Story in the School of Engineering
Alex Panelli '91
Silicon Valley entrepreneur credits his mechanical engineering background as a key to his success.
For as long as he can remember, Alex Panelli, BSME ’91, knew he was destined to be an entrepreneur. As CEO of Orbit Media, Inc., a new company that has created a phonebook application to help users manage multiple communication applications and social networks, he has fulfilled his destiny.
Alex began his business education early, leading his second Junior Achievement company, Between the Lines, Inc., to the National Junior Achievement Company of the Year title. At SCU, Alex first enrolled as a business major, but midway through his freshman year he transferred to engineering.
“I realized that very few Silicon Valley entrepreneurs come from a business background; most have a science or technology background and then an MBA,” he said. “Andy Grove trained as an engineer; Bill Hewlett and David Packard were engineers. I was compelled to change gears and switch to engineering, and it was a great decision. Engineering teaches a way of thinking, of analyzing and solving problems that can be applied to other areas of expertise with great success.”
As CEO of Orbit and its parent company Trilibis Mobile, Alex has focused his energies on corporate vision and strategy, and has seen the companies through multiple rounds of angel and VC funding. “There is no CEO school—you have to learn as you go along—but having an engineering foundation and the analytical tools it provided has been invaluable.”
Alex credits his experience at SCU as one of the keys to his success. “Being at a Catholic, Jesuit institution instills a sense of social responsibility—not necessarily religious or charitable, just ethical,” he said. He also notes the lasting impression of working on his year-long senior design project. “It meant a lot to me to be at a school where ‘Senior Design’ meant ‘Senior Design and Build.’ Knowing that we actually had to build our design (a submarine!) was a big deal, and the support we received from our professors and alums created a sense of community that carries on past graduation.”
Alex continues that tradition of alumni involvement by providing sponsorship for current senior design projects and through his enthusiasm for seeing fellow Broncos succeed as entrepreneurs. “Santa Clara engineers have so much to offer,” he said; “my objective is to help SCU create a robust incubator program and develop an ecosystem that encourages entrepreneurship.”