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How two alumni took crowdfunding mainstream

As co-founders of Indiegogo, one of the world’s first crowdfunding sites, pioneers Danae Ringelmann and Eric Schell, both MBA 08, along with Slava Rubin, democratized access to capital and entrepreneurship—all while navigating the industry through unchartered regulatory waters. What started as a funding mechanism for independent filmmakers is now the leading crowdfunding site for tech products and a full-lifecycle platform for art projects and social-impact campaigns. The San Francisco-based company has raised over $2 billion for 800,000+ creative, entrepreneurial, and altruistic ventures worldwide. What’s more, Indiegogo is roughly half women and two-thirds non-white employees—diversity unmatched in the tech industry. Schell, the sole developer during Indiegogo’s first three years, served as CTO, head of data, and head of product during his tenure at the company. Ringelmann served as COO, CFO, and chief development officer during her tenure and remains an active board member. Here’s a look at Indiegogo’s evolution.

Eric Schell and Danae Ringelmann. 2008

Indiegogo launches (a year before main rival, Kickstarter). Due to federal rules regulating equity investing, donators are given perks (like objects or acknowledgement), not equity. Over the next three years, 92 venture capitalists decline to invest, but Haas profs and classmates introduce the co-founders to advisors and customers.


Forbes reports that crowdfunding is an $880 million business.


Indiegogo raises a $1.5 million seed round and joins President Obama’s Startup America Partnership as the funding site for the entrepreneurial initiative.


The co-founders help the Obama administration pass the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, which (eventually) allows for equity crowdfunding. The company raises another $15 million in funding.

Overhead shot of an arrow made from individual people.


Crowdfunding is now a $16 billion industry. Indiegogo Life, which raises funds (fee-free) for charity-based campaigns and personal appeals, launches. A $40 million infusion brings total funding to $56.5 million. Business luminaries, including Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson, also support the company.


Indiegogo Life is rebranded as The company launches InDemand, which allows successful campaigners to continue funding a project after its campaign period ends. Ringelmann and Schell receive Haas’ Leading Through Innovation award for improving the financing ecosystem. 


A partnership with hardware maker Arrow Electronics offers broader support for entrepreneurs and aids in mass production. Thanks to federal reforms, Indiegogo becomes the first major platform to launch an equity crowdfunding arm.


Revenue is up 50% over 2016, and the company is close to turning a profit. Indiegogo launches an education center and directory of experts. A new marketplace sells successfully crowdfunded items.

2018 is acquired by GoFundMe, allowing for better focus on hardware startups. Ringelmann steps down and moves to Norway, where she owns a lodge and farm.


Schell leaves Indiegogo, eventually landing at another company co-founded by Rubin.

Indiegogo logo.


Global crowdfunding is now valued at $13.64 billion and is expected to double by 2028. Indiegogo starts the Crowdfunding Trust Alliance with rival GoFundMe to establish best practices and crack down on fraudulent campaigns.

Michael Smith, MBA 86
Chief Marketing Officer, NPR

Headshot of Michael Smith.When Michael Smith earned his MBA in 1986, there were no podcasts or internet. The cable boom was still a few years away. Yet, throughout his career, he’s helped major media companies stay current, from selling the Disney Channel to cable distributors in the ’90s to bringing Food Network into the digital era. Now he’s jumped to public media.

As NPR’s chief marketing officer, he’s working to attract a younger and more diverse audience. “The average age of the NPR broadcast radio listener is 58 to 59 years old,” says Smith. “So that’s obviously not reflective of America, especially when you look at Gen Z and Millennials, who are 40% to 45% people of color.” 

The solution, says Smith, entails NPR building a diverse workforce in editorial and executive leadership, as well as adding more diverse content and voices. 

Another challenge is brand recognition. Only 30% of Americans—and 26% of people of color—know about NPR, says Smith, and the company hadn’t previously made significant investments in advertising or marketing. “I’ve been lucky that they’ve been willing to provide a budget to increase awareness,” he says. So far, Smith’s marketing campaigns are working. Awareness is up 9 percentage points since 2020 among the targeted Black and Hispanic audiences.

Smith himself deals with the evolving media landscape through constant education. And he gets others to embrace change by opting for a quietly inspiring leadership approach. “People talk about leading from the front. I’ve always been more about leading from behind,” says Smith. “Great servant leaders get satisfaction from amplifying and lifting up others.”

