Startup KwikKart nabs first prize at LAUNCH Demo Day

Two white male students with crossed arms. t-shirts rad Kwik Kart
KwikKart, co-founded by Aaron Gyure, BS 20, and Sean Houlihan, BA 20, won first place at LAUNCH Demo Day.

Three Berkeley Haas startups nabbed top honors at Demo Day for LAUNCH, the University of California’s accelerator for early stage startups.

The event, organized by Haas and UC Berkeley students and sponsored by the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program (BHEP), was held online on Friday, Jan. 14.

KwikKart, a smart cart that allows customers to scan and purchase items from a smartphone while shopping, took first place; The Blue Box, an at-home urine test that can detect breast cancer, placed second; and PWR WMN, a women’s blazer company, nabbed third. Cleo, a THC and CBD gummy startup, won Audience Choice. 

Eight out of the 14 teams that completed the three month accelerator program made it to the finals, where they pitched to VCs and angel investors. LAUNCH, now its 7th year as an accelerator, aims to transform early-stage startups into fundable companies.

Rhonda Shrader, executive director of BHEP, which oversees LAUNCH, said this fall’s cohort was exceptionally diverse, with eight underrepresented founders and 11 women founders. “Every year our cohorts get more diverse and reflect more diverse thinking around solving the world’s biggest challenges,” she said.

KwikKart, co-founded by Aaron Gyure, BS 20, and Sean Houlihan, BA 20, netted $25,000 in prize money; PWR WMN, led by two Texas A&M University grads and Ana Martinez, EWMBA 23, won $10,000; and Cleo, co-founded by Haas students Andrea Berrios and Spencer Perron, both MBA 22, landed $5,000 in prize money. The Blue Box, led by UC Irvine grad Judit Giro, won $15,000.

Each year, more than 200 startup teams, which must include one UC-affiliated member, apply for a coveted spot in the accelerator. During the program, teams get to test their products with customers, connect with industry experts, receive guidance from Haas mentors, and get the chance to pitch to investors on Demo Day. 

LAUNCH has helped build more than 150 companies, including Haas’ first unicorn, Xendit, co-founded by Moses Lo, MBA 15. Lo, who joined Demo Day for a Q&A, spoke about his entrepreneurial successes and challenges.

LAUNCH Demo Day is now available to stream via YouTube.

Buzz Solutions nabs top honor at Cleantech to Market Symposium

Seven graduate students smiling
From L-R, top to bottom: Luis Felipe Gonzalez, Federico Cueva Salas, Sean Mandell, Chelsea Boyle, Preston Suan, Dinara Ermakova, and Han Le. Photo credit: Jim Block.

An AI-powered software that automates visual inspections and provides data analytics for utility lines and energy grids earned the top prize at the 12th annual Cleantech to Market Symposium. The event was held in Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum last Friday.

Cleantech to Market (C2M) is a 15-week accelerator course that brings together graduate students, industry leaders, and researchers to pitch cleantech innovations from existing startups, government-sponsored programs, and incubators. 

Five student teams–including 31 MBA and UC Berkeley graduate students from law, policy, and science–pitched emerging technologies aimed at addressing everything from fossil-fuel reduction to carbon dioxide capture to non-flammable batteries.

Buzz Solutions, the AI-powered company that provides power line and energy grid inspections, earned the Hasler Cleantech to Market Award, named after former Berkeley Haas dean William Hasler. 

Team members included Chelsea Boyle, EWMBA 21, Dinara Ermakova, PhD 22 (nuclear engineering), Federico Cueva Salas, MBA 22, Han Le, PhD 24 (chemistry), Luis Felipe Gonzalez, MBA/MEng 22, Preston Suan, MBA 22, and Sean Mandell, MBA 22. 

Dean Harrison kicked off the symposium with a keynote, emphasizing the need for more cleantech solutions to address climate change.

“This is no longer a problem that our grandchildren will face. This is a crisis that we’re dealing with now,” said Harrison, pointing to recent catastrophic events, including California’s wildfires and extreme heat waves worldwide. “Our planet is out of its comfort zone, which is why this symposium and the development of cleantech solutions is so crucial.”

