Finding love in ordinary times is hard enough. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we talked to two Berkeley Haas couples—Jerry Qinghui Yu and Camilla Guo, both MFE 21, and Gary Yin and Aileen Lu, both MBA 22—who found love during a pandemic. Here are their stories.
When Jerry Qinghui Yu and Camilla Guo, MFE 21, found love in their class of 96 Master of Financial Engineering (MFE) students, it wasn’t a secret for long.
“The program is small, so news travels fast,” said Jerry, who met Camilla at the start of the year-long MFE course.
They shared a sense of humor and similar childhood experiences in China. They both love a good pun, too, particularly if it’s cross-cultural. And Camilla is passing on her passion for cooking to Jerry, who texts photos when he masters one of her complicated recipes.
Ask the pair who is smarter, he’ll swear that she is. Linda Kreitzman, executive director of the MFE program, agreed, but added that “they’re both brilliant and they’re fun together.”
“Jerry is very serious and Camilla really draws out that fun side of him,” she said. “He’s been funnier since he’s been with her.”
Jerry is very serious and Camilla really draws out that fun side of him. — MFE Executive Director Linda Kreitzman
The couple, who became avid local hikers since arriving in Berkeley, plans a road trip for Valentine’s Day, to California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park or maybe Yosemite. “We bought hiking shoes for the hills,” Camilla said. “We love to hike when we’re not busy.”
Next up, Jerry, who earned an undergraduate degree in financial economics, computer science, and mathematics from the University of Toronto before coming to Haas, will head to Boston where he’s landed a job at an asset management company.
Camilla, who holds an undergraduate degree in industrial engineering from Tsinghua University and has worked in derivatives and cross-asset structuring, plans to join him there after graduation in March.
During such a rigorous academic program, only complicated by the stress of the pandemic, it’s nice to have each other, Guo said.
“Since we are in the MFE he understands what I’m learning and we have more to share,” she said. “I don’t have to explain a lot. With friends, I sometimes have to share the background of things. With Jerry I can tell him how I feel right away.”
For Gary Yin, MBA 22, finding love during a pandemic was about taking a leap of faith—and getting on a plane.
Gary met Aileen Lu, MBA 22, in September 2020, when both volunteered as moderators during the virtual Berkeley China Summit. Gary was in Berkeley at the time, and Aileen was 16 hours ahead in Shanghai, waiting for a visa to fly to the U.S. and join her classmates.
The pair got to know each other during a conference on entrepreneurship, a shared passion. Both had started education-related companies before enrolling at Haas and had plans to continue working in the startup world.
Gary, who was born in China and grew up outside of Chicago, got to know Aileen in their shared cohort, chatting constantly on Slack and Zoom. But they both thought there might be more to their relationship.
“I found Gary to be a pretty genuine person and when we talked it was natural to open up and share personal stories,” Aileen said.
“The best part of my day was Slacking with her,” Gary said.
As the weeks passed, Aileen, who earned an undergraduate economics degree at Berkeley in 2015, was still unable to get a visa. Frustrated by the closing of the U.S. Embassy in China, she decided to fly to London to try to get a visa there. Surprisingly, Gary offered to meet up with her, and he boarded a plane out of San Francisco with just five other international travelers.
“I thought ‘If Aileen doesn’t get the visa, this might be my one chance to see her during the pandemic,’” Gary said.
“We both took a leap of faith after knowing each other for two months,” Aileen said.
Over three weeks during the holiday break, they met up with friends and explored London. Since Britain’s coronavirus rules weren’t strict at the time, the couple were able to explore places like Windsor Castle and enjoy the holiday lights throughout the city.
When Aileen’s visa finally came through, the couple flew back to California together. They’ve been together since, living a few blocks apart in downtown Berkeley.
Starting out in two countries
Both are deeply involved in entrepreneurship at Haas. Aileen co-chairs the Berkeley LAUNCH accelerator and is working with Berkeley Female Founders, a campus group that brings founders and funders together. Gary is a Pear VC fellow and co-runs the Haas Startup Squad, a group that helps match Haas students to startups at Skydeck, UC Berkeley’s incubator program. He also organizes Startup Marketplace, a program that connects UC Berkeley grad students with top faculty and researchers for National I-Corps projects.
In their free time, the couple enjoys walking the campus, Aileen pointing out the buildings that have changed since she was an undergraduate. “All of our friends have found it pretty amazing that we’re together,” Gary said. “Things have worked out even though we started in two different countries and met in a third. We’re really grateful for that.”
Innovative COVID-19 testing methods, digital options for mental health treatment, and racial equity challenges in healthcare are among the topics to be explored during the 2021 Haas Healthcare Association Conference.
With a theme of “Finding New Breath: Emerging Stronger Through Health Crises,” the 14th Annual Haas Healthcare Association Conference will be held online from Feb. 22-24. The conference, typically held at UCSF Mission Bay on a Friday, will span three half-days.
This year’s theme is a nod to the many challenges that have impacted breathing over the past year—from the COVID-19 pandemic to rampant wildfires, said conference co-chair Corrine Marquardt, MBA/MPH 21. “2020 was so hard, with many challenges focused around mental and physical health, so we wanted this year to be about resilience and coming through stronger than we were pre-crises,” she said. “We also wanted to address how tech and innovation can help get us through our health challenges.”
Each day will focus on a different theme, including health and environmental equity, (day one) COVID-19 & pandemic response, (day two) and health technology & innovation (day three). A career networking night is planned on Monday, Feb. 22, from 4-5 pm.
“We have a lot of ground to cover over three days and we’ve brought together some of the brightest minds in this space to reflect on everything from racial injustice in healthcare to vaccine development and distribution challenges,” said conference co-chair Ben Delikat, MBA/MPH 21.
Berkeley Haas Dean Ann Harrison and Michael Lu, Dean of UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, will welcome attendees to the conference, which includes many guests from across the UC Berkeley campus.
We wanted this year to be about resilience and coming through stronger than we were pre-crises. —Corrine Marquardt.
Monday’s line-up includes Dr. Alice Chen, Chief Medical Officer for Covered California, as well as two panels on health equity, one focused on health equity implications of COVID-19 and the other focused on addressing social determinants of health through payers and providers.
Tuesday session highlights include a climate-change focused conversation with Kristine Belesova, deputy director of the Centre on Climate Change and Planetary Health at the London School of Hygiene, along with a COVID-19-focused conversation with Niranjan Bose, managing director of Health & Life Sciences Strategy at Gates Ventures.
Dr. Guy Nicolette, assistant vice chancellor, University Health Services (UHS) of UC Berkeley will join Dr. Anna Harte, UHS Medical Director of UC Berkeley, for a panel discussion with Othman Laraki CEO of genetic test company Color Genomics about public/private partnerships in addressing COVID-19.
On Wednesday, Alice Raia of KP Digital and Kim MacPherson, executive director of Health Management at Haas, will discuss recent digital transformation trends in health systems. The day also includes a conversation on how technology has enabled global health endeavors through COVID-19, as well as a panel on how technology solutions are being used to address mental health. Mariya Filipova, co-founder of the XPRIZE Pandemic Alliance and Anthem’s former vice president of innovation, will close the conference in conversation with Marquardt.
Business leaders from organizations including Google, Jazz Ventures, Headspace, Accenture, Vida Health, and UCSF will participate.
A team of business and engineering undergraduate students are rolling out a new feature for the Berkeley Mobile app this month that will make it easier for students to find virtual study groups.
The “study pact” feature, designed by Rajavi Mishra, BS 22, (business and EECs) and Sudarshan Gopalakrishnan, BS 21, (EECS) is the newest addition to Berkeley Mobile, the UC Berkeley campus app created to help find everything from transit routes to dining hall menus to library or gym hours.
Mishra and the Berkeley Mobile team started working on the new study pact app remotely last semester to ease the often challenging transition into remote learning.
“Essentially, we’re trying to recreate the in-person study environment, where students organically meet other students during class or in libraries,” said Mishra, co-product manager of Berkeley Mobile, the student organization that works under Berkeley’s CTO office to develop helpful mobile features for campus.
“Having been in classes where I know no one, it’s incredibly difficult to find reliable study partners—especially when everyone’s in a remote setting and in different time zones,” said Atharva Mehendale, BS 22, (business and EECS) an associate product manager for Berkeley Mobile.
We’re trying to recreate the in-person study environment, where students organically meet other students during class or in libraries. — Rajavi Mishra.
Students who sign up for the new feature will be matched with others seeking to study the same course content, whether its preparing for a final or collaborating on a project. The feature can be used to form study groups for specific courses or, alternately, for motivational study sessions where every student studies his or her own subject, Mishra said.
Gopalakrishnan and Mishra, who are both from India, say time differences between India and the U.S. are a challenge when they’re studying at home.
