Jay Zhao, BS 21, might just be able to add “life changer for transfer students” to his resume.
That’s now a part of his job as a founder of College Leap, where he’s making community college students’ dreams of transferring to four-year colleges come true.
College Leap supports community college students, particularly international students, many who want to transfer to a four-year school but are daunted by the process. The organization provides guidance on everything from course selection to personal essay advice to recommendations for extracurricular and volunteer activities that will help students build a competitive application. With 16 chapters at community colleges in California, New York, and Washington state, Zhao’s goal is to establish 50 chapters.
Carlos Maldonado Vega, who is from Honduras, runs the College Leap chapter at the Community College of San Francisco (CCSF). He plans to apply to Berkeley Haas this fall, a goal he set for himself after taking an Intro to Business course at CCSF.
When a College Leap chapter launched at CCSF, Maldonado Vega said he quickly volunteered to become president, as well as regional manager for College Leap’s upcoming National Business Plan Competition, which will be held in October.
Volunteering has given him leadership experience and enabled him to meet people from all over the world at information sessions he runs. “I’m gaining a lot of experience,” he said, particularly with international students who face unique challenges and need mentors.
A lack of resources
Speaking from his personal experience, Zhao, who is from China, said transfer students face plenty of challenges, including fewer connections and a limited personal network. That’s why he founded the nonprofit. “All of us at some point faced a lack of resources and opportunities.” said Zhao, whose resumé includes working at two startups and studying at the University of Rochester and at Foothill College, a community college in Los Altos Hills, before transferring to Haas as a junior.
This month, College Leap is hosting the National Business Plan Competition, a startup pitch competition which is open to all community college students, including those at schools where College Leap doesn’t have a chapter.
Teams must have at least one student enrolled full-time in community college and submit a business plan for a startup idea. The competition’s first round will be held Oct. 8-18, the regional round will be held Oct. 24, and the final round is Nov. 7. Teams who make the final round will be connected to mentors at Berkeley Haas. “Because College Leap is based at UC Berkeley, which has one of the strongest entrepreneurship ecosystems in the country, this competition is an opportunity for community college students to tap into the Berkeley ecosystem,” Zhao said.
To help participants prepare, College Leap is providing a series of nine free virtual workshops taught by community college faculty on a range of business topics including customer acquisition and finance. Participants will present their plans, which must have a section on their startup’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and take questions from the judges.
A message of inclusion
Richard Lyons, UC Berkeley’s chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer and former dean at Berkeley Haas, says that competition participants will develop knowledge and gain hands-on experience. “That’s big by itself, given the terrific diversity of the participants and the competition design,” Lyons wrote in an email. “I especially want to highlight the indirect value: The message here is deeply one of inclusion. Yes, the world of innovation and entrepreneurship includes you, whatever your background. It’s a doubly powerful transition from thinking, ‘they do that’ to thinking, ‘I do that.’ ”
Faculty at both community colleges and Berkeley Haas will serve as competition judges. Teams that advance to the finals will be matched with one of the many programs and incubators at Berkeley that support entrepreneurship.
How societal challenges can provide organizations with unexpected growth opportunities will be the theme as innovation leaders gather for the sixth annual World Open Innovation Conference in Rome Dec. 12-13.
Organized by the Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation, the conference, with an expected attendance of more than 200, will for the first time be held at Rome’s Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali Guido Carli, or LUISS for short. With the theme “Opening Up for Managing Business and Societal Challenges,” the event will include presentations on topics ranging from conceptualizing an open innovation ecosystem to implementing new ideas.
“Useful knowledge has spread so far so fast that no single organization can or should try to do everything on its own,” says Adj. Prof. Henry Chesbrough, conference chair and author of the new book Open Innovation Results: Going Beyond the Hype and Getting Down to Business (available Nov. 28). “The pace of growth in ideas is accelerating, making it even more imperative to open up to participate effectively in these flows of knowledge,” he says.
Francesco Starace, chief executive of Italian energy company Enel Group, will discuss developments in green and renewable energy as the keynote speaker. Other speakers include University of Toronto Professor Anita McGahan and University of Surrey Professor Annabelle Gawer, as well as other leaders in the energy and technology industries.
Conference activities include presentations of 60 papers, 15 posters, and five industry challenges, in which companies test open innovation’s impacts on real-world problems. A panel of a group of energy firms will discuss the companies’ combined activities and resources to invest in energy-related startup firms.