Other notable guest speakers included James Zahler, associate director for technology-to-market at Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E); Liam Berryman, CEO of Nelumbo; Miguel Sierra Aznar, CEO of Noble Thermodynamics; and Kristin Taylor, CEO of Radical Plastics. All three CEOs participated in previous C2M symposiums.

“I’m so proud of our students and what they have accomplished in the last 15 weeks,” said Brian Steel, director of C2M. “They’ve spent nearly 1,000 hours speaking to experts and investigating a wide range of market opportunities for cleantech startups that are tackling the most pressing issues of our time.”

‘Driven by our own mission’: Blackbook University builds community and belonging

Blackbook’s co-founders and supporters attend a pre-launch presentation. From L-R: Maya Hammond, former BSU president; Farhiya Ali; Imran Sekalala; Ibrahim Baldé; Nahom Solomon; Hana Baba, NPR; Joy Dixon, Salesforce; Marco Lindsey, associate director of DEI at Haas; Nicholas Brathwaite; and Chase Ali-Watkins. Photo courtesy: Ibrahim Baldé.

As an undergraduate, Ibrahim Baldé, BS 20, said he faced many challenges on top of managing a rigorous course load. They included battling imposter syndrome, experiencing microaggressions from peers, and feeling pressured in class to be the spokesperson for his race as he was often the lone Black student.

After speaking with friends and classmates who also identified as Black, Baldé learned that they faced the same hurdles. A 2019 campus-climate report published by UC Berkeley’s Division of Equity, and Inclusion also confirmed Baldé’s experience, which found that many Black students experienced exclusionary behaviors from peers, including being stared at or singled out to represent their race.

Wanting to improve the Black student experience at Berkeley, Baldé co-founded Blackbook University, a website and mobile app that provides educational and professional resources to help Black undergraduate and graduate students navigate their journey at Berkeley. Blackbook’s other co-founders include Nicholas Brathwaite, Chase Ali-Watkins, both BA 20, Nahom Solomon, BA 21, Farhiya Ali and Imran Sekalala, both BA 23.

The app, which launched Nov. 18 and is a revival of a Black student handbook published in the 1980s and 1990s, includes a calendar with extracurricular and career-related events, a student-alumni-faculty directory, a live chat feed for users to interact, and a scholarship and internship database. The website features student profiles and an internship program for students interested in entrepreneurship and tech. 

Brathwaite manages product development, Ali and Sekalala handle data analysis and design, Solomon serves as the director of operations, Ali-Watkins is the chief marketing officer, and Baldé is CEO.

Student Profile – Adaeze Noble from Made By Chase on Vimeo.

The journey

The son of an imam, Baldé was instilled with a “beyond yourself” mindset at an early age. Growing up in Alameda, Calif., Baldé knew that he wanted to combine his three passions: social impact work, business, and tech. Once at Haas, Baldé took Haas Lecturer Alex Budak’s leadership class called Becoming a Changemaker

“That class allowed me to think about my mission and purpose and to understand that leadership isn’t a defined trait,” Baldé said. 

Following that class, Baldé began to lay the groundwork for Blackbook University. He teamed up with his co-founders and formed an advisory board of faculty and staff across campus, including Budak, Marco Lindsey, associate director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Haas; Miya Hayes, BA 92, associate director of Campus Partnerships & Engagement; and staff from the African American Student Development Office. 

Baldé surveyed about 150 Black Berkeley and Haas students to assess if he had a winning idea. The answer was a resounding yes. 

While Slack and GroupMe are useful networking tools, 90% of surveyors reported that it was important to have a tool that was designed for them.

“Students can’t take ownership of Slack and GroupMe, but they can take ownership of Blackbook,” Baldé said.  

A copy of the original UC Berkeley African American Student Handbook published in 1996.

Successes and challenges

Baldé and his team have had some successes. They participated in UC Berkeley’s Free Ventures pre-seed accelerator, allowing them to test and tweak their business model. They also were one of the Big Ideas Contest grand prize winners, earning $10,000 in prize money. 

But they’ve also had some setbacks, including finding the best developer who could deliver the app they envisioned. Another setback was validating their business model to potential investors. Currently, Blackbook is free to download. 