Power Plays

Who flirts to get ahead at work?

The stereotype of the female secretary who hikes up her skirt to get a promotion is as pervasive as the powerful male boss who makes passes at his underlings. But a new study upends both tropes with evidence that it’s actually men in low-power positions who are most likely to flirt, use sexual innuendo, and even harass female bosses for personal gain at work.

The paper, co-authored by Professor Laura Kray and published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, offers a new perspective on gender stereotypes and workplace power dynamics.

“Through a number of studies, we’ve debunked the myth that social sexual behavior is something that only high-power men do,” says Kray, The Ned and Carol Spieker Chair in Leadership. “In fact, we found that it’s more often men who are insecure about their role at work who use unwanted social sexual behavior to look more masculine and powerful, even when they know it’s offensive to women.”

In a series of online and laboratory experiments, Kray and co-authors Jessica A. Kennedy, MBA 09, PhD 12, of Vanderbilt University, and Michael Rosenblum, PhD 20, of New York University, examined the relationship between social sexual identity—or how people define their own sex appeal—and how it can drive an increase in workplace social sexual behavior that includes flirting, sexual innuendo, and harassment. Not only are men more likely than women to engage in such behavior for personal gain, the researchers concluded, but it’s most often men in lower-power positions who describe themselves as “charming flirts” with “sex appeal” who initiate social sexual behavior to appear more powerful. They then rationalize the behavior, saying they’re just being “big flirts.”

Man trying to talk to a disinterested woman colleague while standing next to a heart-shaped water cooler.Rates of social sexual behavior might vary by sexual orientation, an issue that was not explored as the study was conducted with participants who overwhelmingly identified as heterosexual.

This new research isn’t about whether it’s good or bad to flirt, notes Kray, the faculty director of the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership. The study also does not imply that people in powerful positions are unlikely to be sexual harassers, she cautioned.

Rather, the research concludes that being a flirt—or seeing oneself as a flirt—is predictive of a whole class of behaviors. “Some of the behaviors fall on the relatively benign end of the scale, and some are really quite offensive and most people would recognize as harassment.”

Kray suggests that corporate sexual harassment training might include asking people to reflect on social sexual behavior that they identify as just teasing or joking—as it might instead be an early warning about future behavior.

Prepared to Lead

The urgency of a Haas education

Dean Ann Harrison.

Haas students are graduating at a time when there are seemingly insurmountable challenges. Our responsibility is to forge entrepreneurial leaders amid an evolving business landscape. For this reason, our change to a four-year undergraduate program and the deeper leadership training it allows are absolutely critical. What an inspiring community we have! Alumni like Ned Spieker, BS 66, are paying their successes forward, allowing future generations of students to thrive—increasing the value of your degree in the process.

As Haas seeks to educate principled business leaders, alumni like Andy Kurtzig, BS 94, who is leading his Ukrainian employees through devastating upheaval, is showing us the way. Alumni pursuing roles in local government, most after careers in the private sector, prove that you can always undertake new challenges with a students always outlook. Finally, we offer a chance for you to expand your skills with a peek inside Haas classes focusing on timely topics: data and artificial intelligence, sustainability, inclusion, and more. Enjoy the magazine—which recently won a Best of District award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education!


Signature of Ann Harrison.

Ann Harrison
Bank of America Dean

Reduction Strategies

Challenging the carbon tax

A power plant with smoke billowing from its stacks.
Mitchell Power Plant, a coal-fired power station near Moundsville, W.Va., is seen Aug. 24, 2022. (Francis Chung/E&E News/POLITICO via AP Images)

A tax on carbon has been widely touted by economists as the most economically efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change.

But new research by Haas energy economist Severin Borenstein and Ryan Kellogg of the University of Chicago challenges that long-held orthodoxy. Policies such as clean energy standards and subsidies may be as effective—or even more effective—in the electricity sector, which is of growing importance as vehicle and building electrification become a central strategy in fighting climate change.

“We hope this research will end the mantra among some environmental economists that carbon taxes are always the best mechanism to reduce emissions—and the extreme view that a carbon tax will solve the problem entirely,” says Borenstein, a professor of the graduate school and faculty director of the Energy Institute at Haas.