Chesbrough in the early 2000’s coined the term “open innovation,” which centers on the idea that organizations should open themselves to knowledge flows. Companies that pursue open innovation don’t rely on only their own internal expertise, but buy or license technology and business processes from others. This approach speeds up product cycles, spreads risks and rewards with others, and increases product differentiation, Chesbrough says. At the same time, companies that license or sell inventions that they’re not using can generate additional revenue, spread out fixed costs, and validate ideas and technologies that could have been overlooked, he adds.
Chesbrough’s early research concentrated on the technology sector’s pursuit of open innovation. Since then, other industries, including the automotive, chemical, consumer products, and financial services industries have followed. Similarly, some governments and nonprofits have also benefited from open innovation, finding ideas from collaborative partnerships and crowdsourcing to benefit health-care systems and city planning.
“No one organization has a monopoly on great ideas,” says Chesbrough.
In his new book, Chesbrough examines some of the challenges companies face in seeking innovation from others, including cultural resistance to pursuing ideas invented elsewhere and ingrained businesses practices that discourage collaboration. The book also links innovation at companies to national economic growth. All conference attendees will receive a copy of the book.
Before arriving at Haas, Ha Du, MBA 21, worked at J.P. Morgan for more than four years, first as an analyst in asset management, and then as an associate supporting the company’s CFO on financial analysis and business management.
Now, Du is deep in a career transition to investment banking, which she believes will let her build on skills she has developed so far.
“I enjoy solving problems for clients and I want to work on complex financial transactions and help companies to think through their strategies,” says Du, who is one of 13 full-time MBA students named as 2019 Finance Fellows at Haas.
An international group
The 2019 Finance Fellows are an especially international group, coming from the United Kingdom, Canada, India, Singapore, Vietnam, Brazil, and the U.S., notes William Rindfuss, executive director of strategic programs for the Haas Finance Group. Student interest grew this year, particularly in the area of entrepreneurial finance, in which a record six students with career goals in venture capital, impact investing, and fintech won fellowships. One student, Boris Wang, is already working to launch fintech startup Valuation Inc.
These 2019 Finance Fellows named last month include:
Investment Banking Fellowship: Trevor Cleary, Ha Du, Sameer Goyal
Investment Management & Quantitative Finance Fellowship: Julian Downey, Steven Gan
Entrepreneurial Finance: Dalmia Akshay, Huai-Ping (Andy) Chen, Julian Darby, Erika Hirata, Rahul Venkateshwara, Dai Shi (Boris) Wang
C&J White Fellows: (selected last winter) Daniel Cerda and Anjani Vedula
Haas awards Finance Fellowships every year to full-time MBA students, who apply for the awards. Fellows receive a cash grant and priority enrollment for electives and are also assigned a mentor, usually a Haas alum working in finance, who provides career advice and support. Candidates are evaluated on their experience and preparation in their stated area of interest, the clarity of their goals and career plans, and interviews.
Julian Darby, MBA 21, worked in investment banking in London before arriving at Haas, but said he found his passion through volunteer work as a board member at a school in an underprivileged neighborhood. The school had a financial education program for elementary students to teach them the habit of saving. “The older children acted as bank tellers and the younger ones were rewarded for the frequency of deposits, rather than the amount,” Darby recalled, adding that parents noticed and in turn asked the school principal about learning good financial habits themselves.
Seeing the parents’ response sparked his interest in financial inclusion to help individuals find ways to save, pay down debt, and manage expenses, he said. Darby hopes eventually to work for an organization, likely in fintech, that drives individual financial independence.
Alan Man, MBA 20, has made inclusion his passion. The son of Chinese parents who immigrated to New Zealand when he was five, Man is a student board member at the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership (EGAL) at Haas, the recipient of a fellowship from the national LGBTQ leadership organization Reaching Out, a Haas Student Ambassador, and co-president of [email protected], the Haas student-led club for LGBTQ students and their allies.
We spoke with Man, who has a background in law and accounting and is working in diversity & inclusion at a fintech company this summer, about struggling emotionally as a teenager, building support networks to serve others, and promoting inclusion at Haas and beyond.
What was your experience growing up?
Growing up in Auckland, I had a typical Chinese-immigrant upbringing. Still, New Zealand is such a beautiful, safe country to grow up in. I feel super-privileged and grateful to my parents to have sacrificed so much in order to give me all the opportunities to succeed. Despite the fact I was this short Asian kid with glasses, braces, acne and was kind of geeky, I managed to make it through OK.
How old were you when you figured out that you might be gay?
