By Karen Sorensen
Startup Roundup is an occasional series highlighting new enterprises created by Berkeley-Haas students and recent alumni.
Kunal Chaudhary, BS 17, Business Administration & Computer Science
Rahul Ramakrishnan, BS 17, Business Administration & Electrical Engineering
Grant Empey, BS 18, Computer Science
Rishabh Parikh, BS 18, Computer Science
Anuj Chaudhary, BS 09, Mechanical Engineering
When five UC Berkeley engineers get together and talk science fiction, innovative things can happen—especially when some of them also have business skills.
That was the case for the founders of Dot, a startup that aims to streamline people’s lives by bringing them the right information at precisely the right time through their smart phones.
“We are all avid science fiction fans, so we looked at how computers of the future appear in sci-fi and asked ourselves, ‘What is the next step for our smart phones to get to that world?’” says Berkeley-Haas senior and Dot co-founder Kunal Chaudhary, who met his co-founders in the Berkeley student-run consulting club Venture Strategy Solutions. “If we are going to make the phone more intelligent, an important step is to make it more aware of its surroundings.”
Watch a video of how Dot works.
The Dot device looks like a small black hockey puck with an LED light that changes color when you are in range. Using precise location tracking and push notification, it sends reminders or opens relevant smartphone applications. For example, if you are in your car, your Dot automatically loads map apps and sends directions and traffic updates; at the office it might notify you of upcoming meetings and to-dos; at home, it reminds you to take medicine or pings a housemate to take out the trash.
The concept proved so popular that the group’s Kickstarter campaign reached its initial $20,000 goal in less than 12 hours, and is now nearing $90,000. Dot also earned a spot with CITRIS Foundry, the University of California Accelerator, as well as support from the Berkeley House, an extension of the new $6 million House Fund launched by UC Berkeley alumnus Jeremy Fiance.
Members of the team found several Berkeley-Haas courses to be especially useful in forming their startup, including Advertising Strategy taught by Assoc. Prof. Clayton Critcher. “That course taught me how to think about messaging and branding, and how we can turn individuals who are interested in our product into passionate advocates for our brand,” Chaudhary says.
Dot plans to begin shipping its product to its first customers in March and hopes to be in the smart home sections of retail outlets, such as Home Depot and Target, by next fall.
Co-founders: Yuriy Pryadko, Tony Sgroi, both EWMBA 17
Yuriy Pryadko, EWMBA 17, thinks the pictures and videos he takes on his smartphone are boring and flat.
“There’s more to the world than today’s smartphone camera can capture,” says Pryadko, who with Tony Sgroi, EWMBA 17, is working to make photos and video come alive with a simple to use phone attachment. “Our vision is to help people capture their memories in a way that they were never able to do before.”
Their startup, Fishball, is a nod to the dual fish-eye lens they are developing to clip on a cell phone to take immersive 360 degree photos and video. The phone attachment works with an app that stitches the image so that it can be viewed using a virtual reality headset, such as Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, or Google Cardboard. It also allows users to easily upload and share their content on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.
Pryadko and Sgroi met in the Evening & Weekend Program, developing their idea last semester as a project during their Entrepreneurship class with Lecturer Kurt Beyer. “We did the market research, finished our user interviews, and decided that this truly is a viable product,” Pryadko says. They partnered with Vahid Esfandyarpour, who holds a PhD in optical engineering, to complete the hardware design, and are on track to product launch in the coming months.
This is the first startup for the team. Sgroi, who was most recently a plant manager at industrial manufacturing company Eaton, spent four years as an infantry officer in Iraq with the U.S. Army. He came to Haas to learn about the strategy behind running an advanced manufacturing business. Pryadko brings eight years of experience at Cogniance, a product design/development consultancy that has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs launch tech products ranging from connected car apps to a breathalyzer for smart phones. “My entire career has been in helping startups be successful, and now I am ready to launch one myself,” he says.
Haas courses are providing the range of business skills the team needs, including design thinking from Lecturer Clark Kellogg, brand management from Lecturer Lynn Upshaw, and venture capital from Lecturer Terry Opdendyk.
“This is a very integrative experience that will allow Tony and me to take everything we’ve learned at Haas and during our careers and apply it to something that is tangible, that is fun, and that will make people’s lives better,” Pryadko said.
Sign up for the Fishball news and product announcements at their website, Fishball.us.
Emily Yao, MBA 16
Dave Resnick, MPH 16
When Emily Yao arrived at Haas, she set her sights on solving an age-old problem: getting children to eat their vegetables.
She combined her expertise in human behavior, her passion for art, and her new-found business skills to launch startup Planet Murple.
Planet Murple co-founders Emily Yao (r) and Dave Resnick (second from right)
A former behavioral/cultural change strategist for IBM, Yao met her co-founder, former elementary school teacher Dave Resnick, in Eat. Think. Design., an interdisciplinary innovation course for UC Berkeley graduate students who want to improve the food system.
“We saw a huge attitude and cultural problem around food that kids experience at a young age,” Yao says. “Over 90 percent of kids don’t eat the recommended amount of vegetables and 40 percent of parents report they have mealtime struggles due to children’s pickiness. This is frustrating both parents and schools.”
Yao’s and Resnick’s solution is a creative app that engages children to join “The Murples” in an entertaining world of natural food. The app uses a combination of silly and colorful stop-motion videos and interactive recipes to encourage children to prepare and eat nutritious food. (The first episode is a “Big Sea Adventure” with Meep the Murple, and features red peppers and pears.)
The co-founders quickly raised nearly $9,000 through Indiegogo, and received additional support from the Berkeley-Haas Dean’s Startup Seed Fund. Planet Murple was also a regional finalist in the 2016 Global Social Venture Competition, and a recent participant in the GSVLabs & Google Launchpad Pioneer Accelerator.
Yao drew inspiration and support from the Berkeley-Haas Innovation Design (ID) Club, which she helped lead as co-president. The team also benefited from the Social Lean Launchpad course taught last fall by Lecturers Jorge Calderon and Ben Mangan.
“This was an amazing community of teachers, mentors, and fellow social entrepreneurs,” she says. “We got great feedback and were encouraged to be open to change. We’ve now done more than 75 customer interviews and have pivoted a few times to get where we are today.”
Coming next: Yao and Resnick hope to expand Planet Murple’s content and partner with schools, public markets, and grocery stores. “We want Planet Murple to help kids discover a love for food,” Yao says.