Hasso-Plattner-Institut25 Jahre HPI
Hasso-Plattner-Institut25 Jahre HPI


On the Fulbright Scholarship to Virginia Tech

Valentin Döring (22) and Jacob Schäfer (20) are bachelor students of the IT Systems Engineering program at the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) and Fulbright Scholars. From August 26 to September 17, 2022, they participated in the three-week Fulbright summer study program "Leaders in Entrepreneurship" at the renowned Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. The program is aimed at technology and engineering students and offers a practical entry into the special entrepreneurial culture of the USA. They talk about their stay in our interview.

HPI students Jacob Schäfer and Valentin Döring
HPI students Jacob Schäfer and Valentin Döring

You have just been on a three-week scholarship at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the USA, where you completed the Leaders in Entrepreneurship summer study program. What is this program about and how did you find out about it?

Jacob: "Leaders in Entrepreneurship" is aimed at technology and engineering students who are interested in the topic of entrepreneurship. For three weeks, 24 students from all over Germany went to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Everything was organized and paid for by the German-American Fulbright Commission, which promotes academic achievement, cultural exchange and international understanding through various programs. I heard about this program through our email newsletter.

What did the preparation for the program look like?

Valentin: In preparation for the stay in the USA we had several online meetings with the group and the scholars from other summer study programs. Besides "Leaders in Entrepreneurship", there are the programs "Diversity Initiative" and "Communicating Across Disciplines: New Approaches for Applied Sciences".

Jacob: I especially remember one meeting where the people from Virginia joined us for the first time. More than 15 people took time for us 24 participants, to introduce themselves and the planned activities. It was clear to me at that point that it was going to be a great experience.

What are you working on in this program?

Jacob: Primarily there are many activities around the topic of entrepreneurship in this program. For example, we took the course "Create! Ideation & Innovation", in which we learned about various methods for finding ideas and solutions. We also attended various events and workshops at the "Apex Center for Entrepreneurship". At a StartUp Weekend we worked on ideas, developed prototypes and prepared a pitch in a very short time. It was very exciting to work together with other students from the USA. We were also able to get to know the entrepreneurship ecosystem at Virginia Tech, for example during a visit to the Entrepreneurship Club of the Corporate Research Center.

Was there also a leisure program?

Valentin: Cultural exchange was an important aspect of the program. For example, we went to a football game at the Lane Stadium which holds 65,000 people, and to a local baseball game, explored the beautiful nature on two hikes and came into contact with different people at several networking events.

Besides all the program points, there was also enough time to explore the campus on our own, get in touch with other students or even go to New York for a day.

Why is this insight into the corporate culture of the USA so enriching for students from Germany?

Jacob: The startup culture in the US is different from that in Germany. By gaining insight into this field, I have not only become aware of these differences, but I have also developed a better understanding for them.

Especially the StartUp Weekend at the Apex Center for Entrepreneurship contributed to this. As participants, we were encouraged at the beginning to present our ideas, no matter if we had already been working on them for several months or if the idea had only come to us in the shower that morning. I find the approach of getting new ideas out there very early and collecting feedback very valuable.

Valentin: Overall, we met many different people during our time in the USA. Some of them had already founded several companies and could tell us a lot about their experiences.

With the School of Entrepreneurship, the HPI is also committed to teaching young people how to act and think like entrepreneurs and supports them on their way to founding a company. Have you noticed any differences here?

Valentin: Although Virginia Tech is about 60 times the size of the HPI, the range of courses offered at the HPI is impressive. I was surprised how similar the entrepreneurship courses are in terms of structure and content.

Both institutes encourage students to take the step into self-employment and offer extensive free advisory programs as well as financial support programs. Another common feature is a student-led Entrepreneurship Club, which has existed at the HPI for two semesters. The club meets every two weeks for talks and Q&A sessions.

The biggest difference is the amount of offers. 31 thousand students study at the university in Blacksburg. The Entrepreneurship Club therefore has not 20 but 120 members, lectures are not held every 2 weeks but 3 times a week. In comparison, it is noticeable that HPI students have a lot of entrepreneurial interest in percentage terms.

Another difference is the "just do it" mentality of US students when it comes to spontaneously presenting potential ideas, for example. German students could learn something from them.

How does the course of studies and the campus life in the USA differ from that at the HPI?

Jacob: In the USA, an undergraduate program, which is completed with a Bachelor's degree, takes four years. Students do not study just one subject, but divide their studies into a major and a minor. What is also exciting is that the major often does not have to be decided at the beginning of the program. In addition, all students are required to take general education courses.

Otherwise, it is common in the US for all students to live in shared dorms on campus during their first year.

Valentin: Sports play a much more important role in campus life. Football in particular is very important. Similarities, on the other hand, can be found in the many student clubs. For example, there is also an entrepreneurship club, a dance club and many others. In addition, the Apex Center for Entrepreneurship reminded us a lot of the HPI E-School.

What do you take away from this experience and what was really impressive?

Jacob: Above all, the program has shaped me as a person. As a rather introverted person, I often had to step out of my comfort zone, but now I take many new contacts and friendships with me. Especially within the group and with our mentors, a strong sense of community has developed.

I was particularly impressed by how openly and warmly we were received in the USA. At the end, it was all those who were involved in the organization and in the individual activities and who had conversations with us that made this program a great experience. I can therefore warmly recommend the Fulbright Summer Program to anyone interested in entrepreneurship.

Valentin: For me, the most valuable thing I take away from the program were the friendships I made and the exchange about cultural similarities and differences.

I had the chance to talk to many Americans about their political views. In reflecting on this, I was able to differentiate my understanding and opinion.

I also got to know a few very inspiring people. I was able to meet people who are very successful and still take time for the Bachelor student and show genuine and honest interest. I was very impressed by that friendliness that doesn't feel superficial, but comes from the heart.

Thank you very much for the interview. We wish you all the best and great success in your studies!

The call for applications for the 2023 Fulbright Summer Program is expected to be published in January 2023. More information on the application process is available here: https://www.fulbright.de/programs-for-germans/studierende-und-graduierte/leaders-in-entrepreneurship