Berkeley-Haas Students Named “Best Overall Team” in National Science Foundation I-Corps Program

Four Berkeley-Haas students completed the Bay Area National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program this summer, developing innovative products from a noise-canceling hospital pillow to a fertility-tracking application for couples.

The Bay Area NSF I-Corps is a collaboration between University of California Berkeley, University of California San Francisco, and Stanford University.

Bay Area I-Corps is one of three new I-Corps “nodes” established by the NSF nationwide last year to commercialize university research and foster innovation. I-Corps is funded by a $3.75 million three-year National Science Foundation grant.

Over 90 teams participated in the Bay Area I-Corps in the past year.

“Haas prepared us well for the I-Corps program,” said Ben Hamlin, MBA 14, who with Maya Tobias, MBA 14, and Rohan Salantry, MIMS 14, created Localwise, which won the “Best Overall Team” award at the final presentations on July 28. “We had a firm understanding of the theory underlying the course’s methodology. The course taught us how to ‘get out of the building’ and apply that theory.”

The Bay Area I-Corps course is based on the Lean LaunchPad curriculum pioneered at Haas by lecturer Steve Blank. Andre Marquis, the Lester Center’s Executive Director manages the I-Corp. program with Haas Dean Rich Lyons. Rather than using the traditional long-form business plan, Lean LaunchPad encourages quickly evolving business models and directs students to “get out of the building” to talk to customers and focus on building a scalable business.

NSF Bay Area faculty director T. Todd Morrill , MBA 97, taught Haas students as they turned ideas into specific product plans through customer interviews, testing and re-evaluating their ideas.

After an introductory workshop, teams participate in web-based discussions, coming together at the end of the program to share what they’ve learned. The Localwise team, for example, conducted 144 customer interviews before creating an online platform that local business owners use to share service recommendations.

“Our I-Corps journey helped us learn what our customers really want,” Tobias said.

Chidananda Khatua and Janice Chien, both MBA 16, refined an idea for zPillow, a pillow that uses noise-cancellation technology to create a quieter sleeping environment. After more than 100 customer interviews the team narrowed its pillow technology to hospitals, where night-time noise is often a problem.

“I-Corps’ Lean LaunchPad course is like boot camp for evaluating many different business scenarios in a short time,” Khatua said.

More information about the Bay Area NSF I-Corps program is available at

Haas Lecturer Steve Blank