As soon as I hit puberty, I knew something was different about me. In psychology, there is this concept of the seven stages of grief. I went through pretty much all seven stages; denial, anger, depression, to try to come to terms with my sexuality. I was in denial for most of my teenage years. For example, I went to a traditional all-boys high school that was hyper-masculine. If you crossed your legs, you heard, “Oh, don’t do that, that’s gay” or, “that hand movement was gay, that’s disgusting.” It was not conducive to figuring out who I was. To be frank, it was kind of a horrible experience.
What was the process of coming out like?
Once I started university, that’s when I started to be more comfortable with who I am. I was an early-entry university student and it was wonderful, sort of like a coming-of-age experience at 17. As I began to gain confidence, make friends, and figure out where I fit in. I believe we all go through this process. I started to slowly accept my sexuality. The first step was acknowledging it myself and then once I came to terms with it internally, it was time to start coming out to friends when I was 20. That was such a big deal at first. It was filled with so much dread and anxiety and fear of being rejected. There was the time I told someone in confidence, and this person went ahead and told others which was a huge betrayal of my trust. The experience taught me an important lesson about trust, about being intentional with how you share information and ultimately, about not caring so much about what others think of me.
How did coming out to your parents go?
I didn’t come out to my parents until I was 25, and only because I was going to move to Australia to be with my boyfriend of three years (now husband!). Coming out to my parents was a huge deal to me and I didn’t feel comfortable doing it for the longest time. At that point, I had already told everyone in my life, my work, friends, everyone except my parents. They grew up in a country where the common belief is that people who are gay can’t be happy because they’re ostracized by society. My mom was the one I came out to first. Even though I had already come to terms with my sexuality, I completely collapsed, crying, and I couldn’t even say the words. It was hard at first, with my parents not truly understanding and saying hurtful things without meaning to. But today, it’s all better. My parents have gotten to know my husband, who is such a kind, intelligent, thoughtful person, and they can see how happy I am. Although my extended family in China still don’t know about my sexuality or my husband, at least my parents treat him like family and I am so grateful that my parents could look at my sexuality through the lens of love, rather than the homophobia that is so pervasive in the places they grew up in.
Have you been open about your sexuality in your professional life?
Interestingly enough, I went straight back into the closet as soon as I started working at my first job in New Zealand at the age of 21. At the time, it made so much sense because it was a male-dominated, hierarchical firm. But when I moved to Australia, I decided to finally come out. There was no escaping the fact I had moved there for my partner and I didn’t want to lie in my interview about the reason I had moved. I had support from my managers, but unfortunately there was no support network or affinity group or employee resource group in my office. So I started one.
I wanted to make sure that my office was safe and inclusive for all LGBTQ employees. In a short space of time, we had a calendar full of events and even a budget which was a huge deal for me. The most impactful moment was when a colleague of mine came up to me at after-work drinks to tell me that he was so glad and thankful that I established the LGBTQ network. He had never understood “the whole gay thing” and it was only after attending an LGBTQ awareness training session I organized, and some self reflection, that he realized why it was important to be inclusive of LGBTQ folk and he then became one of our biggest supporters—even joining the organizing committee and contributing to the network.
Have you had fears that you think non-LGBTQ people haven’t had?
The first thing that comes to mind is holding hands in public, especially in the beginning of my relationship. My husband and I have been together for eight years now, and we held hands in public for the first time three years into our relationship, which I think would be unusual for a heterosexual relationship! I can remember it like yesterday. We held hands for what felt like 30 seconds in a street with no one present, and then immediately dropped our hands when someone walked around the corner. Even though we were probably safe, at that time it felt so risky to be open. Even to this day, outside of the Bay Area, we still get odd stares when we hold hands in public.
How are you promoting inclusion outside of Berkeley Haas?
My internship this summer is at a fintech company called Credit Karma in San Francisco, working with the head of Diversity and Inclusion to drive inclusion at the company. I never imagined I’d be working on this full-time. Coming into business school, I only had exposure to consulting or other traditional post-MBA roles. However, after I did a bunch of exploring and talking to people about their careers. I decided to take a risk and explore what it means to drive diversity and inclusion at a company full-time rather than as something on the side.
How has your experience at Berkeley Haas been so far?
The Berkeley Haas community is wonderful and accepting and has allowed me to lean into my inclusion work. I’ve been privileged to come out fairly early in life, but we have classmates who are still grappling with their sexuality. Now that I’ve gone through this journey myself, I want to be a leader in the space, creating community and a safe space for other queer people—and driving other aspects of diversity and inclusion as well. As a result, I have taken on a number of leadership positions during my MBA and I am proud to share that this led to me recently receiving the Haas Student Leadership Scholarship for continuing students at Berkeley Haas, something I never expected. It is fantastic to be recognized for the contributions I’ve made to the Haas community and I am so grateful to be able to pursue my passion of creating community and driving inclusion among such an amazing group of people.
