Some people grow up knowing exactly who they want to be and what they want to do. Some others discover it along the way by embarking in a journey with the potential to promote even greater change as they get to incorporate their own background and unique perspective. From studying international development to becoming passionate about grassroots entrepreneurship, Danielle Vivo has been one of these Berkeley students who have taken the SCET as an opportunity to learn more about the world and themselves.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Danielle, who currently is the Global Partners Management Associate at the Center, and learn a little bit more about her experience and how she envisions her future after Cal now that she finds herself on the brink of graduation.
How did you first get interested in entrepreneurship?
I literally fell into entrepreneurship. I first got involved with SCET’s Summer Abroad Program in Nice, and to be honest I joined because I wanted to spend time in the South of France. At first, I thought the program itself was a little bit out of my league because I had never thought of having my own startup or being involved in entrepreneurship before. This trip completely changed my perspective on what innovation and entrepreneurship meant. The first week in Nice, SCET’s Managing Director Ken Singer led a bootcamp for the Berkeley students where you play game after game that exposes students to different scenarios and challenges. You learn so much about what you’re capable of, and get to work with people you wouldn’t normally interact with. For me, this experience made me realize that I could accomplish a lot more then I thought if I truly pushed myself. Through my interaction with Ken throughout the summer abroad program I was invited to contribute to the Center’s initiatives on a day to day basis. I first started working with one of SCET’s partners in Brazil, my home country, allowing me to leverage both my cultural background and language skills.
What was the project or venture that you participated in while you attended the Summer Abroad Program in Nice?
I joined a team that was working on a device to teach gardening to children and at the same time deal with the increasingly pressing obesity problem that younger generations are suffering from. I joined them because I had worked with children before, and I thought they had a great strategy for dealing with the problem. I was eager to put my skills to work, however, the most valuable thing that I learned during the process was that I wasn’t meant to work on other people’s projects. That’s the reason I always say that my journey through that program was a struggle: I had follow their idea, and my voice didn’t have the same weight because I had joined the team after the initial founding team had been formed. The program made me learn that I do have strong leadership skills, and I am entrepreneurial, but if I’m going to be working on a startup, it needs to be something that I am completely involved in and that I truly care about. In other words, I learned that I have my own voice and I want to express my voice independently to follow my own ideas.
“The program made me learn that I do have strong leadership skills, and I am entrepreneurial, but if I’m going to be working on a startup, it needs to be something that I am completely involved in and that I truly care about.” – Danielle Vivo
You have been responsible for maintaining the relationships between the SCET and a breath of its Global Partners, including universities, potential donors and valuable contributors. What have been the challenges in maintaining and fostering these relationships?
The relationships were set when I first came into work at the Center as a student. I found that the links between external partners and SCET had a foundation that relied on both Ken Singer and our Chief Scientist Ikhlaq Sidhu, however, they needed someone to design the types of experiences these partners would be having at Berkeley. When I started, I was responsible for managing the activities the partners were to participate in our campus for a period of time. What I realized with time is that as a Berkeley student, I could add to their experience. It is easy to think that you are “just a student” when you have international visitors coming in that have contributed so much to their fields of knowledge, and sometimes you don’t feel like you have much to add as a student. The truth is as a Berkeley student involved in entrepreneurship you are living in the ecosystem they came here to experience. Realizing this empowered me to use my own experience to develop the programs for our partners and to understand that I also had something important to teach our visitors from around the world.
From your experience, what do you think makes the Berkeley entrepreneurship experience so different when compared to programs offered by other institutions around the United States or in other countries?
In the beginning, I was surprised at how inductive and interactive the SCET entrepreneurship classes were, and I watched our partners come into SCET’s classes and be surprised as well. We constantly have industry professionals and iconic figures engaging with students to enrich the class experience. It is such a relaxed environment. When it comes to Berkeley students, they are confident to step up and ask tough questions to speakers – making the experience about what they want to learn. In SCET’s Colliders, our partners are fascinated to see how faculty members, graduate researchers and undergraduate students are able to come together and contribute to a project or idea. In my experience, this is unique to the SCET/Berkeley experience, and I definitely haven’t found this type of interaction happening consistently in any other institution that we are affiliated with.
What is your most memorable experience or anecdote from working at the SCET?
I got a unique opportunity at the Center when they appointed me to organize the first ever SCET Bootcamp at our partner university UFMG in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. It was the first time I had the chance to go back to Brazil for work, and as a student to coordinate and organize the entire trip and bootcamp was a huge responsibility. I met amazing people, learned about the Brazilian startup ecosystem and had fun while managing everything that the initiative entailed. Looking back now, it felt right to arrive at the airport at Belo Horizonte, Brazil for the first time to work. I knew I going to do something that I was passionate about and was going to have a tangible impact on students lives.
“It felt right to arrive at the airport at Belo Horizonte, Brazil for the first time to work. I knew I going to do something that I was passionate about and was going to have a tangible impact in students lives.” – Danielle Vivo
I heard there are some exciting opportunities coming up for students to engage with the Center, including the further international expansion of SCET’s programs. Can you tell us more about these developments and what is the motivation behind it?
I am proud to be one of the advocates for the Center’s expansion. I am a Development Studies major here at Berkeley and have been studying social transformations in developing countries. Interacting with SCET’s Global Partners, PhilDev and UFMG, really opened up my eyes as to how entrepreneurship is valuable to growing economies, particularly when thinking about how meaningful it would be for them to solve local problems. During my classes here at Berkeley, I was able to learn about programs launched by prominent international organizations, and I came to understand the negative impact the they have had in all of these developing economies. After realizing this, I decided I don’t want to work for a big organization that has a “top-down” approach to practicing development. Now, I want to work in the intersection of entrepreneurship and development, since I truly believe in the power of building from the ground up. I believe in a community solving its own problems and creating an ecosystem where universities, industry and the community are interconnected. This is the main objective I will be pursuing after graduation.
“I want to work in the intersection of entrepreneurship and development. I truly believe in the power of building from the ground up. I believe in a community solving its own problems and creating an ecosystem where universities, industry and the community are interconnected.” – Danielle Vivo