So when developing the app, they decided to enable students to connect in their time zones, an alternative to “staying up all night trying to communicate,” Gopalakrishnan said.
He added that the new mobile feature should also benefit undergraduate transfer students, who may not have connections on campus or set study groups.
“People don’t want to reach out to a random stranger,” he said. “All of my friends have study groups and I’ve personally benefited a lot from them.”
The Berkeley Mobile app, which has about 550 active monthly users, is available for free on iOS and Android.
Users who download the app will have access to the new feature when it launches this month.
Haas Voices is a new first-person series that highlights the lived experiences of members of the Berkeley Haas community. Our first perspective is by “double Bear” Luis Alejandro Liang, BS 12, EWMBA 23, who is among the approximately 644,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients granted special immigration status because they were brought to the U.S. as children. Liang’s path to Berkeley was challenging—he’s been accepted three times. He shares his story below.
Many times over these past four years, I’ve woken up in fear. Fear of deportation. Fear about what was going to happen to our community. Fear that ICE could knock on my door and take me away.
I grew up in Sinaloa on the Pacific coast of Mexico. I’m half Chinese, half Mexican. I grew up multicultural—going to Catholic church on Sundays but celebrating Chinese New Year. I started helping my family in their Chinese restaurant when I was six years old. I was surrounded by entrepreneurs.
When I was 14, my mom moved me and my three little sisters to Orange County because she wanted to provide us with better chances. I entered high school as a sophomore without knowing any English. It was a culture shock, but I wanted to honor my mom’s sacrifices by excelling academically. I was put back in algebra, even though I was taking calculus when we left Mexico. As a senior, I got into a couple of UCs, but my first scholarship was taken away because I didn’t have a social security number.
So I decided to go to Fullerton College. In high school, I had been really shy because I was new, so I didn’t know anything about things like AP classes or honor society. When I got to community college, I decided to get involved. I joined the Puente Program, which is mostly for Latino students to help get us into four-year colleges. I was really active, working long days because I was also a tutor. The Puente Program gave us a tour of all the UCs. That was the first time that I actually went to visit the campuses.
When I visited Berkeley I fell in love. I remember the Campanile, Sather Gate and thought of all the famous people who went there, including Mexican presidents.
I knew that I wanted to study business. I also knew that I was gay by that time too, and that San Francisco was LGBTQ friendly. I knew I could be myself at Berkeley.
My dream came true when I got accepted to Haas as a junior and received the prestigious Regents’ and Chancellors’ Scholarship, given to the top 2% of students. But when I went to the financial aid office, they again took away my scholarship because I still didn’t have a social security number. I was crying, and the woman who broke the news to me was crying too.
They again took away my scholarship because I still didn’t have a social security number. I was crying, and the woman who broke the news to me was crying too.
I remember seeing the César E. Chávez Student Center in front of me and I just went in and I started walking around. I thought, “If this is César Chávez’s building, there’s going to be a Latino person here who can help me.” I ended up meeting Lupe Gallegos-Diaz, director of the Chicano Department at Berkeley. Lupe became a support for me when I returned to community college more determined to achieve my dreams.
I became more politically active, creating the Fullerton College Dream Team to support undocumented students. In 2010, I got into Berkeley Haas for the 2nd time, having raised $70,000 to cover my tuition.
When I graduated, I was a first-generation Berkeley Haas grad deemed ineligible to work in the U.S. I felt lost, but by then I knew I wasn’t alone. My life took a turn when President Obama passed DACA in 2012, extending opportunities previously unavailable to those of us brought to the U.S. as children. A door of possibilities opened up and led me to a job at Salesforce, helping non-profit organizations leverage technology to amplify their impact.
My life took a turn when President Obama passed DACA in 2012.
Being the first DACA employee at Salesforce motivated me to use my voice in a space where underrepresented groups lack a sense of inclusion. I worked with the chief equality officer on a podcast about diversity and inclusion, served on the leadership board of multiple employee resource groups, and came out of the shadows by sharing my story on a video called “Proudly Me.”
In 2013, another dream came true when I traveled to the White House and met President Obama after I received the LGBT DREAMers Courage Award, which honors individuals who have shown courage and perseverance in the face of injustice.
Still focused on social impact at my current job at Twilio, I decided it was time to go back to school for an MBA. I applied to the Berkeley Haas Evening and Weekend MBA program and got into my dream university for the third time, starting last fall. My focus is to become a chief social impact officer and a social leader at a company. In my classes, surrounded by fellow Type As, I’m learning things that I put into practice at my job. I love the community and I can’t wait to get back to campus.
Growing up, I thought that life would change the day I could finally get my residency—that something would change inside of me and that things were going to be better. But as the years passed, thinking that way made me believe that I was incomplete and something was missing. But being paperless doesn’t make us powerless. We have purpose and an eagerness to give back, by creating communities, by finding the power in helping people. I now find so much joy in helping other “Dreamers” get into school and finding their dream jobs.
But being paperless doesn’t make us powerless. We have purpose and an eagerness to give back, by creating communities, by finding the power in helping people.
There are 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., not by choice, but because we needed to survive. I hope to highlight the narrative of joy, love, and pride that comes from living a life dedicated to serving our families’ and communities’ dreams.”
Luis Liang, an account manager in social impact at communications company Twilio, is passionate about advocating for human rights and supporting Latinx, LGBTQ, and undocumented immigrant communities. Liang has served as a board member for the Association of Latino Professionals for America, The Greenlining Institute Alumni Association, and on several corporate Employee Resources Groups.
Dean Ann Harrison called the new certificate an important addition for Haas. “We need to make sustainability an integral part of doing business,” Harrison said. “Future business leaders will need to design new models and financial structures, policies, and industry solutions to address the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges. The Michaels Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Business will train our students to evaluate operational, financial, and strategic decisions using a sustainability lens.”
We need to make sustainability an integral part of doing business. —Dean Ann Harrison.
The certificate, approved for rollout in the current spring semester, evolved from initiatives launched across campus by faculty and students who are passionate about both sustainability and social impact, said Michele de Nevers, executive director of sustainability programs at Haas.
“This new certificate addresses a pressing need to empower new leaders with the capacity to lead the economic and social transition to a climate resilient, low-carbon, and equitable future,” de Nevers said.
To earn the certificate, students are required to complete at least nine graduate-level units of approved courses drawn from electives in the existing MBA curriculum. Students must first take two foundational courses—Energy and Environmental Markets and Business and Sustainable Supply Chain—that introduce sustainability concepts critical to energy and the environment, natural resources, and supply chains.
They will then choose an in-depth course to dive deeper in a particular area, such as impact investing, entrepreneurship, clean tech, energy infrastructure, or food systems. The certification culminates with a final project that will focus on developing strategic and sustainable business solutions or bringing clean technology to market.
About 15 to 20 students are expected to complete the certificate within the first year, said Pete Johnson, assistant dean of the full-time MBA program and admissions.
De Nevers said the certificate will equip graduates to bring a sustainability perspective to their work across all types of organizations.
“We hope that they will see opportunities to create value across industry roles, whether it’s through increasing energy efficiency, eliminating waste in supply chains, or pursuing new business opportunities in clean technology,” she said.
For more information about the certificate click here.
Startup Spotlight profiles startups founded by current Berkeley Haas students or recent alumni.
EdVisorly was co-founded by Manny Smith, MBA 21, a former product manager with the U.S. Air Force and a first-generation college student, and Alyson Isaacs, BS 21, who is tapping her experience as a former community college student to help fix the transfer process for the next generation. Smith is CEO and Isaacs serves as COO.
We recently interviewed Smith and Isaacs.
What does your startup do (in 20 words or less)? We help California community college students transfer to their target universities.
How did you meet?
Alyson Isaacs: Manny and I met by chance while waiting on line for coffee at Cafe Think during orientation week my first year at Haas. Manny had started the ideation process for the company and we talked about it. We’ve committed to this mission ever since. Manny has always been inspired by community college students and their grit. Being a first-gen student, he empathizes with what community college stands for, so our mission for this company is aligned.
Where did the idea come from?
Alyson Isaacs: I attended three community colleges before deciding on business at Haas—Chabot, Santa Barbara City College and Las Positas. There’s a discouraging problem that there are few reliable resources for community college students to help them transfer and few students who know how to access and use the resources. The academic counselors are overburdened and the COVID-19 remote learning environment has exacerbated these issues. Students get misinformation. Also, the four-year universities each have their own unique admission requirements, from courses to the process of applying. We are aggregating all of the information and insights a student would need to transfer to a four-year university and improving the student experience.
How does EdVisorly solve the problem in a new or different way?