The electricity sector last year accounted for nearly a third of U.S. carbon emissions, and about 61% of that electricity comes from burning fossil fuels (coal and natural gas).

As the industry responds to increasing pressure for drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, Borenstein urges thoughtfulness. “Carbon pricing is still a powerful tool, but this shows it’s important to think through the full context in which we’re doing greenhouse gas regulation,” he says.

Master Pass

Gender stereotyping of female experts

Woman doctor with patient.
Credit: sturti for iStock

In 2020, women earned 84 cents for every dollar that a male worker took home, a Pew Research Center analysis found.

Common explanations for this disparity—which is present across most industries and professions and is larger for minority women—include the perception that women are less likely than men to negotiate raises and promotions, women’s disproportionate childcare responsibilities, and stereotypes about women’s and men’s respective talents, which influence the industries they’re steered toward or from.

A new paper by Haas professors Mathijs de Vaan and Toby Stuart highlights an underexplored impact on the livelihoods of women—particularly those working in high-skilled, client-based professions—long after they’ve committed to their industry of choice. The researchers reveal that gender stereotyping can weaken clients’ perceived trust in female professionals’ core offering: their expertise.

“All high-skill, client-based markets depend on trust, because the consumer is a non-expert relative to the provider,” says Stuart. “If you hire a financial advisor, a mechanic, or a physician and you don’t trust them, what do you do with the advice they give you?” Most likely, he notes, you’ll seek a second opinion.

Drawing from the comprehensive Massachusetts All Payer Claims Database, Stuart and de Vaan examined whether physicians’ gender determined the perceived value of their expertise as measured by how often patients sought second opinions.

The majority of patients preferred seeing specialists who shared their gender, including for first-opinion visits. And both men and women were more likely to opt for second opinions if the purveyor of the first opinion was a female specialist. However, male patients were much more likely than women to seek a second expert opinion.

Male patients in particular tended to switch to male specialists for their second opinions—and since patients most often stuck with the second specialists, what naturally followed were significant disparities in billings. On a per-patient basis, female specialists generated 10.7% lower billings than their male colleagues in the year following the average patient’s first visit.

Stuart says gender stereotypes about competence may harm women with professional expertise in many fields, from finance to law to management consulting. “We hold all of these gendered beliefs about work even if we are not aware of them, and they have a way of becoming reality.”

Good Deals

Moving ESG investing forward

A sun and mountainside with an arrow delineating the side of the mountain, as if on a budget sheet.

As investors pay increasing attention to companies’ track records on environmental, social, and governance issues, trillions of dollars have flowed into the ESG investing industry.

Assets in so-called ESG funds have risen 38% globally in the past year alone, to $2.7 trillion by the end of March, according to Morningstar Direct. While Europe still dominates with 82% of the market, a burgeoning class of U.S. financial products promises investors an ROI aligned with their values.

At the same time, a backlash is growing against the sustainable investing industry, disparaged by some political and business leaders as “woke capitalism.”

In June, Associate Professor Panos Patatoukas, the faculty director of the Center for Financial Reporting and Management, brought together high-level ESG investing thinkers with wide-ranging perspectives on the direction of the industry. Berkeley Haas asked Patatoukas to synthesize some of the major discussion points.

Some argue that ESG issues cover so many variables as to be meaningless. What do you think?

I think everybody understands that environmental activities are significant, corporate governance matters, and social issues are becoming increasingly important. Where people disagree is: How do we define and verify the different types of carbon emissions? What are the corporate activities that fall under the “S” of ESG? What constitutes good or bad governance? Because there’s a disagreement of what constitutes ESG, there’s disagreement on the measurement of those dimensions.

Pooling environmental, social, and governance together into one single measure is problematic since it’s missing the granularity of the underlying data. You could think of a company with “bad” governance, with an entrenched CEO who has all the power and shareholders who lack voting power, but that same CEO might prioritize reducing the organization’s carbon footprint.

If we can agree on the definitions and measurement and we have external auditor assurance, that will completely change the field. The accounting firms can play a significant role in the transformation that’s happening and accelerate the convergence of policy, regulation, and technology that’s rewriting the ESG investing playbook.

Does removing a “brown” company from a portfolio drive change?