“We just tune out the noise,” Baldé says. “We’re driven by our own mission and that is to build community and to make our resources and networks available to Black student communities.”

Despite the hurdles, the team continues to press on. Their goal is to make customized versions of the app for Black student communities at colleges and universities nationwide. 

Faculty and staff advisors praise Baldé and his team for creating a sense of belonging on campus.

“I’m inspired by how Ibrahim can readily imagine a better future and then rally the people and resources needed to turn these ideas into reality,” said Budak. “We talked about how one of the greatest acts of changemaking is creating the opportunities for others that we wish we had for ourselves and Ibrahim is doing just that.”

Hayes agreed. “I’m in awe of their innovation–taking both the best and most challenging aspects of their time at Berkeley to create something that sustains and nourishes our sense of belonging,” she said. “They’re giants in their own right.”

MBA team wins 2021 UT Austin Real Estate Competition

Group of male MBA students and woman faculty advisor holding big check
The Haas MBA team wins first place and $10,000 in prize money. (From L-R: Ian MacLean, Alex Dragten, Abby Franklin (faculty advisor), Carson Goldman, Andrew Johnson, Fukang Peng, and Travis Kauzer.)

Converting an office building into a life science center to lease to medical and biotech companies landed a team of Berkeley Haas MBA students a first place win at the 2021 UT Austin Real Estate Competition. 

The competition was held Thursday, Nov. 18 and hosted by the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business. 

Team members include Carson Goldman, Andrew Johnson, Ian MacLean, Alex Dragten, all MBA 22, Fukang Peng, and Travis Kauzer, both EWMBA 22.

Haas bested 19 other teams from top U.S. business schools including Columbia, Yale, Wharton, NYU Stern, and University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and won $10,000 in prize money. This is Haas’ third first place win at this competition in the last four years. 

MBA teams were tasked with creating a business plan for a building with a single tenant whose lease was about to expire. They had to consider maximizing risk-adjusted returns and demonstrate an understanding of macroeconomic trends, including the effects of inflation and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Haas MBA team decided to convert the building into a life science center to attract multiple tenants and maximize high returns.

Team lead Carson Goldman credited the team’s win to practicing case presentations every week this semester and to work they did with their faculty advisors.

“Our coaches Bill Falik and Abby Franklin provided constant feedback and guidance and were wholly committed to this competition,” Goldman said. “Our alumni were just as important as they had volunteered weekly to judge our practice cases and offer constructive criticism,” he added.

“It’s very gratifying to see our students progress over the semester and to win first place,” said Haas Lecturer Bill Falik. “We’ve had victories, but to win first place in three out of the four years at this national competition–this has never been done before.”

Ready for flying taxis? 2021 Mobility Summit to focus on future of transportation

three males smiling
From L-R: Thomas Fantis, Sam Bauer, and Jon Wan, all MBA 22.

Driverless trucks and electric air taxis are generating a lot of buzz. But are these new modes of transportation worth the hype?

Second-year MBA students Jon Wan, Sam Bauer, and Thomas Fantis hope to tackle that question next week at the second annual Berkeley Haas Mobility Summit. 

“Cutting Through the Hype” is the theme for this year’s summit, which brings together students, faculty, alumni, and industry leaders to explore sustainability, equity, and commercialization challenges that may arise from adopting new mobility technologies. 

The summit, organized by the Transportation & Mobility Club, will be held Nov. 19, from noon to 4:30 p.m. in Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum. Conference organizers include Wan, Bauer, Fantis, Marcus Brandford, Graham Haydon, Ryota Soshino, all MBA 22, and Yiannos Vakis, MBA 23.

“There’s a lot of optimism around these new technologies that promise pollution and traffic reduction in cities, for example, but we haven’t seen much of the benefits yet,” said Fantis. “We hope to create some dialogue about the implications of adopting autonomous and electric cars and how to apply these technologies responsibly and equitably.”

Bert Kauffman, head of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs at Amazon’s autonomous car startup Zoox, will kick off the half-day conference with a keynote address, followed by panel discussions on the future of ride hailing, the scalability of electric vehicles, solving supply-chain challenges via autonomous trucking, and the creation of electric air taxis. 

