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Brad Petersen
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2052 ECE Building
306 N. Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: (217) 244-6376
bradp@illinois.edu

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Meg Dickinson
Communications Specialist
2016 ECE Building
306 N. Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: (217) 300-6664
megd@illinois.edu

ECE alum sends senior to Silicon Valley

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By Gabrielle Irvin, ECE ILLINOIS
March 8, 2013

  • The Technology Entrepreneur Center and the College of Engineering sent a select group of students to Silicon Valley during winter break for a 5-day technology entrepreneurship workshop that included visits to startups and leading technology companies.
  • As a way to help a deserving student attend this unique workshop, ECE alumnus Kelly Berger (BSEE '95), a co-founder of Tiny Prints, provided financial support to ECE senior Jeff Lale to participate in the workshop.
  • For the second year, Berger, a successful entrepreneur, also gave a presentation to the group. He presented at the TiE Silicon Valley office in Santa Clara, and understands the importance of great ideas and execution - two things necessary in the quest for "breakthrough success." He spoke about the importance of innovative thinking.

The Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC) and the College of Engineering sent a select group of students to Silicon Valley during winter break for a five-day technology entrepreneurship workshop that included visits to startups and leading technology companies. The workshop gave students a chance to meet with experts in technology entrepreneurship, innovation, and leadership, and it helped build an entrepreneurial community of Illinois alumni and students. The trip featured corporate leaders, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs. This marked the fourth year of the workshop.

Twenty-five students attended the workshop, each of whom had to pay a student fee of $600.

As a way to help a deserving student attend this unique workshop, ECE alumnus Kelly Berger (BSEE ’95), co-founder of Tiny Prints, provided financial support to ECE senior Jeff Lale to participate in the workshop.

ECE alumnus Kelly Berger (BSEE '95), co-founder of Tiny Prints.
ECE alumnus Kelly Berger (BSEE '95), co-founder of Tiny Prints.


“I think that it’s really important for these students to get out here and actually meet people, and see firsthand what it’s like for people to start a company and take an idea to reality,” Berger said. “I think Jeff is a very bright and creative individual based on my brief interactions with him. I plan to catch up with him this summer after he moves out here after graduation.”

Lale enjoyed having the opportunity to learn from and network with Berger. They discussed Lale’s future goals and hope to stay in touch.

“We even continued the conversation over email,” Lale said. “He was really supportive and encouraged me to reach out when I get to the area.”

For the second year, Berger, a successful entrepreneur, also gave a presentation to the group. He presented at the TiE Silicon Valley office in Santa Clara. TiE, The Indus Entrepreneurs, is a not-for-profit global network of entrepreneurs and professionals.

Berger understands the importance of great ideas and execution – two things necessary in the quest for “breakthrough success.” He spoke about the importance of innovative thinking.

“(The presentation) was geared toward the concept of taking an idea and turning that idea into a product – and ultimately turning that into a company,” Berger said. “Innovation is about creating value in the world.”

Lale enjoyed Berger’s presentation about assessing the quality of new ideas, and he also enjoyed networking and dinner at the home of Roger Dickey, a Computer Science alumnus who helped create Mafia Wars when he worked at Zynga.

“It’s cool to get to meet more people in the area and explore what opportunities are out there,” Lale said. “I was most interested in job opportunities out in Silicon Valley because there is so much happening in terms of startups and entrepreneurship. I feel like there are opportunities left and right.”

ECE student Jeff Lale.
ECE student Jeff Lale.


Lale accepted a job offer from Apple in November and plans to move to San Francisco in July. He will work for the iOS performance engineering team, focusing on user-visible performance for iPhone. Lale is excited to network in the Silicon Valley area and holds a vested interest in startups and entrepreneurship.

“I’m definitely intrigued by the idea of startups in entrepreneurship,” Lale said. “I might as well try to take advantage of all the opportunities that are out there.”

Berger, like Lale, developed an interest in entrepreneurship as an undergraduate.

“I wish they had TEC back in those days,” Berger said. “I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I had a small company when I was younger and wanted eventually to do something on my own – but it took several years to get there.”

After graduation, Berger moved to Silicon Valley and worked as an electrical engineer for Intel. He moved to product management and learned how to define a product, research the market, and understand customer needs – skills necessary in sparking new ideas.

Berger then worked at Danger, Inc., the company that created the T-Mobile Sidekick device. Taking the knowledge and training gained from working at large and small companies, Berger and two partners immersed themselves in online retail. They launched Tiny Prints, an online retail site for personalized cards and stationery, in March 2004. Sales grew to $100 million by 2011, when they sold the company to Shutterfly.

Berger and his business partners are now developing a new company called Obseshen, an online retail website for home décor items.

“The big takeaway I wanted the students to have about innovation is that there are two really simple ideas,” Berger said. “I created this equation because it’s easy to remember. It’s basically innovation equals ideas times execution. I’ve heard it from several different places. It’s a good way to remember the two concepts – the idea and the execution. Success requires both a great idea that solves a real problem and tireless execution of the product development and business operation.”

Berger plans to provide financial support for future students and hopes to present for future TEC workshops.

“I think it's a great way for other alumni entrepreneurs to mentor future leaders and entrepreneurs,” Berger said.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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