By Charles Cooper
Driving back from San Diego to the Bay Area last year, Saharnaz Safari, MBA 16, pondered the ravages of the California drought on the parched farmland she passed.
Safari and Sohrab Haghighat, an aerospace engineer who accompanied her on the trip, started discussing what sort of affordable, practical solutions could be created using drones to help farmers. The talk quickly led the pair to develop an idea for Clima, a startup that aims to use fleets of drones to create rain and snow in drought-ridden areas.
A $5,000 grant Clima received from the newly-launched Dean’s Startup Seed Fund last year is just enough to get the concept off the ground. The $100,000 fund, announced last October, provides grants to early-stage startups that include Berkeley-Haas students.
The first ten grants were awarded last month, and ten more will be announced in April, said Rhonda Shrader, who oversees the new Berkeley-Haas Entrepreneurship Program (BHEP).
The company ideas in the first group of winners range from a wearable hand sanitizer to an app for people with diabetes to a platform connecting consumers with farmers and food producers.
“We’re off to a great start with these ideas that attack pain points in industries ranging from agriculture to healthcare,” Shrader said. “Our student teams are so excited to begin testing their concepts and this fund is generating a fresh level of enthusiasm among our student entrepreneurs.”
The drones that Clima needs are large and expensive—about $20,000 apiece. The company is using its grant to secure a smaller drone so it could get to work developing an algorithm to prove the product concept to investors.
“The fund has been very important in helping us build a minimum viable product,” said Safari, who plans to continue working on the startup after graduation. “It also paves the path to receive additional funding.”
Shahidah Abdul Rashid & Team D! are developing a diabetes app
Another grant recipient, Shahidah Abdul Rashid, MBA 17, co-founded Team D! with a team that includes Howard O, MBA 17. Team D! is developing a mobile app to help Type 2 diabetes patients make healthy choices when dining out. The app proactively provides diabetic-friendly meal options at a restaurant — based on a diabetes index they are developing.
Abdul Rashid has a special motivation for the project: her father has struggled with modifying his lifestyle to manage diabetes, and has suffered serious health complications.
“We are incredibly excited to be grantees of the Dean’s Seed Fund,” she said, adding that she and her partners intend to use the money to begin prototyping and testing.
“Our idea, from conception to where we are now with seed funding, would not exist if Haas did not have such an innovative mindset in the classroom and beyond,” she said. “I have nothing but confidence as we move from innovation to entrepreneurship that we will be supported by the Berkeley network.”