Other notable guest speakers include Nick Matcheck, MBA 20, partnerships manager at Hyundai Urban Air Mobility; Jeff Sharp, MBA 21, government operations associate at Joby Aviation; Misha Cornes, MBA 01, UX research & strategy leader at Lyft; Shana Patadia, BS 10, director of Business Development at Chargepoint; Nick Silver, MBA 11, head of Marketing for US and Canada at Uber; Haas lecturer Molly Turner; and UC Berkeley civil and engineering professor Susan Shaheen.

“We hope this summit will serve as a guide for students interested in joining the mobility industry and that they find companies that are making the greatest impact in terms of sustainability and equity,” Bauer said.

“Our goal with this summit is to establish Haas as the center of mobility and put it on the map as the best school to attend for this [mobility] field,” Fantis added. “When prospective students look for MBA programs that offer mobility courses and clubs, we want Haas to be at the top of their search.”

‘A place where people can see themselves’: Élida Bautista, Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer

Chief DEI Officer Élida Bautista.

When Élida Bautista arrived at Berkeley Haas as director of diversity, equity, and inclusion in 2018, she found a community “ready to do the work and not just pay lip service” to diversity.

Since then, she’s worked alongside that community, building the school’s first five-year DEI strategic plan and creating a culture shift toward one of greater belonging—or, as she puts it, “a place where people can see themselves.” This week, Bautista—who came to Haas after spending 15 years developing programs focused on social justice, diversity, and inclusion for  UCSF’s Department of Psychiatry—became the first woman and Chicana/Latina to be named chief DEI officer at Haas.

We spoke to her about her most pressing priorities, how the pandemic impacted her work, and the diversity-related initiatives she plans to work toward over the next five years.

What are you most proud of accomplishing during your interim DEI chief role at Haas in the past year?

One of the accomplishments I am most proud of is getting input from the community to implement our DEI strategic plan. Last year, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) team started off with listening sessions across Haas.

We wanted to learn what teams were accomplishing, how they were integrating DEI in their work and to give people a space to feel heard. Those listening tours helped us refine and implement a Haas-wide DEI strategic plan and positioned us as thought partners in helping teams carry out their own DEI initiatives.

As we launched, it was important to be transparent with our community. We publicly shared the plan on our website, and shared regular updates about progress on our deliverables on our website, something that had not happened before. That was meaningful to our community because it allows everyone to get involved and to see our progress as well as any delays.

Beyond the DEI plan, what broad initiatives are you working on that dive deeper into DEI?

We are looking to continue creating a DEI culture shift at Haas. But we’re not just thinking about diversity as scholarships and increasing admissions and representation. That’s an important part of it, but we must simultaneously build a place where people can see themselves. We’re thinking about how we get more diverse folks in the door, but also about their experiences once they’re here in the classroom or the workplace. 

We must…build a place where people can see themselves.

We are creating a sense of belonging through a variety of offerings, including co-curricular educational and professional development activities, as well as community social events. 

We also need to invest in pathways toward making our faculty more diverse. One way we’re doing this is by creating a postdoctoral fellowship through a gift from Allan Holt, MBA 76. Postdocs offer the opportunity to bring scholars into the faculty pipeline who might not otherwise pursue a faculty career at a university where there is a very high level of research activity. We also set aside part of the funds to integrate DEI into the curriculum. 

What are your most pressing goals in the new role? 

As a chief diversity officer who sits on the management team, my pressing goals are focused on partnering with our associate deans of academic affairs to increase diversity in faculty hiring, support retention and promotion efforts for our underrepresented faculty, and support DEI curricular offerings. At a strategic level, my goal is to support our dean and our senior managers in effectively addressing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging-related challenges, and collectively continuing to make progress on our strategic plan. Additionally, I will be involved in providing feedback to the chairs of the search committees about the diversity of our faculty candidates. Over time, our postdoctoral fellowship will be an additional source for increasing the diversity of the faculty pool.

How has COVID impacted your job during the pandemic?

COVID magnified a lot of existing disparities and social injustices—everything from who had to keep going to work in-person to who had access to health insurance to treat COVID if they got sick. We also saw a rise in visibility of violence targeting some communities. This increased the sense of vulnerability that needed to be integrated into our team’s offerings and approach. 