Yet those seeking to make housing cheaper through innovation face a slew of challenges: Housing industry entrepreneurs must navigate a thicket of environmental and other governmental regulations, as well as secure financing for projects that may not fit the industry’s mold.
“The need for innovative solutions and outside-the-box thinking has never been more urgent, and we’re encouraged by the growing number of entrepreneurs who are challenging our antiquated housing system and considering new ways for housing to be more equitable and affordable across the board,” said Terner Center Faculty Director Carol Galante, who previously served in the Obama Administration as U.S. Assistant Secretary for Housing.
The Housing Lab, supported in large part by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, aims to help entrepreneurs navigate housing laws and regulations, sharpen their business plans, and locate investors—all with an eye toward making housing less expensive. Applications open June 10 for non-profit and for-profit startups to join an inaugural cohort of five companies. The successful candidates will be announced in September.
“We know the housing crisis is a complex problem that can’t be solved by innovation alone, but we believe entrepreneurs have a key role to play in contributing to the solution,” said Housing Lab Program Director Michelle Boyd, MBA 19, who began working on the accelerator as a student and is staying on post graduation to lead it. “Because the housing industry is extremely regulated compared with other industries, these entrepreneurs need support.”
Entrepreneurs focused on housing face a huge number of hurdles, including national, state, and local regulations on areas ranging from construction standards and environmental sustainability to rent control and home financing. Local zoning and development plans, often highly politicized, can confound even a savvy and experienced entrepreneur.
Adding to those challenges, many housing innovation startups would have trouble getting accepted into a traditional technology-focused accelerator.
“Most accelerators and VC funds direct the majority of their capital to pure technology-focused innovations, and we think there are a lot of other good ideas out there that may not fit the VC model—either because they’re not a pure tech company, or they’re focused on a more regional market,” Boyd said. “These companies are also asset-intensive, meaning they own and operate real assets and buildings, and there’s is less support for startups like that. We want to elevate these ideas and connect them to the capital they need to scale.”
Seed funding for housing innovators
Startup candidates for the Housing Lab could include, for example, a company that’s developing a construction method using low-cost yet environmentally friendly building materials, or one that’s promoting a new home-financing product aimed at low-income buyers. Or, a candidate might be producing multi-unit “co-living” structures suited to urban centers, or cottages designed to be tucked behind suburban single-family homes.
Applicants need to demonstrate their ideas’ validity through either customer feedback or extensive market research, and also must be working on their venture on a full-time basis. Candidates should also show a recognition of longstanding problems in the housing industry, such as predatory lending and housing discrimination, and how their venture plans to operate responsibly, Boyd said.
Successful candidates will join the six-month program in the fall and receive seed-funding grants of $100,000 to $150,000. Participants will meet both virtually and in-person at the Terner Center for coaching sessions on developing and scaling their business plans and understanding how best to work in the regulatory environment. In addition to learning about funding sources and meeting potential investors, participants will also gain access to faculty and alumni networks as well as to the Housing Lab’s advisory board of successful entrepreneurs, government leaders, investors, and housing advocates.
Last fall, Chris Cindy Cordova, an aerospace engineer who arrived at Haas with little knowledge of the venture capital industry, attended a pitch session in Silicon Valley where VCs were grilling entrepreneurs seeking funding.
“Hearing that back-and-forth about what investors are interested in and watching how entrepreneurs presented themselves was useful to me,” says Cordova, MBA 20, who attended the session with 30 fellow members of the new Haas Venture Capital Club (HVCC) at Plug and Play, a Sunnyvale, Ca.-based accelerator.
With a goal of giving students an inside look into the world of venture capital and helping them to break into the tight-knit venture capital industry, the club has already grown to 160 members from the full- and part-time MBA programs.
Many Haas students are interested in venture capital and entrepreneurship, and launching the club was an effort to provide more connections and resources, said Chris Truglia, EWMBA 19, who founded the club in 2018 with Scott Graham, also an Evening & Weekend MBA student.
“Even though the heart of VC is in our backyard, we haven’t fully taken advantage of it,” said Truglia, who has worked in venture capital and is currently COO of technology startup Junar. “We’re hoping that the club will raise Haas’ profile as a feeder school to the best funds.”
