Berkeley-Haas Gives Crash Course to “America’s Greatest Makers”

The next reality TV celebrity may not be a desperate housewife or a wannabe chef, but an aspiring entrepreneur with an idea that could be the next big thing in Internet-enabled gadgetry—thanks to a little help from Haas instructors.

The new series “America’s Greatest Makers," from the creator of “Survivor,” “The Voice,” and “Shark Tank” in conjunction with Intel, debuts on Tuesday, April 5 on the TBS cable channel and online. It pits 24 teams of inventors against each other in a $1 million competition to develop a wearable or smart device using the Intel Curie—a button-sized computer designed for wearable tech.

The contestants got a crash course in business fundamentals from Andre Marquis, Executive Director of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship, along with Lester Center Senior Fellow Mark Searle. “We taught the makers the same principles we teach at Haas—how to run a lean startup and solve real problems for real customers,” Marquis says.

Watch the America's Greatest Makers promo video featuring Marquis and Searle.

Marquis and Searle, along with Elizabeth Saunders, a program manager at the UC Berkeley Center for Executive Education, spent time with the teams in San Francisco and Los Angeles, where the show was filmed from November through late February.

Marquis says they taught contestants to build on the frameworks pioneered by Lecturer Steve Blank in his Lean LaunchPad course at Berkeley-Haas. Those principles are now used in programs with the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health (NIH) Innovation Corps, and have been embraced not only by by startup entrepreneurs but also corporate innovators.

Berkeley-Haas has a deep history of working with Intel to cultivate entrepreneurs, partnering on both the Intel Global Challenge, an annual competition that ran from 2005 to 2014, and the Intel Make It Wearable competition. Marquis says their work on the show also "helps Intel build the pipeline of innovation for the Curie Module."

“America’s Greatest Makers” contestants range in age from 15 to 59 years. A panel of celebrity judges, including NBA star Shaquille O’Neal and “The Big Bang Theory” actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik, will winnow down the teams each week and pick the $1 million winner.

Among the products that will be featured are a collar that stops dogs from running away, a wearable device that helps with stroke rehabilitation, and a device to create a new bike-sharing economy.

“It's going to be a mesmerizing show. I hope all our aspiring Berkeley-Haas innovators and entrepreneurs get a chance to watch it,” Marquis says.