A subset of students then made their way to San Bruno to visit Walmart’s E-commerce Team and learn about how Fortune’s number one company by revenue thinks about on-demand delivery and the opportunities that come with leveraging Walmart’s scale.

The final event of the trip emerged as a highlight for participants: a mixer with students from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) and Berkeley Haas School of Business. Students soaked up the California sun – a sharp contrast from the cold winter temperatures of Boston – while getting to know fellow cross-country business school students, an event which Zhao believes should be a “new tradition.” Irving Hsu, a second year student at Stanford GSB who coordinated the event with Zhao and Tandon, was thrilled with the outcome of the event: “it was truly energizing to see so many ideas being exchanged and new connections being formed. We're proud to have initiated a new tradition, and hope this event will lay the foundation for many more cross-school collaborations to come – in tech and beyond.”

An inaugural experience: London Tech Trek

Sophie Jewsbury (MBA ’24), Kshitij Maheshwari (MBA ’24), and Jessica Kwok (MBA ’24) saw a void: “London probably has the largest HBS alumni base in a major city outside of the US. It’s a pity that we don’t engage with that market with the same intensity as we do with our US West Coast and East Coast alternatives.” This realization inspired them to plan a trek to London which came to fruition on February 18-19.

The trek began with an evening mixer of London Business School (LBS) and HBS students, alumni, and partners. The next day, the group traveled across London from office to office, which included plenty of time for London newcomers to get to know the Underground.

The day began at Northzone, a leading VC who has backed companies including Spotify and Truspilot and has offices across Europe and in New York. The conversation acquainted students with the venture capital landscape in London and, more broadly, Europe. It was then off to depop-backer Octopus Ventures, where students learned about the fund structure and how the investment team coordinates its efforts for different stages of companies. 

Google DeepMind, the AI lab that initially started in London and now has a more global presence but remains headquartered in England’s capital, was a fascinating visit. Students then split to visit Amazon and Earlybird Venture Capital. The visits ended at Revolut, the finance superapp valued at $33 billion, where members of their product and sales team shared remarks on the company’s growth to date and their upcoming goals.

Despite a very full day of visits, there was still another major event left: a closing evening HBS Alumni Reception in partnership with Future London. London-based alumni going back to the class of 1972 were in attendance, providing wonderful networking opportunities for those on the trek. 10 London-based AI founders gave three minute pitches for their companies ranging from legal tech to AI ethics, with a break for pizza and beverages in the middle. Event coordinator Jorian Hoover (MBA ’22) was happy with how the evening went: "the HBS Alumni Club of the UK really enjoyed hosting current HBS students for a networking evening focused on AI… it was a blast seeing so many new connections form and lots of inspiring takeaways from leaders in the AI space."

While the company visits and programming were the reasons students braved the red eye flights to London, one of the highlights of the London Trek were the informal conversations on the Tube between company visits. HBS and LBS students shared notes about their experiences at their respective schools and prior backgrounds, and a theme clearly emerged by the end of the trek: this should not be the last time the two schools collaborate and learn together. Jewsbury shared that they “couldn't be more pleased with the interest from the LBS community. Connecting HBS students with LBS peers early on allows those considering a post-MBA move to London a chance to establish networks ahead of time.” Maheshwari put the success of the London trek into context: “we were delighted with how the event turned out… overall, [the day] witnessed participation by 120+ attendees.” It may go without saying that hopefully this will be the first of many London treks – after all, WesTrek does have a three decade head start.

Chuck Isgar (MBA ’25) loves all things startups. He created and runs Above Board, a weekly newsletter which features Q&A's with investors and founders about startup investment, board management, and corporate governance. Most recently, he served as the Chief of Staff at Scenery, a Series A-stage startup backed by investors such as Greylock. Previously, he was a Schwarzman Scholar where he earned a Master in Global Affairs from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Chuck co-founded and was the CEO of Intern From Home, a recruiting technology startup that served students from over 600 colleges and was featured in publications such as The New York Times. Chuck earned his bachelor’s from Brown University, where he served as the Co-President of the Brown Entrepreneurship Program. He loves to golf, cook, and go on long walks.

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