Manny Smith: Of the 13.1 million community college students, who represent a third of all undergraduate students across the U.S., about 40% drop out per year. After interviewing more than 200 community college students, we uncovered big resource problems that are causing students to drop out. That’s what we aim to solve with EdVisorly. With our student-centric approach, we aim to positively disrupt higher education by providing a more clear path to university acceptance from community college. I compare our approach to the way GPS works— you tell us where you are, and we tell you what path or set of paths to take to reach your destination.
After interviewing more than 200 community college students, we uncovered big resource problems that are causing students to drop out. — Manny Smith
What’s been the biggest challenge for you so far?
Alyson Isaacs: The data side of things. We have millions of combinations of what classes meet the requirements for which majors and there are a lot of different subsets of that information. We are generating more accurate data every day to improve the quality of our student data experience.
Manny Smith: We are running a concierge service where we use the software to work directly with students while planning their academic journey. This is helping us learn more about the student’s wants, needs, and fears to ensure we have a product that both helps students and garners high adoption rates. We are in the process of hiring additional software engineers to augment the team and help us refactor our product.
What are your goals for the next six months?
Manny Smith: Over the next six months, we plan to help 250 students plan their journey from community college to four-year universities. By exercising an action-oriented, go-to-market strategy, we’ll be able to better understand unique student experiences, refine our marketing channels, validate our pricing model, and deliver a better product by summer 2021.
Has Haas helped with resources for your startup?
Manny Smith: The Haas Entrepreneurship ecosystem has truly been a game changer. The expert professors, mentors, incubator and accelerator programs are second to none. I would like to call special attention to the Hansoo Lee Fellowship (named after the late Hansoo Lee, MBA 10, and co-founder of Magoosh) which provided mentors and resources to allow me to pursue EdVisorly for my summer internship. Mentors such as Steven Horowitz from the Big Ideas Contest, helped us develop frameworks to think critically about the problem we aim to solve. Kurt Beyer, Rhonda Shrader, and Phillip Denny have been phenomenal in helping us navigate the right incubator and accelerator programs based on our startup progress.
Berkeley Haas is expanding its Accelerated Access program, allowing all undergraduate seniors or final-year graduate students to apply for deferred admittance to the full-time MBA program.
Haas first piloted the Accelerated Access program in January 2020, limiting it to UC Berkeley students. The pilot’s success led to an expansion of the program to a wider variety of applicants, said Eric Askins, executive director of full-time MBA admissions.
“We wanted to provide a new opportunity for young professionals who are planning to make an impact earlier in their careers through earning an MBA,” Askins said. “Deferred admission is the perfect option for many of these students, and we’re looking forward to meeting them.”
Under the program, undergraduate and master’s students apply to the MBA program during their final year. Successful applicants gain conditional admission, and can then enroll after a flexible two-to-five-year deferment period during which they gain professional experience, which is typically required for all traditional MBA candidates.
The program allows students to “do work that aligns with their passions with the reassurance that they will be able to return to a top-ranked MBA program within a few years,” Askins said.
The program is expected to increase the diversity of the class, he said, encouraging more international students and students from a wide variety of academic disciplines to consider an MBA—from graduate students in environmental science who want to pursue careers in sustainability to engineering students who want to complement their technical skills with a business foundation.
Askins added that the program enables the admissions office to get to know potential applicants earlier in the process, when they are planning their careers, deepening their academic passions, and considering an MBA.
Admitted applicants can join a Slack community, to meet other deferring students who want to stay on top of the admission process and connect with future peers.
Students will check in annually during the deferral period with admissions to make sure that they are on track and supported, Askins said.
The first deadline for applicants is April 5. The application process is similar to that of the full-time MBA program, with requirements that include a resume, two letters of recommendation, two short essays, undergraduate transcripts, and either the GMAT or GRE standardized test. An interview will be required for admission.
While these applicants will not be able to tap into work experience on their applications, they have much to offer, Askins said. “We’re looking for strong academic indicators paired with clarity of purpose. If you know an MBA will be useful in your future goals, it means you’ve thought about a plan. We are looking for clarity on that plan.”
Startup Spotlight profiles startups founded by current Berkeley Haas students or recent alumni.
For Kim Long and Samantha Penabad, both MBA 18, launching a startup in a pandemic during the holiday season made perfect sense.
“We felt that this was something that people need right now,” Penabad said of their company GivingFund, which targets millennials who are new to philanthropy. “We’re focused on helping young professionals who want to give more strategically, especially during the pandemic, when there are outsized needs.”
“We felt that this was something that people need right now…especially during the pandemic, when there are outsized needs.” —Samantha Penabad
GivingFund allows those who are interested in giving back to deposit a percentage of their income that they can then donate to nonprofits based on their preferences. Because GivingFund users are typically new to philanthropy, there’s no minimum deposit amount required to start.
Doubling your impact
The signup process starts with a quiz, with questions designed for users to reflect on their preferences and goals in order to develop what Penabad describes as a “giving style.” After depositing funds, users can set up monthly or one-off donations to nonprofits, which are vetted by GivingFund to ensure that they are legitimate or 501(c)(3)s. Users can login to track donations, check their balances, and monitor their giving strategy.
GivingFund invests part of the money that customers hold in their accounts in local businesses and economic development projects. The interest paid from those investments helps support the company’s business model, and allows Penabad and Long to keep the services free to users.
Future versions of the platform will give users options to invest more money through CNote, their current investment provider, or directly in options like green bonds, Long said, “Ultimately, we want everyone to feel like they’re able to double their impact—first when their GivingFund is invested, and second when they donate to their nonprofit of choice.”
An interesting team
Penabad, who is a head of strategy and operations at Google, and Long, who works in data strategy at Boston-based Foundation Medicine, are an interesting team. A New Jersey native, Penabad has always been interested in philanthropy, starting her career as a nonprofit consultant and as a volunteer for Goodwill of Greater Washington. In that capacity, she built a board of 15 young professionals, who gathered to host events such as fashion shows aimed at recruiting more people to work for Goodwill.
Long grew up in France, where she wasn’t exposed to philanthropy. “The government takes care of people,” she said. “That was my experience. We don’t need to donate because someone is going to take care of us.” What drew her to the project was the technology. “This is a fintech project,” she said. “We’re really building a product that has impact.”
This is a fintech project. We’re really building a product that has impact. —Kim Long
While at Haas, the pair received grants from the Dean’s Startup Seed Fund and by winning their category at the annual UC-wide Big Ideas competition. In classes like Lean Launchpad, the founders interviewed scores of fellow millennials to try to figure out why they don’t donate more to causes they care about.
Long said her interviews with fellow millennials made her realize that she, too, was trying to figure out how to best donate money to worthy causes beyond the typical “GoFundMe one-off.” After graduating, the pair kept the idea for GivingFund alive, even while working full-time. They have tested the platform for the past year, asking classmates and friends to try it, and hosting online events in New York and San Francisco to answer questions and build the donor community.
An accountability tool
One early champion of GivingFund is Om Chitale, Penabad’s classmate who is now director of diversity admissions at Berkeley Haas. He said he plans to use the platform because it “meets us where we are.”
“GivingFund allows us to have a positive impact in a way that feels familiar: engaging with a central tool and system that helps us understand our goals, allocating our giving based on the different types of impact we want to have, and tracking it like we would other investments and budgets,” he said. “Plus, it’s an accountability tool to directly track if we’re putting our money where our mouths—and hearts—are.”
Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh believes it’s his job to speak up about pressing and difficult societal issues including racial and social injustice, voter rights, environmental protection, and sustainability.
Bergh spent 28 years at Procter & Gamble before taking the helm at Levi’s, one of the oldest companies in America, in 2011. His goal was to revive it.
“The whole Levi’s story for the past nine years has been the turnaround,” he said. “Levi’s is back. It’s a hot brand. We’re number one around the world.” But then the pandemic hit hard, shuttering stores and slashing quarterly revenue 67 percent. “I can honestly say I’ve never had to post revenue results that bad,” Bergh said, predicting that Levi’s will emerge from COVID-19 smaller, but with stronger brands.
When I joined the company (in 2011), diversity and inclusion was really low on my list. The house was on fire. We needed to fix the house and I thought that the two were separate. When I look back on it now, I realize that if I’d addressed these issues head on in the early days we’d be a better company today. I really do believe that diverse organizations will out-compete homogeneous ones every single day.
On the no nonsense pre-IPO road show with investors:
We made it really really clear during our IPO that what got us to where we are is being a values-led company and by doubling down on the things that make us who we are. We talked about our values and the investments we’ve made in sustainability. We talked about some of the innovation that’s come out of sustainability. I talked about the stand that we took on ending gun violence in this country. It’s a pretty polarizing place to be…and I said if you don’t have an appetite for that we’re not your kind of stock. Don’t invest in us.
