Endowed with Ingenuity

Trione Fund allows student entrepreneurial ambitions to flourish

Vic Trione, MBA 70

When classes end, thousands of Berkeley students leaving town for the summer face an expensive reality: absentee rent. Since most landlords prohibit tenants from subletting apartments, students must continue to pay for housing or lose their living space.

Ishan Sharma, BS 20, found a way to help offset the costs, and with the help of a $5,000 grant from Haas’ Trione Student Venture Fund, his idea became reality. This year, he and two Berkeley classmates launched Boxlet, a peer-to-peer “storage solution” whose website connects renters with people needing inexpensive storage—starting at $6 a week.

“We asked our friends what they thought about it, and we ended up getting 60 orders,” Sharma says. “We saw that this is something people would pay for.” He used the startup grant, in part, to hire movers and vehicles to redistribute items from his apartment to other storage “hosts.”

Rhonda Shrader, MBA 96, executive director of entrepreneurship at Haas;
Rhonda Shrader, MBA 96, executive director of entrepreneurship at Haas

Haas has been making $5,000 awards to early stage startups for the past three years thanks to the then-named Dean’s Startup Seed Fund. This year the fund was endowed by a $3 million gift from Vic Trione, MBA 70, whose business background includes the wine, real estate, and banking industries in Sonoma County. Says Trione, his gift will allow students to test their innovative and entrepreneurial ideas.

“These awards provide critical funding for high-risk, high-reward projects that best embody the Defining Leadership Principle Question the Status Quo,” he says. “It gives me great pleasure to see the dedication, passion, and energy reflected in the startup teams.”

Boxlet's Aakash Adesara, Ajay Merchia, and Ishan Sharma, BS 20;
Boxlet’s Aakash Adesara, Ajay Merchia, and Ishan Sharma, BS 20

Among grant winners are many that, like Sharma, are focused on solving daily problems. D.rect is using blockchain protocol to build fraud-prevention software for international telecommunications companies. NearFarms is an online marketplace for local produce. And Onederful allows dental offices to expedite insurance verification and improve billing accuracy.

Onederful co-founder and CEO Karen Yee Taylor, MBA 19, used the grant to develop software that connects dental offices with 240 insurance carriers. “The process of verifying insurance is extremely manual and requires a phone call,” says Taylor, the daughter of a dentist. “Onederful makes it easy for offices to verify insurance in seconds, all electronically.”

Onederful's Alex Yee and Karen Yee Taylor, MBA 19;
Onederful’s Alex Yee and Karen Yee Taylor, MBA 19

Some 70 teams apply annually for the 20 grants that aim to serve a critical role in the gestation phase of a new venture, says Rhonda Shrader, MBA 96, executive director of entrepreneurship at Haas. “Sometimes teams need just a little capital for additional customer discovery,” she says, “like hiring some programmers to develop a minimum viable product that they can take to potential customers and get reactions.”

Equally important, the fund affords students time. Many of the award recipients forgo paid internships and consulting work. “The fund is covering that opportunity cost to give them the flexibility to be entrepreneurs,” Shrader says.

And now that the fund is endowed, future generations of Haas students will be able to change the world with great ideas. “The funding is the seed from which new ventures can blossom—innovative capitalism with the potential of solving real-world problems,” Trione says.