The goal of ESG investing is not just to make money for ESG-motivated investors but also to change companies’ behavior through engagement and divestment. One example is divesting from fossil fuel companies that have negative environmental impacts and buying “green” companies in other sectors.

But will divesting from fossil fuel companies accelerate the path to decarbonization? Where will the technology that will change our lives come from—an entirely different sector or from leading companies in this sector?

Outright divesting should be contrasted with selective divesting. Within the fossil fuel sector, there are leading companies that are innovating, investing in new technologies, and there are lagging companies that are continuing their dirty practices. An alternative would be to divest only from the laggards and reallocate this capital to the leaders. In other words, blending divestment with engagement.

What are you most optimistic about?

I think over time, we will have more transparency and more tools that will allow everyday investors to invest with their values and be more aware of what they’re investing in. And we’re going to have better data to overcome the measurement challenges, monitor corporate impact, align management incentives with long-term sustainability goals, and facilitate the allocation of capital in ideas and technologies that will drive change for good.

50 and Fabulous

The EWMBA program celebrates a trailblazing half-century

Large group of graduates in caps and gowns celebrating.

As globalization began giving American businesses a run for their money in the early 1970s, international business expert and then-Dean Richard Holton (below) began working with faculty to better train new leaders.

“Strong competition from Japanese companies started to wake people up,” says Jay Stowsky, senior assistant dean of instruction from 2008 to 2021.

Headshot of Haas Dean Richard Holton.
This led to the creation of a new kind of MBA program that would allow business leaders to earn the degree outside of their daily work schedules. In 1972, Berkeley’s business school launched its first part-time program, called the San Francisco Evening Program (SFMBA), in San Francisco. It was one of the first of its kind nationwide and the first within the UC system.

The program, now called the Berkeley Haas Evening & Weekend MBA Program, is celebrating its 50th year. It consistently ranks in the top two in the U.S. News & World Report ranking of part-time MBA programs. Recently, Haas added a Flex cohort to the program, allowing working professionals to take core courses online with the option to complete electives on campus.

“The part-time program has truly increased access to an MBA,” says Jamie Breen, assistant dean of MBA programs. “We’re looking forward to what the next 50 years will bring for the program and our students.”

The Evolution of the EWMBA Program at Haas

The San Francisco Evening Program (SFMBA) launches in downtown San Francisco in the Wells Fargo Training Center at Sansome and Clay Streets with 88 students.

The program grows to 229 students—most in their mid-20s to late 30s with five years average work experience—enrolled in 17 courses, many taught by lecturers with broad practical experience.

The SFMBA moves into bigger digs at 333 Golden Gate Avenue, owned by Hastings College of the Law. After a five-year funding debate, the University and the Regents agree to offset state funding challenges by levying a supplemental student fee, signaling the program would remain a permanent offering.

Seismic issues force another move, this time to a rented building in the UN Plaza/Civic Center area.

In response to student demand to be closer to UC Berkeley, the school moves the program to campus.

A weekend option, the brainchild of former Dean Laura Tyson, is added and the program rebranded the Evening and Weekend Program.

Haas announces a new Flex cohort, a hybrid online/in-person MBA.

Flex enrolls its first cohort with 70 students, many of them international. Overall, 36% of the EWMBA class live outside the Bay Area. Nearly 40% are women.

Mission Critical

Andy Kurtzig, BS 94, leads his Ukrainian employees amid an unrelenting war.

Standing in a long line to cross back into Slovakia from Western Ukraine last April, Andy Kurtzig, BS 94, felt his heart racing. Air raid sirens were blaring a bleak message through the night: “Take cover now, missiles on their way toward you!”

Although the heaviest fighting in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was concentrated a thousand miles away in the eastern part of the country, Russian long-range missiles had also targeted the western city of Lviv, 170 miles north of where Kurtzig waited at the border. With no place to take cover, he knew he was within range. And the Russians had reason to feel vengeful: A day prior, Ukraine had sunk the Moskva, a guided-missile cruiser considered the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

It was exactly the type of situation Kurtzig’s parents and brother feared when they first heard that the CEO, together with his wife, Sara, and their children, planned to spend spring break visiting refugee camps just outside the Ukrainian border. Kurtzig would also cross into Ukraine to distribute relief supplies. “Our family and friends thought we were crazy, especially going so soon after the war with Russia started,” says Kurtzig. Ultimately, one of his three children opted to stay in the Bay Area over safety concerns.