As the executive director of Sustainability Programs at Berkeley Haas, Michele de Nevers has spent the past few months working closely with Dean Ann Harrison to shape the school’s long-term sustainability vision.
De Nevers might well be the perfect person for the newly created job: Her impressive career has included teaching graduate students in Barcelona about international climate change policy to co-authoring a paper for the Center for Global Development that argued that developing countries should receive performance payments from richer countries for keeping their tropical forests intact and reducing deforestation.
At the World Bank, where she spent three decades, she managed environmental projects ranging from pollution reduction to conservation of biodiversity. And she led global consultations on the corporate Strategic Framework for Development and Climate Change, a strategy report that outlined the World Bank Group’s plan to respond to new development challenges posed by climate change.
In this interview, de Nevers discusses how Haas can deepen its existing sustainability strengths through efforts to support faculty, students, and programs.
Haas News: Can you summarize your vision for sustainability at Haas?
Michele de Nevers: Our vision is to make Haas the No. 1 business school in terms of sustainability. That means a focus on leadership: developing our future leaders who will go out into the world and actually implement the transformation of economic and social systems—energy, transportation, land use, cities—that will be required to avoid and respond to the impacts of climate change.
How do you define what sustainability means to our community?
At the most basic level, I think it’s important that every Haas graduate comes away with basic literacy on sustainability, which means understanding the challenges, the opportunities, and the risks that will be needed to manage in the business world. This includes leading the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, responding to the impacts of climate change, and working toward building climate resilience. Future business leaders will need to manage stresses on natural resources, particularly water scarcity in western states like California. And they will also need to manage the social side of sustainability, which will increasingly determine support from constituents—shareholders, employees, customers and communities.
At the most basic level, I think it’s important that every Haas graduate comes away with basic literacy on sustainability.
What is Haas already getting right?
Haas is already doing a lot. About 20% of the professional and ladder faculty are working on environmental, social, or governance areas that can be considered part of sustainability. There are many areas where we are very strong, have huge recognition, and a great reputation. Examples include the Energy Institute, which has a very deep bench, and a critical mass of experts from the ladder faculty, and the Sustainable and Impact Finance Initiative (SAIF), which is hugely popular with students. The Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics is transitioning its program toward sustainability through low-carbon built environment (LCBE) projects, which give students opportunities for hands-on experiential learning in local communities. The Center for Responsible Business helps students work directly with leading companies on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) issues. The Sustainable Food Initiative links food, land use, and regenerative agriculture, and the Center for Equity, Gender & Leadership (EGAL) addresses the social side of sustainability, including diversity, equity, and inclusion and the gender-pay gap. What we are hoping to do is to build on these pillars of strength, and deepen and reinforce each of these areas, some of which need additional financing and ladder faculty support.
What we are hoping to do is to build on these pillars of strength, to deepen and reinforce each of these areas, some of which need additional financing and ladder faculty support.
Another example of sustainability on campus is Chou Hall, which continues to have considerable support from the Haas community.
The Haas Sustainability Task Force, led by Danner Doud-Martin, is terrific. Her group includes faculty, staff, and students, a whole community that’s passionate and motivated, working on making Chou Hall and the rest of campus Zero Waste. They’re looking at initiatives to reduce paper and plastic use, to encourage reusables, and to make travel carbon free. Working with the task force can give students the hands-on experience that potential employers are looking for. Haas is really in the lead here.
How is sustainability included in the curriculum?
In the recent review of the core curriculum the faculty agreed to weave sustainability considerations into the core courses. This is already happening in several courses. One of my next areas of inquiry is to work with the faculty to examine what’s in the curriculum for core courses, and to collaborate in areas where we might be able to help to build in sustainability. We need to look at whether we need to commission more case studies or provide other kinds of support. We also need to figure out how to fund and support more faculty research on sustainability.
What do you and Dean Harrison consider the top funding priorities for sustainability efforts at Haas?
The main priority for Haas is to raise money to hire more ladder faculty, to expand funding for student research and for fellowships, and to provide reliable funding for the centers and institutes and for capstone programs like Cleantech to Market (C2M). So, fundraising is important. Luckily Dean Harrison is very good at that, and she’s on it.
The Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA Class of 2020 overcame a challenging job market this year, with most graduates landing jobs three months post-graduation with salaries and bonuses that held steady over 2019.
“The value of the Berkeley MBA has held strong in the market despite the pandemic and great economic uncertainty,” said Abby Scott, assistant dean of Career Management & Corporate Relations. “We’re so pleased with the flexibility, persistence, and resilience of our grads and are thankful to our alumni, who stepped up, going beyond themselves to help this class secure positions.”
Of the total class of 291 students, 238 students were seeking jobs, and 212 of them—or 89%— received offers within three months of graduation. About 87% had accepted an offer within three months after graduation, down slightly from 91% for the class of 2019.
In addition to a mean annual base salary of just over $139,000, 73% of the graduates received signing bonuses that averaged over $31,000, and 43% received stock options or grants.
“The value of the Berkeley MBA has held strong in the market despite the pandemic and great economic uncertainty.” —Assistant Dean Abby Scott
More than a quarter of the class accepted consulting roles at firms, at an average salary of $147,000. About 18% of the class accepted business development and strategy roles that pay an average of $140,000 annually. Grads working in finance roles (17.4% of the class) received $142,480.
Top employers of Haas graduates, or companies that hired three or more students this year, included Adobe, Amazon, Bain, Ernst & Young (including Parthenon), Boston Consulting Group, Cisco, Deloitte, Goldman Sachs, Google, LEK, McKinsey & Co., Genentech, and Visa.
Tech, consulting again top sectors
Technology and consulting were again the most popular sector for Berkeley MBAs, pulling in 32.4% and 25.1% of those seeking work. But many graduates had to be flexible and pivot quickly in an uncertain economy. Some students accepted later start dates with consultancies, while others had to completely reassess their job searches. Many relied on the help of Haas alumni more than ever this year.
Ije Durga, MBA 20, accepted a job with Amazon in Seattle after an offer from a hedge fund where she had interned was rescinded. In May, Durga decided to pivot to interview for jobs in the technology sector. She reached out to Trisha Mittal, MBA 19, who had started a job at Amazon. “She sent me open jobs and said ‘Hey, write me back on Monday with five roles you want to apply for,’ and when she didn’t hear from me she’d email me. She was pushing me. She literally went above and beyond.”
An opening in Amazon’s risk-management group, which entailed keeping dangerous, unsafe, or illegal products off Amazon websites, appealed to Durga because she had done similar work in India before applying to Haas. “I found a great job,” she said. “This is a dream job, everything about it has just been perfection.”
A pivot from consulting
Healthcare, which includes digital health, biotech and pharmaceutical companies, was also a strong sector for grads this year, employing 11.6% of the class.
Marion Robine, an associate with Genentech’s three-year Commercial Rotational Development Program, landed her job through her summer 2019 internship at the company. Robine, a consultant before she came to Haas, said she worked with Hoyt Ng of the Haas Career Management Group to figure out if she was ready to leave consulting. “The (Genentech) internship was the test for me.” After she decided to take a job there, she didn’t look back.
“The internship was the test for me.”— Marion Robine, MBA 2020
About 15% of students accepted roles in financial services, including fintech companies.
Matthias Froehlich accepted a job as an investment banking associate at JP Morgan Chase & Co. in San Francisco, where he interned during the summer of 2019. Froehlich, who works in technology coverage, said he was relieved when he received the offer after interviewing the entire first semester with many firms. “It’s definitely stressful when you’re recruiting,” he said. “I really loved the (JP Morgan) internship and working with big clients and I enjoyed the culture,” so it was a relief to get the offer letter, he said.
For Hilary Platt, an account manager at payment technology company Stripe, a post-graduate job meant changing industries. Prior to Haas, Platt had worked in the clean energy sector. After graduation, she became interested in pursuing a job in sales. So Doug Massa of the Berkeley Haas Career Management Group connected her to James Vessa, MBA 19, who worked as an account manager at Stripe. Vessa put in a referral for her. “I had not been explicitly targeting the fintech space, but the more I learned about Stripe and their mission and their goals I became increasingly excited about the company,” Platt said.
Startup life: “You need the scrappiness”
About 14% of grads went to work for startups, including Sid Mullick, who accepted a job as a senior manager at electric adventure vehicle company Rivian, where he works on capital projects. Mullick said the experience he gained at Haas co-founding electric scooter charger startup Grido, along with his pre-MBA engineering and project management experience, made him a good candidate to work at Rivian.
“They were excited to have someone with my mix of background who could project a solid engineering mindset with a nimble acceptance of the startup ecosystem,” he said. “You need the scrappiness, but to also balance it with good engineering judgement.”