Initially during the pandemic, a lot of our work was about holding space for community members to reflect, as well as offering managers tips to understand how to support staff who might be having a different experience during this time. We asked: How do we extend empathy at a time when everybody is feeling overwhelmed and stretched? 

How does it feel to be back on campus?

Now that we’re back on campus, there’s a renewed sense of connection that we all need. Being back allows people to engage in a more authentic way with each other, which makes my work a little bit easier when we’re talking about learning across differences. Being online made these connections more challenging. For example, if everyone is off camera and one person is talking and nobody’s clapping or smiling or affirming, it’s unclear if your message has resonated with anyone.

What would be a major achievement for Haas in the next five years in DEI?

I think we’re well on our way, but a major achievement would be to make Haas the leader among business schools in reputation regarding diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, based on our robust offerings, the skills our students gain while at Haas, and the type of leaders we produce.

Another major achievement would be to make meaningful gains in the representation of women among our students across degree programs and among our faculty, including more women of color, LGBTQIA+ women, women veterans, and women with disabilities.

Also, as UC Berkeley continues to advance toward becoming a federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) by 2027, a major achievement would be to  align Haas with the recommendations of the HSI task force and position ourselves to serve the needs of Latinx/Chicanx and underrepresented communities on campus.

Reunited! Evening & Weekend and Executive MBA graduation highlights

Donned in full regalia, graduates of both the Berkeley Haas Evening & Weekend and Executive MBA classes of 2020 and 2021 reunited on campus last weekend for in-person commencements.

The graduates crossed the stage, collected diplomas, and celebrated in the sunshine with classmates, family, and friends. (The EWMBA ceremony was held at Zellerbach Hall, while the EMBA ceremony was held at Hertz Hall.) The in-person events followed separate virtual commencement ceremonies held in May 2020 & 2021.

Here are a few highlights from Saturday’s ceremonies:

Om Chitale, MBA 18, receives first Equity Fluent Leadership Award

Om Chitale, MBA 18, receives the Kellie A. McElhaney Equity Fluent Leadership award.


Om Chitale, MBA 18, has won the school’s first Kellie A. McElhaney Equity Fluent Leadership award for championing diversity and inclusion initiatives at Haas and beyond.

Chitale, the former director of diversity for Berkeley Haas’ Full-time MBA Admissions, received the award at the Center for Equity, Gender & Leadership’s “EGALapalooza” diversity celebration last Friday. 

The award, named for and funded by EGAL’s founding director Kellie McElhaney, recognizes members of the Haas community who have made significant contributions toward building an inclusive and equitable community at Haas and beyond.

“Om walks through life with a halo of light and love and acceptance and has left a profound impact on our community,” McElhaney said at the event, which brought together about 75 students, faculty, and staff, at Spieker Forum in Chou Hall. 

“Om walks through life with a halo of light and love and acceptance and has left a profound impact on our community.” — Kellie McElhaney

While a student at Haas, Chitale and classmate Liz Koenig, MBA 18, co-founded the student-led class called Dialogues on Race. He also led the charge to create EGAL’s first Investing in Inclusion Pitch Competition. After graduation, he founded startup Teachers of Oakland, with the aim of sharing first-person stories from the city’s public school teachers to social media. He later joined the full-time MBA Admissions’ team as its first director of diversity.

McElhaney noted that Chitale was “a real thought partner” who encouraged cross-campus collaboration between students, faculty, and staff on DEI initiatives.

“It’s incredible to be part of this [Haas] community with people who are pushing the envelope, questioning the status quo, and taking action,” said Chitale, who recently left Haas to serve as LinkedIn’s senior program manager of Inclusion Recruiting Partnerships. “This work [DEI] has ripples of impact and so I encourage everyone to continue to take action,” he said.

Other notable EGALapalooza guest speakers and performers included Derek Brown, PhD 23; Ashley Rabinek, director of merchandising at Old Navy; Verse Gabrielle, associate director of full-time MBA Admissions; and singer and songwriter Dominique Gomez.