A man and a boy at an airport's baggage carousel standing with more than a dozen pieces of luggage.
When traveling to Ukraine, Kurtzig and his family packed numerous suitcases with body armor, drones, night-vision goggles, rangefinders, and medical supplies. They also helped supply refugee camps with groceries and other necessities after they arrived.

Russia’s invasion and its atrocities against Ukraine’s civilian population were not abstract to the Kurtzig family. Kurtzig founded JustAnswer in 2003 as an online question-and-answer forum to give users 24/7 access to professionals such as lawyers, doctors, veterinarians, and mechanics. By 2022, nearly 300 of the company’s 1,100 employees were based in the Ukrainian cities of Lviv and Uzhhorod, working in roles including user design, coding, and quality assurance. In 2019, he and Sara had pulled daughters Jamie, now 18, and Kelly, 14, and son, Kai, 12, out of school for a year to live abroad, spending their first six months in Lviv. 

“These are our friends,” Kurtzig says. “It wasn’t ever a question of, ‘Should we be doing this or not?’ It was, ‘How are we going to make this work?’”

That night at the border, Kurtzig calmed his fear by leaning on logic. “Why would they hit something this close to the Slovakian border?” he thought—an act that might invite a military response from the NATO country and its allies. Thankfully, Kurtzig was right: The closest missile strike was 50 miles away, and he finally cleared the border inspection and safely rejoined his family near Michalovce. 

Leading an organization through the rip currents of war is not part of your education unless you’ve had military training. But Kurtzig says the experience feels a lot like running a startup—and that his business background has been a useful asset. “You must be quick to understand what’s going on and how needs are changing,” he says. “You must listen constantly then react quickly and appropriately.

His successful leadership of JustAnswer during the war is a testament to the value of empathy and preparation in weathering even the most unrelenting and unpredictable of challenges. And his story is one any leader can learn from.

Kurtzig’s message to business leaders is that supporting—or even establishing—a Ukrainian workforce is more critical than ever. JustAnswer now has 302 employees in Ukraine, up from 252 when the war started, and they continue to hire.

Packing for war

Donations of food and clothing.The Kurtzig family already had a track record of successful fundraising and organizing in support of a cure for Type 1 diabetes, which daughter Jamie has. Putting those skills to work, they quickly established a fundraising effort for Ukrainian relief via their Arizae Foundation, raising almost $600,000 to date. The 501(c)(3) has funded the creation of shelters, delivered medical supplies, and equipped Lviv city officials with security cameras and Starlink devices, which provide high-speed Internet coverage where traditional connections are unstable or unavailable. Together with a group of local tech companies and universities in Ukraine and the Ukrainian military, Kurtzig is also lending support to develop an air defense system, called “Sky Project,” that’s equivalent to Israel’s “Iron Dome” to repel Russian airstrikes. 

But the family wanted to do even more. To prepare for their trip to Western Ukraine, Kurtzig began sourcing his employees’ wish list of items, to be stashed in eight checked bags for their April journey. “We packed body armor, drones, night-vision goggles, and rangefinders,” says Kurtzig. 

Where does a California tech CEO shop for war supplies, you might ask? Amazon.

After journeying to Budapest, Kurtzig and his family met with JustAnswer employee Yevhen Shyptur, who had managed to relocate there before the Ukrainian government barred men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country. A Type 1 diabetic, his status as a war refugee in Hungary meant unpredictable access to life-saving insulin. Using donated supplies, Kurtzig upgraded him to an automated insulin delivery system called an artificial pancreas—the same wireless, advanced device Jamie uses for management of blood glucose levels. 

Man holding up a body armor vest.From Budapest, the Kurtzigs traveled by rental car into Slovakia, destined for the refugee camp at Michalovce, near the border with Ukraine. Expecting camps overflowing with refugees, the Kurtzigs learned that these border sites are mainly processing centers, where refugees spend only a few days before heading to relatives or points west. Since most Ukrainian men can’t or won’t leave their home country, the camp population was almost entirely women and children. Seeing those exhausted mothers and children walking across the border with their suitcases, having already traveled over a thousand miles via various modes of transportation, brought home the war’s grim reality for Kurtzig. “And their travels weren’t done yet,” he says.