Of the remaining 2020 graduates, 5.4% took jobs at consumer packaged goods/retail companies, 3% joined nonprofits or the public sector, 2.5% accepted real estate jobs, and 2.4% took jobs in energy.
For Michael Martin, MBA 09, teaming up with Berkeley Haas to launch the 2020 John E. Martin Mental Healthcare Tech Challenge was deeply personal. The challenge is named for his father, a Vietnam veteran who in his later years counseled veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was Martin’s father’s commitment to improving the quality of and access to mental healthcare that drove the theme of this year’s inaugural competition, which invites 12 teams from top MBA programs to find ways to use data to better support construction workers facing anxiety, addiction, depression, and suicide. The challenge kicks off on Nov. 11, Veterans Day.
“It’s an auspicious date considering that my dad was a veteran,” said Martin, a portfolio manager in Google’s Energy & Infrastructure division. In 2014, Martin established the John E. Martin Memorial Fellowship to honor the memory of his father who succumbed to injuries resulting from a car accident in 2013.
Earlier this year, Martin decided to further his commitment to the cause his father was most passionate about.
Martin connected with the Haas Healthcare Association, whose members then reached out to the Tech Club. “Michael wanted to set up a case competition linked to mental health and the Tech Club has experience with running cross-MBA competitions through our annual Tech Challenge,” said Corrine Marquardt, MBA/MPH 21. “A team effort between the two clubs seemed like an ideal way to blend healthcare industry knowledge with the operational know-how of running a competition like this.”
In planning the event, which is sponsored by Google, Marquardt worked with fellow Tech Club leaders Brad Deal, Mary Yao, and Dunja Panic, all MBA 21, as well as Haas Healthcare Association leaders Elena Gambon, MBA/MPH 21 and Will Herling, MBA/MPH 21.
The idea for a mental health case competition focusing on the construction industry sprang from Martin’s many job-related visits to data center construction sites. “I was going to more rural locations in middle America and I had the opportunity to establish a rapport with a lot of these folks,” he said.
He noted that the construction industry, one of the largest sectors in the U.S., suffers disproportionately high rates of depression and suicide. He further noted that many mental disorders are going untreated, which can have serious consequences. “When people bring these problems to work and they’re handling heavy machinery on a job site there’s a greater chance of injury and death.”
In addition to the challenge, a speaker series consisting of three sessions will be held on Mental Health in the Construction Industry, YouTube in Mental Health, and Google in Healthcare. Google’s leadership team earmarked $30,000 for the competition, and Martin contributed an additional $20,000.
The case competition field includes teams from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, MIT’s Sloan School of Management, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Harvard Business School, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, Columbia Business School, Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, and Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.
Lokilani Hunt, MBA 22, watched her partner battle the coronavirus and friends lose jobs and businesses due to the pandemic. So for Hunt, becoming president of the Berkeley Community Business Partnership was deeply personal.
“I jumped right in and said, ‘I don’t care what it takes,'”said Hunt, who oversees a group of 60 MBA students who came together this fall to consult on volunteer projects that support small businesses.
The consulting work, which ranges from organizing a worker-owned cooperative for struggling restaurants to developing new financing pipelines for women-owned businesses, builds on a project launched last spring by the Sustainable and Impact Finance (SAIF) initiative at Berkeley Haas. That program aimed to assist hundreds of small business owners in Oakland who face language, technology, or income barriers, to help them access federal relief funds including Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program, and unemployment insurance.
Over the summer, Katherine Baird, SAIF’s program director, worked to expand the program within Oakland—and beyond.
Baird put together a leadership team of first-year MBA students including Hunt, Crystal Ang, Drew Schneider, Stuart Fram, and Colin Ridlon, who reached out to 19 organizations that are supporting small businesses across the Bay Area and the Central Valley.
That included surveying the needs of city economic development teams from Daly City to San Leandro and business associations like the Black Cultural Zone in East Oakland, the Fresno Hispanic Foundation, and the Chambers of Commerce for both Berkeley and Chinatown, among others.
“We are at risk of losing 30% of our small businesses, and all of these projects are designed to help support small businesses during this critical time,” Baird said. “Our program is also asking students to go beyond themselves, engaging support for low-income and marginalized communities that have been even more hard-hit than most.”
“We are at risk of losing 30 percent of our small businesses and all of these projects are designed to help support small businesses during this critical time.”
Under the new program, teams of MBA students are matched with one of the organizations for two months to tackle a project that supports areas of need identified by small businesses.
Ang, MBA 22, is helping the nonprofit Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center develop a step-by-step guide for digital marketing for businesses in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood. “Equity in economic opportunity is something that I’m so passionate about,” said Ang, who worked at an economic development agency in Singapore before coming to Haas. She’s working with two other MBA students, Alyssa Zhu, MBA 21, and Juliana Rivera, MBA 22, on a toolkit, which covers everything from helping businesses take more eye-catching photos of their products for social media posts to helping businesses navigate Facebook Marketplace and Instagram Shopping.
“Working with small businesses has been incredibly humbling,” Ang said. “A number of the businesses we’re working with were very successful before the pandemic, and built that success through hosting in-person events and trade shows. All of that is off the table now so we’re working with them to develop a social media and a digital marketing strategy.”
Schneider, who formerly worked at a startup that provided loans to small businesses, is working with the nonprofit Pacific Community Ventures in San Francisco. He and teammates Vishal Desai and Lifan Wang are creating a series of webinars and workshops focused on digital marketing and pivoting a business.
As president of the partnership program, Hunt oversees the progress of the student teams, keeping them on track with nonprofit clients. Hunt said the program has received a great response so far from MBA student volunteers, though at times it’s been frustrating to reach some of the struggling small business owners. “The virtual environment is limiting and has proposed unique challenges,” she said. “One team servicing Oakland expressed frustration with the barriers owners are experiencing that they’ve never experienced before.”
After conducting a midpoint survey of what teams have accomplished to date, Hunt said they’re planning a Nov. 20 virtual event to showcase all that they’ve accomplished.
“We’re still a long way from full economic recovery, but by dedicating over two months of their time, our MBA students are having an incredible, tangible impact right now on small businesses in our communities,” Baird said.
Founders: John Melizanis, BS 20, Joseph Lorenzo, a University of Tampa graduate, and Jake Lourenco, BA 20 (political science)
What does Newmen do (in 20 words or less)?
We’re a men’s grooming brand that helps hard-working men look good, feel good, and smell good.
How did you come up with the idea?
Joseph, my co-founder and best friend since fourth grade, had the biggest beard and didn’t like the grooming options that were out there. With that in mind, we both said, ‘Let’s make something happen.’ It’s the second company we’ve started together.
What problem does Newmen solve?
There’s an under-served demographic when it comes to men’s grooming needs. The men who come to our site are often buying products for the first time. We’re building a community around this group, offering products like scented beard oils, a beard straightener, and a protective heat spray for beards.
You participated in the UC LAUNCH accelerator with a different startup. What did you learn that you apply now?
LAUNCH taught us how to test products quickly. We did a lot of research on our Newmen oils, which are made by a small mom and pop shop in Detroit. We wanted to figure out what scents men liked and what’s good for the skin, so we looked at what a lot of women’s skin-care companies were selling.
We tested our products on hundreds of men super quickly, asking them how their faces felt after using our products for a week. We’re super close to our customers and we have early evangelists, people whom we text and email all the time. These people aren’t necessarily spending the most time on our website, but have been crucial in the development of Newmen. They might spend $40, but they’re giving us feedback all the time, telling their friends what they just bought and why.
Has anyone from Haas helped you with your startup?
Of course! Assoc. Prof. Panos Patatoukas has been super helpful. I met Panos before I came to Cal and he was extremely supportive throughout my undergraduate years. I’d be working on something and I’d ask him, ‘What do you think?’ He was a great sounding board and a supportive mentor. Additionally, Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program, has been the best, along with Aaron McDaniel, a professional faculty member at Haas, and Darren Cooke, a LAUNCH advisor.
I met Panos before I came to Cal and he was extremely supportive throughout my undergraduate years. I’d be working on something and I’d ask him, ‘What do you think?’ He was a great sounding board and a supportive mentor.
What are your goals for the next six to 12 months?
We’re selling only on our website right now. We’ve been making a profit so we haven’t thought about raising money yet. I don’t think much about the competition, I focus on what we’re selling. We’re thinking about new products and planning to sell a line of skincare, body wash, and shampoo in the future. As we continue to grow, we’re looking to sell into different channels, including regional and national retailers and barbershops around the country. We’re constantly focused on building relationships that can help us put our products in our customers’ hands wherever they might be in their grooming journey.
A lot of guys are telling us that they’re so proud of their beards now. They’re talking about their morning routines. It’s crazy to think we’re helping people with that!