“A confidence booster”
So far, the club has co-hosted, with the Women in Leadership club, a conference featuring speakers who discussed challenges faced by women in venture capital and by female entrepreneurs. Other events featured a panel of Haas students who landed internships or jobs in the venture industry, and a focus session with Strawberry Creek Ventures, which co-invests with other funds in companies led by Berkeley alumni.
Faculty advisors to the club—Deepak Gupta, an industry specialist in the Haas Career Management Group, Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program, and William Rindfuss, executive director of strategic programs in the Haas Finance Group—are reaching out to engage Haas alumni as mentors. And the club’s VC Excursion Program aims to connect groups of HVCC members to alumni in venture capital for fun activities such as hiking, dinners, and boating.
Mingling with alumni who work in venture capital at a recent event at a local pub was a confidence-booster, said Cordova, the club’s co-president. “It helped me become more confident, knowing that there’s a group of pros out there who want this club to be successful and to see them acknowledge how it benefits the students,” she says.
Landing the VC jobs
Equally important is forming relationships with Silicon Valley accelerators and VC firms, in part through more treks to firms to shadow professionals, with the goal of helping students in the job search. Early efforts have yielded some returns: Four Haas students are already working at paid internships at Plug and Play.
The club is also developing what it calls its Talent Pipeline Program (TaPP), a program to help students of all experience levels to increase their knowledge of the VC industry through club activities and independent research, said Esmond Ai, MBA 20 and club co-president. Through the program, students will create training materials, organize workshops, and book guest speakers.
Student teams would, for example, undertake an independent project, such as researching an emerging market for a report or white paper. Then, instead of waiting for public job postings, teams could proactively approach VC firms and offer up their knowledge with an eye toward doing work for the firm.
“The idea is to place students in the right place at the right time when permanent job openings arise,” Ai said.
Maggie Fried, MBA 19, spent years working for nonprofits before coming to Haas.
Now, Fried is getting a chance to make a different sort of impact as one of four Portfolio Fellows who are working to support social impact startups on campus through the new Berkeley Haas Social Venture Fund (BH-SVF).
“I came to Haas to learn how to grow a business and provide strategic support,” said Fried, who is focused on food, water, and health-related startups. “To be able to put into play what I’ve been learning is so meaningful to me.”
The BH-SVF program’s mission is two-fold: it provides experiential learning opportunities for graduate students interested in impact investing, while also giving student-led social ventures financial support, mentoring, and resources.
Launched in spring 2018 by Haas entrepreneurship lecturer Jorge Calderon, the fund allots two types of awards: a resource award, which provides ventures with an expert network, mentoring from the Portfolio Fellows, and office space, among other benefits; and a financial award that grants up to $5,000 to social ventures developing businesses. Recipients also get three months of dedicated coaching from a network of advisors, who are primarily UC Berkeley and Haas alumni.
Fried is among four full-time MBA students who have been named Portfolio Fellows in the new program, which is an independent study course. She joins Stephanie Solove, MBA 19, who is focused on education and the workforce, Jessie Tang, MBA 20 (financial services and housing), and Sam Roth, MBA 19 (energy and the environment). Fellows are already experiencing the value of the new program. “I’m meeting people across Berkeley’s social entrepreneurship space, serving as an advocate, and supporting these entrepreneurs as they build out their ideas,” Tang said.
Portfolio Fellows conduct multiple rounds of due diligence and weigh in on financial award decisions made by the fund’s managing council, which includes Calderon as chair, and Haas Lecturer Julia Sze and Senior Lecturer Sara Beckman.
The first grant recipient is Pedi-Ed, a health education non-profit co-founded by Ahaana Singh, BS 19 (public health), Caroline McGuire, a senior majoring in integrative biology, and Boston University senior Adam DeAngelo. Pedi-Ed produces illustrated videos explaining severe health conditions to pediatric patients and their families. With their initial award, Singh said she hopes to hire full-time staff, increase outreach, and expand the range of medical topics in the startup’s video library.
Among the fund’s goals is to support 10 to 20 social venture startups per semester, said Calderon, who is also a social impact fellow at the Haas Institute for Business and Social Impact and a previous recipient of the Richard H. Holton Teaching Fellow Award.
“The fund addresses the growing interest Berkeley students and alumni have in pursuing careers that integrate positive social or environmental impact with business innovation,” he said. “BH-SVF joins a rich ecosystem of entrepreneurship and impact innovation, campus programs, clubs, and courses that are collectively preparing future leaders who go beyond themselves.”
