The New York TigerTrek program, a week-long experience exposing participants to the diverse entrepreneurial world in New York City, has inspired students by showing them that there is more than one way to be an entrepreneur.
“I saw so many paths to success and so it was really comforting to know that whatever path I take, as long as I’m doing the things I’m interested in and working really hard, that I think I’ll be able to find success in the future,” 2019 participant Nicole Meister ’22 said.
The New York TigerTrek program is in its third iteration as a week-long program, previously lasting only a weekend, according to Olivia Zhang ’20, who co-directed the 2019 spring break trip with Todd Baldwin ’20. The program aims to introduce students to professionals in careers ranging from entrepreneurs to executives to venture capitalists.
“The vision of TigerTrek is to connect top students who are interested in entrepreneurship and engineering and creating things in general to the top minds in New York’s tech and startup scene and really try to find a way to give them that exposure and level of intimacy because the trip is designed around one-hour closed-door, off-the-record conversations,” Zhang explained.
The New York TigerTrek is not the only TigerTrek program at the University. For instance, a Silicon Valley TigerTrek currently exists, and the first Israel TigerTrek will occur next year.
Zhang and Baldwin began planning the itinerary for the 2019 program, which occurred over spring break in March, last summer.
“The first steps were defining the vision of the trip, what we wanted to accomplish on the trip, and how that would reflect all the way from our choice of speakers to our choice of applicants,” Zhang explained.
Baldwin and Zhang chose 20 participants from a wide pool of academic interests and class years in order to create a community during the trip. The application involved a written component as well as interviews with faculty and previous student participants.
“I feel like a major value-add in organizing these speakers and the trip is really bringing together like-minded people who are very talented and have the potential to work together in the future to do outstanding things,” Baldwin said.
“We target people who are at a stage in their early careers where they still have the ability to choose whether they want to go into entrepreneurship or they want to go into more corporate or more stable jobs,” he added.
During the trip, students met with a diverse group of 26 professionals, which included Alan Patricof, founder of the private equity firm Greycroft; Joshua Builder, Chief Technology Officer at Rent the Runway; Nat Turner, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of the healthcare technology company Flatiron Health; and Claire Coder, founder of the low-cost menstrual product distributor Aunt Flow.
“We try to do our best of showing a very fair mix of all those different industries that uniquely fit in New York culture, as well as choosing a diverse set of founders and people to speak to on the trip. We want to show that entrepreneurship is accessible from anyone from any background,” Baldwin said.
The Q&A sessions with entrepreneurs allowed participants to interact with successful people and ask them about their career path.
“We are able to ask the founders and speakers about various questions that we have, whether about their background or specifically about technology in their field,” said one participant Jay Li ’19.
“It’s a really phenomenal experience to be able to see successful people in the field and interact with them and be able to ask them any question that you’ve ever been thinking of,” agreed Ron Miasnik ’22, who also attended the trip.
The New York TigerTrek caused many participants to reflect on their career aspirations and how best to succeed in the entrepreneurial world.
“It’s a really special opportunity just to have a week solely dedicated to thinking about your career trajectory and what you want to do with your life and talking about important questions, not just about where you want to work but also what you want to do with your time, what kind of person you want to be,” Zhang said.
For example, Tiger Gao ’21, an economics major, was one of the only participants not studying computer science or engineering. However, the TigerTrek expanded his perception of what entrepreneurship entails.
“It allowed me to recognize how there’s a new world out there of VC, of creatively investing in things. It was sort of a career path I had never considered before. It definitely made me look at things like entrepreneurship in a new lens,” Gao explained.
Li similarly realized her interests could blend to create an ideal career path.
“I’m a computer science major, but a lot of my interests stem from the start-up world or the policy side. What was very interesting about this trip was that before I wasn’t sure how I could combine these interests, but after talking to some investors or some of the founders, I realized that there are many things you can do to bridge the gap,” Li explained.
Miasnik explained that going on the New York TigerTrek inspired him to remember his goals while studying at the University.
“When you’re at Princeton and you’re in the day-to-day grind doing problem sets and assignments and writing essays, it kinda seems like the light at the end of the tunnel is really far away. But going out on TigerTrek allows you to see the rewards for that and what you’re actually working towards and how exciting that world is,” he said.
In addition to getting exposure to the entrepreneurial world, participants also gained a group of friends that will last long beyond the six-day trip.
“I think it’s just a new community I’ve found that’s one of the best communities I could ever ask for. It’s just such a refreshing experience to be immersed into 100 percent intellectual conversations 100 percent of the time,” Gao explained.
Baldwin explained that one of his goals in co-directing the TigerTrek was to foster this community among the participants.
“Princeton is tough, and I feel like finding people who are like you and can act as a support system for you is incredibly important, and I hope that’s what they found on the trip. It’s a starting point for a lot of lifelong friendships,” he said.
“Oh, and I hope they start a company!” he added with a laugh.