Aila Health is a data-driven, remote-care platform for patients with chronic illness.
How did you come up with the idea?
My cousin has what you would call an invisible illness, meaning she looks healthy on the outside, but is actually managing multiple chronic conditions. After watching her bounce between specialists for years before getting a diagnosis and seeing the lack of communication between her different doctors, I thought there had to be a better way for doctors to deliver personalized care to patients with chronic illness.
What problem does Aila solve?
There are nearly 50 million Americans living with chronic autoimmune conditions today. That’s more than diabetes and cancer combined. Despite the fact that these conditions cost the health system billions each year, they are not well understood or managed. We aim to change that.
There are nearly 50 million Americans living with chronic autoimmune conditions today. That’s more than diabetes and cancer combined.
How doe Aila work and how do teams use it?
Aila Health is a chronic care management platform that offers personalized remote care at scale. It enables patients with chronic illness to sync all of their health information in one place and quantify disease progression over time. It similarly gives their healthcare providers a holistic view of a patient’s health so they can track symptoms in real-time and deliver the right care with the right provider at the right time.
What’s been the biggest challenge for you as a founder so far?
There are so many inefficiencies in the U.S. healthcare system that Aila’s solution can help with. One of the biggest challenges for us was determining which problem to solve first. During our customer interviews, we learned that the COVID-19 pandemic had drastically shifted priorities for healthcare organizations. There is a need for new technical infrastructure to deliver value-based care and personalized remote care at scale.
Has anyone from Haas helped you on your startup journey?
Haas gave me a great community of classmates and mentors who have helped us along our journey. Rhonda Shrader (executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program), in particular, has been an amazing mentor and advocate for me. From cheerleading during some difficult transition periods to supporting our team’s application for the National Science Foundation’s I-CORPS Program, I really appreciate having her in my corner. Dan Cloutier, EWMBA 21, was also a wonderful health industry mentor for our I-CORPS team.
What are your goals for the next six months?
We are kicking off our first couple of pilots now. We want to execute these really well and validate our solution with an improved provider experience and patient outcome. In the next six months, we aim to bring more health systems onto the platform and raise an initial round of financing.
Seren creates serendipity online by nudging people into instant and personalized water cooler calls—using AI to preserve relationships and collaboration.
How did you come up with the idea?
When COVID hit in March, I started looking for opportunities in the chaos. I looked for areas undergoing massive change and picked remote work because I had experienced it and understood its shortcomings.
As I spoke to my classmates about our challenges with remote schooling, I noticed a pattern. Without chance meetings in the Haas courtyard or around campus, my peers were finding it harder to stay connected. We were being told to “be intentional” but it felt like a ton of work, and our social interactions and circles were shrinking. I came to Haas for the culture, and I loved interacting with my friends and classmates, but I was beginning to feel isolated. Then I interned as a product manager at Cisco, where I saw first-hand how the problem of not having informal interactions could affect business. When informal connections are disrupted, employees find it harder to maintain a sense of belonging, and scientific research suggested this could impact culture and innovation.
What problem does Seren solve?
Seren solves the problem of staying in touch online by helping people to “bump into” other virtually, so that brief and informal conversations can happen.
We are making water cooler chats better in some ways than in-person, even though we can’t quite replace face-to-face conversations…yet. With this technology, we can customize water cooler chats for individual preferences around how people like to engage, who they want to talk to, how long they want to talk, and what they want to talk about. We want to help people have better informal conversations over audio/video with colleagues, on any platform, whether that’s Slack, Teams, Zoom or the web.
With this technology, we can customize water cooler chats for individual preferences around how people like to engage, who they want to talk to, how long they want to talk, and what they want to talk about.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
My biggest challenge has been finding software engineering and machine learning talent to join our team. We have used BearX, Handshake, and LinkedIn and are really keen to find more people who are excited about impactful startups.
So far, I have been working with an amazing team of Berkeley undergrads and alumni—Leonor Alcaraz-Guzman, Helen Xu, and Patrick Zhu. In my Product Management class, I am on a diverse team with grad students from the School of Information, Fung Institute, and Haas, and we are learning so much.
Has anyone from Haas helped you with your startup?
I’ve had lots of help from faculty and staff. Early on, I took the NSF Bay Area I-CORPS course, which helped me learn how to do customer discovery. Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program, has been consistent in pointing us towards potential partners, competitions, mentors, and opportunities.
Vince Law, a professional faculty member, has reviewed more than one version of our early prototypes, and given critical feedback. In Jeff Eyet’s class on design thinking, he shared great advice on trying to understand users’ emotions and motivations for using our solution. Greg La Blanc, another professional faculty member, helped me think strategically about whether to even pursue this idea or space of remote work.
What are your goals for the next six months?
Our top goal is to get a strong sense of whether our product is exceptional at solving the challenge of creating serendipity for our users or not. We will need to launch and get lots of user feedback to answer that question. When you think about it, these are unique times with millions of people stuck at home, so if they want this, we should be able to quickly determine whether we can satisfy that need, and build a business out of it.
Another key goal is to clearly show a path to defeating our competition. I joke with my teammates that every week someone else has launched a new product to solve the same problem. Currently, we segment our competition in these categories: bots offering instant water cooler calls, standalone virtual office applications, and platforms that match people for conversations based on interests. We understand the competition and have a distinct path toward differentiating ourselves.
The new Black Venture Institute will provide intensive education and networking opportunities for Black leaders who plan to work in venture capital and entrepreneurship. The goal is to graduate 300 fellows by 2023.
Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Prof. Toby Stuart will serve as faculty director for the institute’s first cohort of 50 students, teaching the online course through Berkeley Executive Education.
The program, which kicks off Nov. 2, will teach the foundations of venture investing, including how to evaluate companies, how to structure, negotiate and value financing rounds, and the roles of general partners and limited partners. Dropbox co-founder and CEO Drew Houston, and ExecOnline founder and CEO Stephen Bailey, are both scheduled to teach sessions with Stuart during the first session.
Venture capital has extremely low representation of Black professionals in technical, leadership, and investing roles. Just 1% of venture-backed startups have a Black founder and fewer than 3% of venture capital investors are Black, according to a RateMyInvestor diversity report.
But venture investing is something that’s tough to just pick up, said Leyla Seka, a former executive at Salesforce who co-founded Operator Collective, a venture capital fund focused on women-owned ventures.
“Even if we could break down the barriers and throw open the doors, there’s still a huge learning curve,” Seka wrote in a blog post announcing the new institute. “It takes time to learn the terms, understand the process, and make the connections. Some people grew up in that world, absorbing this knowledge through osmosis, but others need a leg up.”
Seka discussed the subject of increasing the number of Black professionals in venture capital with Kristina Susac, former vice president of Berkeley Executive Education. Susac recommended Stuart to lead the new program. “He’s Haas’ most sought-after faculty member in the areas of strategy, VC, entrepreneurship, and innovation,” she said. “He advises world leaders, global CEOs, and new entrepreneurs, and the students love him.”
Susac said the strength of the Salesforce Ventures, Operator Collective and BLCK VC partnership, anchored by Stuart’s instructional expertise, makes the goal of doubling the number of Black investors in VC attainable.
Black Venture Institute fellows will also be supported by the broader venture capital community and will be given ongoing access and mentorship from leading VCs in the ecosystem. Lo Toney, MBA 97, of Plexo Capital, Bill Gurley of Benchmark, Ron Conway of SV Angel, April Underwood, MBA 07, of #Angels, Monique Woodard of Cake Ventures, Scott Kupor of Andreessen Horowitz, Charles Hudson of Precursor Ventures, and many more have already committed to participate in the program.
As a former banker, business school fundraiser, and veteran admissions expert, Eric Askins’ varied career helped shape him as a nimble and creative team builder. He was recently named executive director of admissions for the Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA program.
We talked to Askins recently about his New York roots, his varied career path in education, and his goals as new admissions director.
Tell us a little about your background and where you grew up?
I’m originally from New York and grew up with two sisters in an incredibly diverse neighborhood in Queens. I’ve always been incredibly proud of how my mother brought us up. An immigrant from the Dominican Republic, my mother cleaned houses and took care of other people’s kids to ensure we had what we needed. I know she was excited to see me accepted into the Bronx High School of Science, a specialized public school. I went to Hunter College, a school in the CUNY system, where I worked during the day and studied political science and sociology in the evenings. I learned to appreciate the way a community can support people through school, as I wasn’t the only first-generation Latinx college student working their way through at night.
What are a few of your first goals as admissions chief?
The primary role of any admissions head is to support the team of admissions professionals who work tirelessly to engage with the amazing applicants to our program. That will continue to be my number one priority. Externally, I’m focused on maintaining the academic standards of our program and broadening our outreach strategy.