Haas Voices: ‘Fighting for healthcare equity in my community’

Portrait: Adilene Dominguez, EWMBA 24
Adilene Dominguez, EWMBA 24, is determined to make healthcare more equitable.

Haas Voices is a first-person series that highlights the lived experiences of members of the Berkeley Haas community. In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we spoke with Adilene Dominguez, EWMBA 24, who’s determined to create a new business model that will provide equitable health care to everyone, regardless of economic status. She shares her story below.

Growing up in Waukegan, Illinois, a suburb north of Chicago, I lived in a world with many blessings. My parents weren’t millionaires, they were migrant workers who worked 80 hours a week. But the opportunities afforded to us–access to public schools, tutors, health insurance, the ability to find work–were privileges that many Latinos in my community, including my extended family members, did not have.

I began to notice inequities, specifically in healthcare, when I was about five years old. I often accompanied friends and family whenever they needed to see the doctor. They spoke little English, so I translated on their behalf. I noticed that they’d have to stand in line for hours at the local clinic to get medical treatment, whereas if I needed medical care, my parents would take me to a hospital because I had health insurance. It just didn’t seem fair to me that our friends and family couldn’t get the same quality health care as I did.

family portrait featuring a mom, dad, 2 girls and 1 boy.
Dominguez’s family portrait. Dominguez, (center), began translating for friends and family when she was five years old.

Observing those disparities early on, coupled with a natural aptitude for science and math, led me to Beloit College where I joined the pre-med program. As a pre-med student, I interned with doctors and volunteered at hospitals, but quickly realized that I didn’t want to be a doctor. I thought that I’d have a greater impact if I could find a way to bring equitable health care to my community.

After college, I landed at Becton Dickinson (BD), a medical device company, working as a research and development (R&D) technician. I moved up the ranks from a technician to a scientist and eventually transitioned from R&D to global marketing and strategy. 

I also lead the Hispanic Organization for Leadership and Advancement (HOLA) at BD. Through my work with HOLA, I help raise awareness within my industry about health disparities that impact the Latino community. When the pandemic hit, access to testing was limited, especially in Latino communities in California, Arizona, and Texas. I, along with marketers across eight HOLA chapters, decided to advocate for the distribution of Veritor, a rapid antigen test that can detect the COVID-19 virus, to health clinics servicing Latino communities. Through our efforts, we helped the Family Health Center of San Diego, which provides care to more than 215,000 patients a year, 91% of whom are considered low-income and 29% are uninsured. 

It’s been gratifying to help my Latino community as it’s been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But I need to do more. The pandemic magnified health disparities that have long existed in Black and Brown communities. Whenever there’s a hurricane, earthquake, or any natural disaster, health care seems to be the primary resource that’s out of reach for these communities.

The pandemic magnified health disparities that have long existed in Black and Brown communities.

That’s why I’m at Haas. I want to acquire the skills needed to disrupt the healthcare system in the U.S. I want to design a profitable business model that will provide equitable health care for everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status.

What does disruption look like? It’s putting the patient first and profit last. Currently, the way healthcare works in the U.S. is that whoever or whichever entity has the most influence or paying power gets access to the best medical supplies. Typically government contracts are fulfilled first. Thereafter, private institutions and public institutions get priority, and community health centers are served last.

But what if we flipped the funnel? If we help community clinics first, which serve people like farmers and hourly-wage workers–the people who are growing our food and working at grocery stores and other service industries–we can prevent the spread of any disease.

For too long, our approach to providing health care has come from the top down, when we really need to flip the funnel and think about the process much differently. We can’t keep doing business as usual when there are hundreds of people filling up the emergency room because they don’t have access to COVID-19 testing or vaccines.

Creating a new business model for the healthcare system is a lofty goal. But someone has to do it, so why not me? 

Creating a new business model for the healthcare system is a lofty goal. But someone has to do it, so why not me? 

I know that I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself, but it’s my responsibility to help my community. That philosophy has been ingrained in me since I was a little girl. My family, who migrated from Tonatico, Mexico, made enormous sacrifices so that my siblings and I could have a better life. So I must move forward and be a role model for younger generations. If I don’t help my community, who will? 

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