Haas alumni play a critical role with the the new fund, Calderon added. “We are lucky that Berkeley alumni constantly offer to help our students,” he said. “The fund incorporates their interests by providing them with a unique way to be part of the learning process as not only donors, but mentors and advocates. ”
The fund’s first donor is the Sanaya Shah Memorial Fund, created by members of the Berkeley MBA for Executives class of 2017 in memory of the daughter of classmate Sumit Shah and his wife, Astha Shah. “They have been wonderful to work with on our shared vision and we appreciate their thoughtfulness and offer of support,” Calderon said.
In the future, there are plans to scale the program by partnering with additional alumni and others interested in expanding social entrepreneurship at Berkeley.
Startups interested in applying for a BH-SVF award must address a pressing social or environmental issue. Teams should include at least one current Berkeley student as a founder and should a demonstrate commitment to building their social venture. The fund is open to both for-profit and nonprofit business models.
For seven years, Katharine Hawthorne, MBA 20, pursued a double career. By day, she’d head to her office at the University of California, San Francisco, where she managed contracts for medical research in Africa and the Middle East. At night, she hit the dance studio, where she spent hours rehearsing modern dance works for professional performances.
“My greatest achievement was being able to thrive in both of these environments,” she says. Now at Haas, Hawthorne has shifted her entire focus to finance as her long-term career goal. As one of 12 full-time MBA students who were named the Haas 2018 Finance Fellows, Hawthorne plans a career in investment management and impact investing.
This year’s fellows are:
Kristine Leary and Rohit Rana: CJ White Fellows (selected in spring)
Adam Burgess, Michael Doherty, Shawn Meyer, and Patricia Sanz-Pastor: Investment Banking
Katharine Hawthorne, Patrick Hamm, and Benyam Teklezgi: Investment Management & Quantitative Finance
Ran Fu, Anna Soybel, and John Terada: Entrepreneurial Finance
“It’s a strikingly international group of students from China, India, Spain, and the U.K., all coming to Haas to pursue some interesting sector of finance,” says William Rindfuss, executive director of strategic programs for the Haas Finance Group. “We’re so proud of these accomplished students and happy to support them with these resources.”
Haas awards the Finance Fellowships and the CJ White Fellowships to full-time MBA students annually through a competitive application process. Fellows receive a scholarship award and priority enrollment for elective classes. They also each work with a mentor, generally a Haas alumnus working in the applicable sector of finance, who provides career advice and support.
Burgess, MBA 20, is eyeing a career in technology investment banking after working in banking compliance and in forensic accounting as a litigation consultant. “Litigation is inherently backward looking, reactive to allegations or incidents,” he says. “I’m looking to bring my work into a proactive, growth-oriented context, which is why I wanted to enter investment banking.”
Burgess, who says he’s particularly looking forward to classes in corporate finance, strategy, and negotiation, adds that “the Haas platform for getting into investment banking is exciting in itself, but to add the opportunity for mentoring just makes the whole thing feel a lot more real and exciting.”
After working at a management consulting firm, a venture philanthropy fund, and an education technology startup, John Terada MBA 20, a fellow in entrepreneurial finance, is now planning a career in venture capital and impact investing. He’s especially interested in investing in areas including education technology, the future of work, and enterprise solutions.
“I strongly feel there’s a need to focus on workforce development to ensure that people are prepared for technological advancements and aren’t ultimately left behind,” he says.
The startup roundup series spotlights students and recent alumni who are starting a new business or enterprise.
Co-founders: Andrew Hill MBA 16, CEO Joanne Hill-Powell, chief data scientist
Many hospitals and clinics have turned to technology to better track their patients, using central records that detail medical histories, current prescriptions, and health goals. Andrew Hill, MBA 16 and co-founder of startup LiftEd, wondered why students receiving special-education services couldn’t benefit from a similar system.
After all, Hill’s sister, Joanne Hill-Powell, a special-education teacher and behavior analyst for more than 10 years, was spending countless hours a week tracking her students’ learning interventions, and preparing for meetings with administrators and parents. “The volume of data required to continuously monitor a student’s progress—a legal mandate for students with learning disabilities in the U.S.— is often scattered among binders, and stored in filing cabinets, on sticky notes, in emails, and in the cloud,” Andrew Hill says. “It gets complicated pretty quickly.”
Observing special-education classrooms during the summer of 2014—and getting a broader understanding of how hard it is for those teachers to track data—led Hill to found LiftEd with his sister. He combined his experience as a technology consultant and user experience designer with Hill-Powell’s doctoral-level training and extensive career working with students with various learning disabilities who range in age from three to 22.