Specifically, we will focus some of our efforts on increasing the percentage of women applicants to our program. Berkeley Haas was among the first business schools to cross the 40% women threshold. My goal is to consistently hold that figure. In order to move towards closing the gender divide, we are working to better highlight our programs like Women in Leadership and the work of our Gender Equity Initiative and our programs that develop leaders equipped to manage diverse and inclusive work environments. We also need to think about how we are reaching out to all women: women of color, international students, women from different academic backgrounds, and students with non-binary identities.
Berkeley Haas was among the first business schools to cross the 40% women threshold. My goal is to consistently hold that figure.
What was your first job after graduating from college?
I started my professional career in banking, in a process-oriented role at Sterling National Bank, shifting into commercial loan workout, and then to small business lending. I worked with small business owners, individuals whose entire lives were tied to the businesses. These were often immigrants, first-generation business owners opening restaurants, franchises, and dry cleaners.
I began my admissions career in 2010 at Fordham University in New York as an assistant director of admissions for the law school. In that role, I traveled the country and developed a deep interest in the pathways to graduate-level education. After a number of years, I decided to broaden my experience and take on a new challenge with Fordham Business School’s fundraising arm. I worked closely with the school’s alumni to help chart avenues for growth for the school. Among our successes was a partnership with the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center here in the Bay Area. I was amazed at the impact business school alumni could make on the community. I think it’s safe to say that that experience planted the seed that would eventually bring me to Haas.
Can you talk about how you diversified your experiences by working at The New School in New York, which has a design school, liberal arts college, and a performing arts college?
I was director of strategic initiatives and planning, managing net tuition revenue for an institution that was constantly looking for ways to shift, be nimble, and be dynamic. The New School was a collection of various different types of colleges and it’s connective tissue was cultural not structural. The New School provided a number of very unique challenges that engaged me intellectually. I worked directly with the college’s deans, doing scholarship modeling, developing enrollment strategies, building our strategic partnerships globally. But in this role I was no longer participating in the candidate’s journey, something that I enjoyed and have returned to at Haas.
What brought you to the West Coast?
I’ve been lucky enough to be with my partner for nearly 20 years. In that short amount of time we’ve had a number of different adventures, not the least of which has been our two children. Though we’ve both traveled significantly for work, neither of us had ever lived outside of New York City. So when she was offered an amazing professional opportunity here in the Bay Area it felt like the perfect time to start a new adventure.
I’ve always been aware of Berkeley and its reputation as a culture-forward institution. When we moved here we rented a house within walking distance of campus. I knew I wanted to work at one of the graduate schools and I loved the idea of the Haas MBA. It’s the least narrow degree providing the most opportunity to make a change. Through the Defining Leadership Principles, I had a very clear understanding of the school’s values and they closely reflect my own personal values.
Every person matriculating through Haas is going to make an impact, whether it’s in impact investing, tech, transportation, sustainability, or consulting. This is where I want to be, participating in some small part on that journey.
Every person matriculating through Haas is going to make an impact.
What’s your favorite DLP?
I most closely align with Confidence without Attitude. It prompts me to reflect not only on what I can contribute, but also calls on me to recognize where I need to grow. When I practice this DLP, I’m an active listener and I engage meaningfully with my partners and peers, so that I can learn from them and build with them. I’m excited to see what we build together in the coming years.
For Latinx Heritage Month we’re featuring members of our Berkeley Haas community. Here we profile Cristina (Bermudez) Rossman, MBA 00, on how the 9/11 attacks made her reconsider her identity.
Cristina Rossman, MBA 00, was boarding a plane in Boston when Al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. on 9/11.
“The airport was in lockdown,” she recalled. “They still hadn’t figured out what was going on. People were on phones with their families but you weren’t sure what was real and what wasn’t.”
Rossman, who was wrapping up a post-graduation cross-country trip with her husband before starting a new job at Morningstar in Chicago, boarded a shuttle and headed to the nearest hotel.
The next day, they rented a car and drove to Chicago, a trip that Rossman, a native of Colombia, believes put her on a path to understanding the importance of embracing multiple identities.
Feeling something shift
Until 9/11, Rossman had not considered herself American.
“I grew up with one identity, Colombian,” said Rossman, whose father was a doctor and moved the family from Bogotá to the U.S. to pursue his specialization in gastroenterology. “Even though my schooling and my friends were here, my parents always intended to move back. My mom flew from the U.S. to Colombia when she was pregnant so that I’d be born there.”
Driving back to Chicago with her husband, who is American, Rossman said she felt something shift. “In upstate New York, there were trucks on the highway with big American flags, and I saw all of these small towns with their flags flying,” she said. “It was the first time that I realized that the U.S. could be in danger. That’s when I definitely understood that I was equally American. This is part of who I am and I wanted to honor and protect it. ”
It was the first time that I realized that the U.S. could be in danger. That’s when I definitely understood that I was equally American. This is part of who I am and I wanted to honor and protect it.
Being Colombian in the U.S. wasn’t always simple as a kid. The drug war caused strife between the U.S. and Colombia and led to stereotypes of Colombians. But relations between the two countries have improved and interest in exploring Colombia is growing, she said.
“The perception of Colombia as violent is going away,” said Rossman, who lives outside of Chicago with her husband and 13-year-old twins. “The country is now full of tourists and its biodiversity is amazing. I’m no longer surprised when colleagues ask me to coffee to discuss a vacation there.”
“Not the story people wanted to hear”
At work as a marketing executive, Rossman said that for years she had mild imposter syndrome with her Latina identity, mainly due to her family’s privilege.
“We didn’t come to the U.S. because we were financially unstable or because we had to come here,” she said. “Yet that often felt like that was the story that people wanted to hear.”
That discomfort has faded, she said. As chief marketing officer at Relativity, which manages large volumes of data used in litigation, internal investigations, and compliance projects, she has the opportunity to share her reflections on identity with others and learn from them.
At a recent Culture Collective forum, a panel of colleagues shared how they navigated the topic of race both personally and professionally. “I was so impressed by how open and honest people were in sharing different perspectives and experiences, asking questions, and learning from one another,” she said. “I truly believe that when employees feel empowered and supported to be their authentic selves at work, especially in such a creative department like marketing, the output of our work is infinitely better.”
For Latinx Heritage Month we’re featuring members of our Berkeley Haas community. Our first profile is of Gerardo Campos, facilities manager for the Haas faculty and student services buildings. Campos, who is Mexican, discusses early activism that significantly impacted his life.
In December 1993, Gerardo Campos helped organize a walkout with hundreds of Latinx students at San Francisco’s Mission High School to pressure the school board to change the curriculum.
“We marched, demanding that they add ethnic studies, demanding a review of materials and the curriculum, because we weren’t hearing our story in class,” said Campos, who was student body president at the time.
The walkout, which led to the addition of new ethnic studies courses and expanded college prep and job readiness courses, not only politicized Campos, it changed his life, laying the groundwork for Campos to receive a scholarship to UC Santa Cruz, where he was the first in his family to attend college.
Mission High then housed 1,415 students, 37% who were Latinx and 26% who were Chinese. Many of the students were newly arrived immigrants from around the world.
Campos recalled that some students in the high school’s newly formed Latino Club had started talking about diversity issues. The San Francisco Independent weekly newspaper reported that the students believed that “many of the high school’s staff members were insensitive to minorities” and that the curriculum didn’t align with their diverse histories.
The walkout led to a new ethnic studies alliance between Mission High and San Francisco State University, where Campos thought he would end up going to college. However his activism and leadership as student body president led him down a different path. A high school counselor nominated Campos for a citywide $5,000 SF Rotary Club scholarship that enabled him to afford tuition at UC Santa Cruz, where he graduated with a degree in psychology.
“Huge pride and a sense of accomplishment”
After graduation, Campos, who is 45, worked as a substance abuse counselor, slowly moving toward a career in facilities management at Kaiser Permanente, and then as an administrator at a nanotech startup in Emeryville. In 2004, Campos arrived at Haas, where he’s worked as a facilities manager, one of few people who comes to campus daily to manage the buildings during the pandemic.
While Campos’ activism has taken a back seat to his demanding job and raising two children, he was active over the years in the UC Berkeley campus staff Chicanx/Latinx community Alianza.
Campos and his wife, Michelle, have two children: a son, Marcelino, who is a college sophomore, and a daughter, Celeste, a Berkeley High School junior. His family is close, including five brothers and 60 cousins. Of his family members, he’s the only one who made it to college, he said, adding, “I always feel huge pride and a sense of accomplishment that I did it.”
Campos said he tries to return to Mezcala, a small town in Mexico about an hour from Guadalajara, every year to visit his family.