In addition to the medical and safety supplies distributed by the family in Michalovce were nearly a thousand notes of encouragement, written by American schoolchildren for their Ukrainian counterparts. “Thanks to Google Translate, a lot of them were written in Ukrainian,” says Kurtzig. “It was really heartwarming to share these positive messages of hope.” 

Following a blueprint

In any crisis, advance planning makes a difference. In the case of JustAnswer, preparations for 2022 began back in 2014, during Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution. That year, then-President Viktor Yanukovych declined to sign an agreement to ally the country more closely with the European Union, kicking off mass public protests that the pro-Russian leader met with harsh crackdowns against his own citizens. Russia sent military support into the southeastern part of Ukraine to back Yanukovych’s efforts, culminating in the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. 

It was a wakeup call for Kurtzig, “We knew back in 2014 that if Russia overtook Ukraine, we needed a backup plan,” he says. Together with another business, JustAnswer rented office space in Poland to use in case of an emergency. Even more crucial was creating a crisis preparation plan laying out the detailed steps JustAnswer would follow depending on the conflict level in the country. “The document takes us from DEFCON 1 through DEFCON 5,” says Kurtzig. 

Early steps ranged from backing up documentation to buying satellite phones and diesel generators and figuring out how to move employees to safety. If conflict increased to the next DEFCON level, JustAnswer leadership wanted a clear set of immediate actions to ensure employee safety and business continuation. 

Kurtzig says that the listening skills honed at Haas were critical to developing this blueprint for handling crises. “For example, one of our big ideas for DEFCON 5 was to pay everybody a two-month salary advance. That was how we expected to help them—who doesn’t want a salary advance, right?” says Kurtzig. “But then we asked employees for their views, and they said, ‘No, we don’t want you to send funds to our Ukrainian bank account, which Russia is hacking into constantly. And Ukrainian hryvnias are getting devalued every day.’” 

What employees wanted was for JustAnswer to pay them only 20% of their salaries, just enough to live on, and to keep the rest in U.S. dollars in a U.S. bank account, until they needed it. “It was the opposite of what we thought,” Kurtzig says. “It reminded me to listen and learn—whether from your employees or your customers.”

Five people unloading supplies for a refugee center in Ukraine.
Since the trip, the charitable organization Kurtzig and his wife founded, the Arizae Foundation, has pivoted to finance more supplies for food kitchens and refugee centers within Ukraine as well as funded the creation of a recently opened national mental health center.

Journeying into Ukraine

Soon after Kurtzig and his family reached the Slovakian refugee camp, the time came to make the safety assessment about Kurtzig traveling on alone into Ukraine. Concerns about a retaliatory response to the Moskva sinking notwithstanding, JustAnswer colleagues confirmed that bombing raids in Western Ukraine had diminished in recent days and that the air raid alerts were less frequent, so Kurtzig opted to continue. He set off at 5 a.m. with supplies, accompanied by JustAnswer’s Senior Director of International Operations Nadiya Semen who, as a woman, could still move freely in and out of Ukraine. 

Kurtzig also carried with him a letter secured with the help of employees who’d volunteered or been drafted into the Ukrainian army to alleviate any skepticism about his intent. The impressive document, sent by the Commander of the 24th Mechanized Brigade and printed on cardstock overlaid with images of rolling tanks, attested to Kurtzig’s good intentions. 

“The border agents needed to make sure I wasn’t a Russian spy bringing these things in for nefarious purposes,” says Kurtzig. “My U.S. passport would look suspicious, since they don’t see many Americans going into Ukraine.” After three hours, he was cleared to enter the country. 

Kurtzig and Semen then headed to the JustAnswer office in Uzhhorod, 25 miles away, closely monitoring the news for missile strikes. While the countryside looked mostly the same, Kurtzig was struck by the crowds of refugees that had swelled the city of 115,000 by an estimated third.  

When they arrived at the office, they were greeted by 50 employees. “It was overwhelming,” says Kurtzig, recounting the many times the pandemic had unraveled his plans to return. “There were tears, there was joy, and I was just delighted to see and hug everyone for the first time since 2019.” Meanwhile, the JustAnswer team sorted the supplies for distribution to a diabetes center, to medical clinics, and to their military connections.  

