MBA Students Venture Across Disciplines to Win UC Berkeley Competition

By taking a cross-disciplinary approach, a team of first-year Berkeley MBA and engineering graduate students won the 9th annual UC Berkeley Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC) on Friday at the Haas School. 

The winning team, CrossCal Associates, included Blake Briddell, Chris Hallas, and Eric Palm, all MBA 13; and engineering PhD students Guillermo Garcia and Kelly Karns. They were one of 23 teams to compete and one of six to earn a slot in this “reverse business plan competition,” which puts students in the shoes of venture capitalists. 

CrossCal Associates will next compete in the regional VCIC competition at Santa Clara University on Feb. 10, backed by additional coaching from some of the venture capital judges at the Berkeley event. 

Students were given business plans from four Bay Area startups and had two-and-a-half days to prepare a term sheet for one of interest to them. CrossCal submitted a term sheet to Sylvatex, a clean-tech company that has developed a micro-emulsion technology for blending diesel, water, and ethanol to be licensed to top global diesel producers. 

Hallas says that based on recommendations from the organizing team and last year’s winners, “Our strategy was to put together a team with as diverse a set of backgrounds and skills as possible.” 

“The technical knowledge on our team allowed us to ask more informed questions," he adds. "I think this was actually a great way to build rapport with the entrepreneurs who were impressed with our level of understanding.” 

He says the judges noticed the team's diversity as a key differentiator, and also hailed the group’s teamwork and flow during due diligence sessions with the entrepreneurs and negotiations. 

The Berkeley-Haas Defining Principle Beyond Yourself was a focus for the team, who approached the "investment" as a partnership between the VC and the entrepreneur. “We tried to put ourselves in the shoes of the party across the table and highlight where we could add value to them, beyond the financial,” says Hallas. 

The Haas Entrepreneurs Association and the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship co-hosted the UC Berkeley event. 

VCIC winners Kelly Karns, Guillermo Garcia, both engineering PhD students; and Chris Hallas, Eric Palm, and Blake Bridell, all MBA 13; with Lester Center Executive Director André Marquis, MBA 96.