In recent months, Campos said he’s followed the Black Lives Matter protests and kept informed on what Haas is doing to support diversity and equity for people of color. The Trump administration’s immigration policies toward his community anger him, and he challenges the idea that people are “legal” or “illegal.” “It’s not right that if I was born over here and somebody else is born over there that we should be treated differently,” he said. “I am against it to my core.”
Reflecting on his past, Campos said he’s grateful for his experiences, including the walkout that he believes awoke him to fight for justice as a teenager, a story he recently shared with his daughter. “I’ve had a lovely life,” he said.
The Haas School of Business and Berkeley Law played a critical role in developing the State of California’s new fund to support small businesses devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.
The California Rebuilding Fund, a new public-private partnership announced last week by the Governors’ Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz), uses government-backed capital to support the state’s small businesses. The fund is targeted particularly toward the smallest firms and entrepreneurs from communities that have been historically disenfranchised.
“The state put many groups together to try to get the best of the best ideas,” said Berkeley Haas Assoc. Prof. Adair Morse, who helped develop the structure for the fund. “We all came together to try to optimize a plan for the people of California.”
The state put many groups together to try to get the best of the best ideas.
The pandemic has left 30% to 40% of California’s small businesses on the verge of failure, according to Mark Herbert, vice president of California’s Small Business Majority.
Haas’ efforts to help save small businesses began when Morse and Prof. Laura Tyson—concerned about the impact of shelter-in-place closures—began crafting a strategy to attract private and institutional capital to help healthy small businesses make it through the crisis. Their work took shape in the City of Berkeley’s Save our Small (SOS) Business Recovery Loan Fund, launched in March.
“Speed is of the essence”
That project led to new work on the Governor’s initiative when Tyson connected Morse to Berkeley Law’s Susan (Suz) Mac Cormac, a lecturer in social enterprise and a corporate partner at the firm Morrison & Foerster. After coronavirus struck, Mac Cormac started providing pro bono legal advice to struggling small businesses in need of loans by hosting office hours through a partnership with the Law School. She saw the state’s work as a way to amplify that work.
Morse, Mac Cormac, and Tyson quickly spearheaded a group called CASE (the California Small Business Enterprise Task Force). Tyson connected the team to former Fed Chair Janet Yellen, a professor emeritus at Haas, and a member of the state’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery.
IBank has received $25 million from the state to collaborate with the private sector to drive capital to Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and other mission-based lenders. The loans are expected to start going out next month.
Tyson called the initiative a game changer for struggling businesses and applauded the efforts of many groups on the project.
“Speed is of the essence in bridging this gap for businesses that were healthy, but now at risk of failure through no fault of their own,” Tyson said. “We’re fortunate that so many people—with expertise in finance, law, economics, and public policy—put their heads together, and the governor’s office made it happen so quickly.”
“We will need more”
Mac Cormac said the work that her team did negotiating with lenders and philanthropists on behalf of small businesses blended well with the work Tyson and Morse were doing on the business side, designing loan structure. The goal, she said, is to make sure that the loan terms are transparent to avoid excessive fees or red tape.
Mac Cormac said she felt a moral obligation to act when small businesses started shutting down and clients started calling her for help.
“There’s been this desperate, desperate need and I’m hoping this will help,” she said. “I think it will help, but we will need more because it’s going to be bad for quite awhile.”
Morse added: “We’re so pleased with the outcome and what that money allocated will mean to these small businesses that are struggling to keep the lights on.”
A loan fund that will make flexible, affordable loans to small businesses with 50 employees or fewer through participating community lenders. The loan fund will be accepting applications on this website, which will be available in the coming weeks.
A free resource guide, built and updated by pro-bono lawyers at Morrison & Foerster that includes county by county guidance on reopening, other financial resources available, and the latest on commercial eviction moratorium. The guide is also available in Spanish here.
Free virtual office hours staffed by expert lawyers so that small businesses have a place to get specific questions answered. Office hours are held weekly.
A record-sized Berkeley Haas undergraduate class came together online this week, attending orientation sessions on everything from the keys to succeeding in the rigorous program to creating a climate of inclusion and belonging to navigating internship recruiting.
Students logged on Monday morning from housing on or off campus, where they were greeted by Erika Walker, assistant dean of the undergraduate program.
Dean Ann Harrison, who attended UC Berkeley as an undergraduate, studying economics and history, welcomed the group to Haas, and congratulated them for getting into the program. Not only is the program one of the most academically rigorous, she said, it’s also defined by its culture, anchored by the four Defining Leadership Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself.
“The culture at Haas lets us develop the kinds of business leaders that we want to see more of in the business world,” she said, pointing to entrepreneur Kevin Chou, BS 02, as an example of Beyond Yourself. Chou’s $15 million pledge to Haas, the largest ever by an alum under age 40, helped build Chou Hall on the Haas campus.
Of the incoming 440 undergraduate students, 236 are continuing UC Berkeley students and 99 transferred into the program as juniors. Continuing students held an average GPA of 3.76 and transfer students’ GPA averages 3.91.
Todd Fitch, a member of the professional faculty who teaches economic analysis and policy, offered students advice for continuing their academic success in the competitive program, touching on in-class Zoom etiquette, the importance of helping fellow students and working collaboratively, and the need to ask for help when needed and accept feedback when it’s given.
“We’re going to push you very hard, we’re going to push you to your limits,” said Fitch, who wore his trademark bow tie. “It’s extremely rigorous so be prepared for a lot of hard work. You are at the best business school in the world and we’re trying to prepare you for the future when things are constantly changing.”
The undergraduate program has expanded in recent years, adding three multidisciplinary programs outside of the core program.
The newly-launched Biology+Business program, a joint venture between the Department of Molecular Cell Biology and Haas, enrolled 13 juniors in its inaugural class. The program allows students to earn a bachelor of science degree in business administration and a bachelor of arts degree in molecular and cell biology in the emphasis of their choice.
Students who enter UC Berkeley as freshmen apply to the program, and complete all prerequisite requirements for Haas and molecular cellular biology before entering as juniors. Saloni Patel, who is among the school’s 13 BioBiz students, said the program combined the two majors she’s always wanted. “It was the perfect combo,” she said. “We’ve had great access to Program Director Sarah (Maslov), who’s an amazing advisor…and it’s a nurturing cohort that’s very specialized. We’re developing as a group and it’s a smaller community of people with specialized interests.”
A love of the mathematics behind medical imaging led Emma Caress to the program. Medical imaging is used for practically everything in the field of medicine and makes up a vast majority of the information coming out of the healthcare system, she said. “Today’s hospitals store hundreds of millions of digital images, with their numbers only increasing as MRIs and CTs become better at capturing thinner and thinner slices of the body,” she said. “After talking to every person I could find involved in healthcare start-ups and the medical device and pharma industries, I realized my real passion lies at the intersection between business and biology.”
Meantime, the Global Management Program, a four-year international Berkeley Haas program that launched in 2018, enrolled 31 new students. On top of an already demanding undergraduate curriculum, students in the GMP program must fulfill a language requirement, study abroad their first semester, and take specialized global business courses.
The incoming class includes includes artists and world travelers, budding entrepreneurs and financiers, and a group of outstanding student athletes, including a few “future Olympians,” said Steve Etter, who teaches finance in the undergraduate program and mentors student athletes. There’s Cal swimmer Alicia Wilson, from the UK, who the gold medal at the 2019 University Games in Naples in the 200 the individual medley. Reece Whitley swims breast stroke for Cal and was named 2019 Pac-12 Men’s Swimming Freshman of the Year. The group also includes Cal gymnast Maya Bordas and Cal Football offensive lineman Matthew Cindric.
Whitley said the mindset necessary for success in sports and business is quite similar. “I’ve always believed that Haas would guide me to successfully translate the team working skills I’ve developed from the swim team into work life,” he said.
Kevin Truong, BS 22, who said he’s wearing a mask in the common areas of his Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house, said it’s been a goal to study business at Haas since he entered Berkeley as a freshman.
“I thought I might be a computer science major but my econ class in high school opened me to the business world and the stock market,” he said. “I chose Berkeley because I knew how great Haas was.”
Truong said he found the creating a climate of inclusion and belonging session led by Élida Bautista, Haas’ director of inclusion & diversity, particularly useful during orientation. A breakout session allowed the students to role play, giving people a chance to interact, Truong said.
Unlike Troung, Donna Kharrazi, BS 22, said she had no idea what she wanted to major in when she arrived at Berkeley. She said she was drawn to apply to study business for the different career directions that seemed possible, including marketing and advertising.
Kharrazi, who is considering minoring in data science because she loves to code, said she’s excited to be enrolled in smaller classes at Haas this year, where there are opportunities to connect with teachers. So far, she’s enjoying the breakout rooms during orientation with her cohort. “There was a little awkwardness in the beginning, but the level of conversation was great,” she said.