Fifteen entrepreneurial teams—fresh off a new, rigorous four-month accelerator program—have converged at Haas this week for the 17th annual UC Berkeley startup competition finals. Now known as LAUNCH, the Thursday finals will feature keynote addresses from Dilbert creator Scott Adams, MBA 86, and Chris Hulls, CEO of Life360, as well as a new format designed to propel early-stage startups into fundable companies.
Franklin Russell, MBA 16, who is co-chairing LAUNCH with Dan Schoening, MBA 16, says the switch to the accelerator model was designed to improve outcomes for competitors. “Today roughly 90 percent of startups fail, often because they don’t have everything in line before they try to accelerate their growth. We wanted to create a program that will help companies navigate the complexities of early stage growth,” he says. The accelerator program is run out of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship.
This year’s 15 semifinalists were chosen from more than 100 entries, all which were required to have a UC-affiliation. Each semifinalist team has gone through intensive boot camps and four months of coaching from world-class faculty and professional mentors selected for their areas of expertise. The group includes seven teams connected to Haas, and seven connected to other UC Berkeley programs.
The program culminates Thursday when the teams compete for $50,000 in prizes, pitching products and services from climate change risk assessment to personalized DNA monitoring to an adaptive vibrator, before the competition judges—a panel of venture capitalists and industry thought leaders.
Haas-affiliated teams include :
- Blowfish Health, providing an asthma-monitoring device (founded by Henry Leung, EWMBA 15)
- Lendsnap, producing an application that streamlines the loan-application process (founded by Orion Willow Parrott, EMBA 14)
- Optucourse, improving online learning via live online discussions (founded by Jonathan Heyne, FTMBA 15)
- SmartBod, making adaptive vibrators that help women understand how to improve their sexual experience (co-founded by Bobby Davis and James Wang MBA 15, FTMBA 15)
- Wetravel.to, connecting independent tour organizers to travelers through an online marketplace (co-founded by Johannes Koeppel and Zaky Prabowo, along with Casey Lord, all FTMBA 15)
- Xendit, providing a money management application to simplify and improve global money transfer (co-founded by Moses Lo, FTMBA 15)
- zPillow, producing a noise-canceling pillow (co-founded by Chidananda Khatua and Janice Chien, both EWMBA 16)
After completing a final boot camp tomorrow, the semifinalists will pitch to judges at a private semifinal round on Thursday. Five teams will move to the final round held that evening before a live audience, competing for the $25,000 First Prize and $15,000 Runner Up Award. In addition, all 15 semifinalists are eligible to win the $5,000 Faculty Choice Award—given to the team that most fully embraces and utilizes the LAUNCH program—and the $5,000 Audience Choice Award, which members of the public and audience vote on either before or during the event.
-By Karen Sorenson