The startup offers a mobile platform that educators and other special-education professionals use to monitor students’ progress on annual academic, functional, social, and behavioral skills goals. But perhaps even more importantly, LiftEd can be used to turn student data into digestible progress reports and data-driven charts that provide a window into a student’s learning. That allows educators to make better real-time decisions on the level of instructional support a student needs, says Hill.
In the current school year, LiftEd is on track to be used in 20 school districts, up from 10 last academic year. And by the 2019-2020 school year, Hill expects the system to be used in over 100 districts, under pay-per-student subscriptions.
LiftEd has raised more than $800,000 and is currently on the verge of closing a seed funding round, says Hill, who was named to the “Forbes 30 under 30” list for education this year.
At Haas, Hill says marketing lecturer Wasim Azhar and Assoc. Prof. Adair Morse, who teaches New Venture Finance, as well as Asst. Prof. Juliana Schroeder and Assoc. Prof. Sameer Srivastava, were all incredibly helpful, along with the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program executive director, Rhonda Shrader, and entrepreneurship lecturer, Jorge Calderon.
Hill says the company has proven, through a third-party study, that LiftEd saves educators time, on average 10 or more hours per week. The platform is also accelerating the rate that students master individualized educational goals, and is empowering educators to better prioritize student instructional needs, Hill says. “We had a teacher tell her district’s special-education director that she’d rather give up a kidney than not have LiftEd again this year,” Hill says. “So, I think we’re onto something.”
81cents Founder: Jordan Sale, MBA 19
At age 21, Jordan Sale, MBA 19, was excited to land an unpaid internship at a Washington, DC-based communications agency. At the advice of her uncle, Sale worked hard to put together a case for why she deserved a stipend for living expenses. While her employer didn’t giver her that stipend, the agency did agree to a transportation stipend.
“Every time I took the subway that summer I was so happy,” says Sale. “This made me understand first-hand the importance of negotiating—despite not doing very well at this one.”
Eight years later, Sale is advising other women about compensation, whether they’re negotiating a starting salary or seeking a raise at a current job. Her startup, 81cents, a name that refers to the amount a woman earns on average for every dollar a man earns, aims to help women avoid the so-called wage gap. While Sale acknowledges that there are systemic reasons for the wage gap, she says that men initiate negotiations four times as frequently as women, often landing better results. “It struck me that this is something that’s pervasive,” she says. “Negotiating works and it’s something tangible that women can start to do right now to initiate change for us.”
81cents reviews compensation packages and helps clients plan their negotiating strategy, even running mock negotiations. Clients have the option to pay an hourly fee of $81 or a total of $425 for unlimited help. The company also offers lower cost “crowdsourced offer reviews,” in which it circulates a client’s offer, minus identifying information, among its network of recruiters and hiring managers who provide feedback in the form of a personalized report.
Sale says her experience in a leadership role in Berkeley’s LAUNCH Accelerator program was invaluable in teaching her about the early days of building a company. Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program, and Profs. Omri Even-Tov and Juliana Schroeder have all helped her navigate the launch, she says.
Schroeder provided an hour-long primer on salary negotiations and serves as a resource on how to tackle challenging negotiations. Even-Tov, who is an entrepreneur, “has been a helpful mentor in navigating some of the classic challenges all early-stage businesses face, such as when to incorporate and how to think about equity,” she says.
Grants and fellowships have allowed Sale along the way. In addition to the $12,500 Larson Scholarship for Entrepreneurship, she also received a $5,000 Hansoo Lee Fellowship, a $5,000 Dean’s Seed Fund (now the Trione Student Venture Fund) grant, and a $5,000 Martin Fellowship. To move the company forward, she partnered with UC Berkeley students Nikita Jain and Grace Lin over the summer.
So far, 81cents has worked with about 65 clients. “When I hear back from a woman who’s had a successful negotiation, it’s incredibly meaningful, and motivates me to keep pushing” Sale says.
Shom Gupta, MBA 19 Surya Sendyl, MIMS 19
Shopping at a local farmers’ market can be fun—all those fresh organic strawberries and bunches of baby kale for the picking. Trouble is, some people just don’t have the time to go.
With his startup, nearfarms, Shom Gupta MBA 19, is bringing the farmers’ market online, where customers can order from local farms without going to the market. “This area has such a rich agricultural bounty and I wanted to tap into the local agricultural system,” says Gupta, a loyal farmers’ market shopper and self-described foodie. “Nearfarms is about making fresh, local produce easy and accessible.”
Gupta co-founded the startup with Surya Sendyl, a student in the MIMS (Master of Information Management and Systems program) at UC Berkeley.
