Jeremy Hammer, a US Navy veteran and aspiring entrepreneur, and his mentor, Akash Bakshi, an assistant director of technology analysis and marketing for UC Berkeley. (Photo: Jim Block)
From 2012 to 2016, Jeremy Hammer was working as a radar technician on the naval destroyer USS John McCain, stationed in Yokosuka, Japan. He was also studying, taking online classes that prepared him to transfer to Berkeley Haas.
“I chose the Navy because I wanted a technical education and it was a stepping stone to get to college,” said Hammer, BS 18, a Minnesota native who spent six years after high school in the Navy.
He’s now among the 80 veterans enrolled in the undergraduate and MBA programs at Haas, using his leadership skills and what he’s learning in class to launch several startup ventures.
A gap in the ecosystem
Hammer, who is focused on education and health, is working on two interconnected startup projects.
The first startup, called Bluem, is developing a new product called Cuddle Cub, a plush bear that doubles as a sleep training tool for children. It will use light and sounds—such as birds chirping—to trigger wakeup time, combined with a sleep-tracking app to to help parents encourage better sleep habits in young children. Hammer’s team includes undergrads Angela Lee (public health) and and Arjun Srinivasan (computer science), who are working on the project through the Fung Fellowship for Wellness & Technology.
While building a prototype of the bear, the team ran into trouble finding a student with the technical skills required to help them. Hammer found social media sites cluttered, and job sites not easy to search. Although students meet at events like LAUNCH Startup Demo Day and Expo or at other student-sponsored startup events, there was no easy, central way to connect with the right talent at UC Berkeley, Hammer said.
That’s when Hammer’s ingenuity kicked in—and he started Bear Founders, a website that connects UC Berkeley students by skill set, kind of like a dating site for startups.
Since launching in March, the website has drawn more than 1,000 users, including 180 startups. It has listed 100 jobs and connected dozens of founders. UC Berkeley members have made more than 400 connections through the site to find jobs, start their companies, or meet other entrepreneurs, Hammer said.
“Bear Founders is really making a difference,” says Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program (BHEP).
“Meeting a significant need”
Just ask second-year MBA student Scott Graham, who met Boróka Bó, a double PhD at UC Berkeley (sociology and demography), through Bear Founders.
“I took a few minutes to upload my profile, and within a day received quite a few requests to meet for lunch,” Graham said. For the past month, he’s been working on a team with Bó, “who has a transformative product in the works,” he said.
Sal Parsa, MBA 18, used Bear Founders to recruit two interns for his startup, Social Filter, an online tool that helps job seekers remove undesirable content from their social media accounts.
“I think Bear Founders is meeting a significant need,” Parsa said. “It helps Cal startups find talent and brings entrepreneurs together around their passions, and it helps them find co-founders with complementary skill sets.”
In April, Hammer received a $5,000 grant from the Dean’s Seed Fund. He used the money to hire four people to help him build out the Bear Founders site.
Akash Bakshi, an assistant director of technology analysis and marketing for UC Berkeley, is Hammer’s mentor, helping to connect him to technology experts and entrepreneurship resources across the campus.
“My role is to say when things aren’t good ideas, or to tell him ‘I don’t know if this is the right way forward,'” Bakshi said.
Bakshi and Hammer worked together on the Inclusion in Entrepreneurship Summit at UC Berkeley last September. Hammer served as the coordinator of the event, which drew government funders from NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute for Health to campus to help underrepresented minorities connect with mentors and get their startups funded.
During his last year at Haas, Hammer says he’ll work to make Bear Founders a tool that other universities can use to connect their communities. In the next version, due out in January, he’ll add features to facilitate mentorship, host events for founders to meet funders, and provide a podcast or blog to connect with its members.
For Hammer, the path to entrepreneurship offers the personal freedom of being his own boss. “It’s also about problem solving, helping people, and making their lives better or easier in some way.”
Check out Dean Rich Lyons’ Veterans Day message on what veterans bring to Haas: