A Trainee Project in Silicon Valley

“What do you call an entrepreneur who failed?” In Switzerland, one might expect an answer like “pitiable dude”. However, in Silicon Valley the answer is different. Here, an entrepreneur who failed is called “experienced”.

Such direct insights into different business cultures is one of the many opportunities, a trainee project (as part of the trainee program) at the Swisscom outpost in California offers. I am currently doing such a project and I would like to give you some more info about how it works, who gets to go and how I am experiencing it.

Outpost“Identify, incubate and accelerate ideas with startups”

The Swisscom outpost in Silicon Valley was established in 1998. After a few years in Palo Alto, the office is now located in Menlo Park, just around the corner of Stanford University and the Facebook headquarter.

Initially, the outpost was created to allow on-site observations of the late 90ies’ Internet Hype and its influence on telecommunication. In time, the focus shifted from observation to open innovation, outbound as well as inbound.

Today, the outpost’s vision is to “empower Swisscom to bring to the market new digital services”, says Grégory Leproux, head of the outpost. This is done by “helping intrapreneurs to identify, incubate and accelerate their business ideas with startups”.

One or two trainees each year

In 2012, Kathrin Hösli who is now working in Swisscom’s Digital Business Unit was the first trainee to do one of her projects at the outpost. Since then, one or two trainees of each year have got the opportunity to do one of their projects in the Valley.

The project topics vary, depending on what is currently happening within Swisscom. The same applies to the tasks: Some trainees came here to organize a road show for a visiting Swisscom delegation, some did on-site market research, others conducted a proof of concept.

I am here for trend scouting: My task is to dive into the current happenings in FinTech to create additional insights for Swisscom’s digital banking think tank.

One month of preparation, 3 months in the field

I applied for the project in early December and got the “go” by Christmas. The visa application process was quite a hassle, but finding an apartment on Airbnb was easy. And after one month of topic-oriented preparation in Switzerland, I left for San Francisco on March 1.

Now as I am here, being a trend scout means being on the road: Everything that can be done from a computer could also be done from Switzerland. Therefore, I am trying to minimize this kind of research to concentrate on on-site activities, above all the direct contact to the startup world.

An example of a learning: The value of the in between and the afterwards

This seems to be a successful approach: So far, it was the personal interaction with people which led to the most interesting insights and follow-ups.

Good ways to meet the relevant people is by introduction, or by going to events like MeetUps, conferences or startup-pitches. In addition, as funny as it sounds, serendipity plays a role as well.

One thing I learned here: Be it a conference, a MeetUp or a meeting – it is crucial to take advantage of the in between and afterwards: The lunch breaks and the after-X-activities often proved to be as valuable as (if not more valuable than) the official parts. So, stay for the pizza and the drinks!

An example of an advantage and a challenge: The “mind-blowingness”

Like former outpost-trainee Andreas Breitenmoser mentions in the article he wrote 2 years ago: For a young person with an affinity to technology and enthusiasm for the new, there is hardly anything more fascinating than to be in the “valley of dreams and visions”, which is the Silicon Valley.

I agree: Experiencing this vibrant ecosystem is mind-blowing. However, the advantage of being in the center of these dynamics is also posing to me the biggest challenge: The never ending stream of “interesting!” makes it hard to focus. And focusing is necessary, as there is always more.

Anyway, I am gaining a lot from my stay here and I can definitely recommend future trainees to apply for this opportunity, too – not only for the sake of the project, but also with regard to the future (more about that in a follow-up article which will be published next week 🙂)


The outpost team and some guests.