Fellow in the fold, Hofstra entrepreneurs look west

Valley values: What makes Silicon Valley tick? With the help of its first-ever fellow, the Hofstra University Center for Entrepreneurship aims to find out.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

From the Bring the Mountain to Mohammed File comes the Hofstra University Center for Entrepreneurship, which is bringing a little Silicon Valley to Hempstead.

And vice-versa, with a class of Frank G. Zarb School of Business students slated to jet west later this semester for a pilgrimage to the famed California tech mecca.

But first, the center is generating a little Silicon Valley vibe at home with the naming of its first-ever fellow: Robert Pollak, general partner of SV Angel, a San Francisco-based seed fund focused on Internet, e-commerce and IT startups.

Pollak, who first joined the West Coast angel-investment firm in 2011, has originated investments in several Silicon Valley startups and worked closely with the big thinkers behind such innovators as San Francisco-based cash-flow optimizer Fundbox, California-based commercial drone-services provider Dronebase and New York City-based public-safety platform Mark43, among other hot early-stagers.

A frequent speaker at international conferences including Techcrunch Europe and Tech Open Air-Berlin, Pollak will be a key contributor to the Center for Entrepreneurship, according to Executive Dean Mark Lesko, and a driving force behind a new “immersion course” designed to take business students deep into the heart of Silicon Valley.

“Robert is a partner at one of the most influential venture funds in the country,” Lesko told Innovate LI. “And he is very connected in the Silicon Valley area.”

Robert Pollak: It’s who you know.

That juicy Rolodex will grease the skids for the Silicon Valley Experience, a new course at Hofstra’s Zarb School co-instructed by Lesko and Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship Lutisha Vickerie. Designed to help students “explore and understand the Silicon Valley technology ecosystem,” according to Lesko, the course includes a weeklong field trip in March, with 18 Hofstra students scheduled to visit the California innovation hub.

“Robert’s helping us coordinate that educational trip,” Lesko noted. “We’re going to be meeting with folks at Google, Tesla, Stanford (University), SV Angel and other really interesting companies and nonprofit organizations.

“The goal is for the students to really understand the history of Silicon Valley and what makes that region so unique in terms of technology businesses.”

At the heart of the Silicon Valley Experience will be the Center for Entrepreneurship’s first fellow, who prior to joining SV Angel worked for a multifamily office within Morgan Stanley focused on entrepreneurs and later-stage tech companies.

Pollak, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia, also logged time with NYC-based international law firm Arnold & Porter LLP, where he focused on large-scale M&A transactions as a contributor to the firm’s anti-trust group.

While Pollak’s appointment as a Center for Entrepreneurship fellow is directly related to the center’s California dreaming, the Silicon Valley Experience is actually part of a larger Hofstra University effort focused on student immersion – placing learners in the middle of the action, so to speak, to better prepare them to ply their chosen trade.

Exposing students to various entrepreneurial ecosystems “is a growing trend and now a priority in the business school curriculum,” according to Lesko, who referenced a 2017 voyage Center for Entrepreneurship Academic Director Richard Hayes led to South Africa, and a Zarb School class heading to Israel while the executive dean’s crew visits Silicon Valley next month.

“Essentially, we’re trying to expose students in a hands-on way to different parts of the world,” Lesko said. “Then they can bring that understanding back to Hofstra and New York, and become fully dimensioned business professionals.”