Selection varies, and often follows the seasons. In October, the nearfarms website featured produce from the downtown Berkeley farmers’ market, including organic pasture-raised eggs from Riverdog Farm in Guinda, Ca., empire, honey crisp and gala apples from Billy Bob Orchards in Watsonville, Ca., and cauliflower from Happy Boy Farms in Soquel, Ca.
Gupta and Sendyl pick up their customers’ online orders at the local farmers’ markets, where they sort and pack the food for home delivery. The company currently delivers, using freelance drivers who ferry packages, typically on Saturdays, to Oakland and Berkeley. The startup will slowly work to expand its delivery area, says Gupta, who previously worked at New York online grocer FreshDirect.
Gupta acknowledges that nearfarms’s current business model may work only in areas with a high concentration of small farms, farmers’ markets, and consumers who care about how and where they buy their food.
And expanding to a completely new region would mean starting anew with recruiting farmers, since the company’s existing relationships with local farmers wouldn’t carry over to anywhere else. “But we’re comfortable with that,” Gupta says. “If we can nail down the Bay Area and be good at it, we’d be very satisfied.”
On a recent study trip to Ireland, Laura Hassner found herself in a Dublin supermarket chatting with a Slovakian classmate who co-owns 250 bakery outlets about the difference between stores that buy dough from factories versus those that bake from scratch.
For Hassner, EMBA 18, the business strategy conversation was one of many outlining the unique challenges facing small businesses as well as conglomerates during a “The Future of Food” course taught at University College Dublin’s Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. The course, with 30 international students enrolled, is one of many offered through the Global Network for Advanced Management (GNAM), an international consortium of 30 business schools that Haas joined three years ago.
Founded by the Yale School of Management in 2012, GNAM allows graduate business students to study at a member school, joining other students from around the world for a week of lectures, discussions, field trips, and immersion in another culture.
Students participating in GNAM select from a range of classes and locations; in the fall of 2018, for instance, students at member schools will choose from 16 classes, including “Leadership Challenges in Latin America,” offered at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile School of Business, and “Service Excellence in the Tourism Industry,” taught at the University of Indonesia Faculty of Economics.
While Haas has forged relationships with other business schools in the past, it accepted the invitation to join GNAM to give its students more opportunities in far more countries. Many Haas students have lived or worked internationally, but they haven’t had this kind of learning experience abroad, says Jamie Breen, assistant dean of Haas programs for working professionals, adding that Yale School of Management is the only other U.S. institution in the network.
Studying in a GNAM course “opens up different perspectives for students and makes them think about the assumptions they bring to the table,” Breen says. “They will come to a topic area with a U.S. lens and then suddenly learn the history, government, and regulatory and social framework of the country they’re in,” she said.
For some Haas students, participating in the program helps further interests that are personal as well as professional.
Brian Tajo, EMBA 18, who moved to the U.S. from the Philippines as a child, in June traveled to the Asian Institute of Management in Manila for a class on growth strategies for southeast Asian nations. Tajo, who has family living in the Philippines, says that the course strengthened his understanding of the economies of southeast Asia and will help him ultimately fulfill a personal goal of working in economic development in the Philippines.
“That aligned with my life ambition,” says Tajo, currently a senior product manager at software company Salesforce. Given the growth potential of southeast Asia, “I’m fortunate to have a head-start” in learning about the region, he says.
Women in leadership
All Haas students are eligible to participate in GNAM classes and earn two credits for their overseas study. In June, 35 Haas students attended courses at 11 schools, while 33 students from other institutions came to Haas to take the class “Women’s 21st Century Leadership,” taught by Professor Laura Kray.
Among other issues, students discussed gender inequality around the world. “We certainly had some interesting conversations about how some of the pathways for equality that we’ve identified that work in a U.S.-centric environment require further nuance and contemplation in cross-cultural settings,” said Kray.
The class provided the chance to “brainstorm a future that’s appreciative of women’s leadership strengths,” she added.
Students can also take GNAM’s online classes taught by business faculty at member schools. INCAE Business School in Costa Rica, for one, expects to offer a semester-long class in operations management analytics in the fall, while University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business plans to teach a course entitled “Urban Resilience.”
Haas is considering offering online classes in game theory or entrepreneurship.
Breen sees future opportunities for collaboration among Haas and other schools in the network. Possibilities include holding joint alumni events and opening Haas’s annual Global Social Venture Competition to students at network schools, with a goal of forming teams comprised of students from both Haas and member schools.
Participating in GNAM, Breen says, “has been enormously successful for us.”