That afternoon, Kurtzig convened a virtual Q&A session to connect and hear stories from all his Ukrainian employees. One, a former paramedic who had volunteered on the front lines in the east, talked about needing tourniquets. “She didn’t have enough to treat all the limbs lost by Ukrainian fighters,” Kurtzig says. The atrocities have been well documented in Western media, but listening to his employees describe firsthand the violence by Russian aggressors brought more tears. “Imagine living that way. It’s just stress, every day,” he says. “Your life might be over 30 seconds from now.”

The last stop of Kurtzig’s visit was a refugee camp in the city center of Uzhhorod, to distribute a truckload of groceries and other supplies purchased locally. Unlike the border camp, the urban refugee center was overflowing. “It’s largely men and the women and children who didn’t want to leave their husbands or fathers behind,” Kurtzig says. “They’re stuck in Western Ukrainian cities and have been for months.” 

Woman waving from her table at a refugee camp for Ukrainians. A child sits beside her.
A refugee camp at Michalovce, Slovakia, near the Ukraine border that Andy Kurtzig, BS 94, and his family visited. Since most Ukrainian men can’t or won’t leave, the camp population was almost entirely women and children.

Since the trip, the Arizae Foundation has pivoted to finance more supplies for food kitchens and refugee centers within Ukraine, as well as funded the creation of a just-opened national mental health center that provides free therapy and counseling treatment for Ukrainian citizens and soldiers suffering from PTSD and other stress- and trauma-related conditions. 

Kurtzig returned to the city of Lviv this fall to help unveil the center with the mayor and other key officials. During this trip, he also brought 11 drones JustAnswer is donating to the war effort, commemorating the number of years the company has had a presence in the country. In addition, JustAnswer and Arizae are making a sizable donation to a program that’s establishing a training school for drone pilots, a measure designed to reduce error and loss of these expensive and vital devices by Ukraine troops.

“The border agents needed to make sure I wasn’t a Russian spy bringing these things in for nefarious purposes. My U.S. passport would look suspicious, since they don’t see many Americans going into Ukraine.”

Providing support

Back in 2020, an estimated one in five Fortune 500 companies had remote development teams working out of Ukraine, taking advantage of the country’s highly skilled workforce. Kurtzig’s message to business leaders is that supporting—or even establishing—a Ukrainian workforce is more critical than ever. JustAnswer now has 302 employees in Ukraine, up from 252 when the war started, and they continue to hire.

“Economies win wars,” Kurtzig says. “Israel is a good example; they’ve built up their economy, and it has funded their ability to defend themselves from surrounding countries.” 

Russia can outspend Ukraine militarily, but with a strong domestic economy propelling them, Ukraine’s odds of defeating the invasion increase. JustAnswer employees are doing their part to shore up the Ukrainian economy by prepaying and double-paying taxes and overpaying utility bills to help keep those services afloat.

As for Kurtzig, his pledge to his employees is simple: “We’re committed to Ukraine and to our people,” he says. “We’re not going to exit Ukraine. Full stop.” Having witnessed the resilience of his team and of the Ukrainian people, Kurtzig adds, “It’s not a question of whether they will win the war with Russia, but when. They will fight to the death for Ukraine’s independence.” 


Degree of Freedom

With the biggest gift in Haas’ history, real estate legend Ned Spieker, BS 66, has transformed the undergraduate experience for generations to come.

By the time Warren “Ned” Spieker Jr., BS 66, reached his senior year at Cal, he was eager to start his post-collegiate life. He had already met his future wife, Carol Sweeney, and together they were planning their future. Though he could have stayed on another year to earn an MBA—then a one-year program for business undergrads—he felt prepared by his undergraduate business degree. “I felt that I’d had enough basic foundation,” he says. “I was very motivated to get into the business world.”

That’s when fate intervened with a job offer. As president of a nearly broke fraternity, Spieker cold-called organizations to see if they’d be interested in renting the house over the summer. He hit paydirt with a newly formed government organization called the Peace Corps that was willing not only to rent out the house, but also to hire some of his fraternity brothers to clean and serve food and to pay Spieker an administrative salary on the side. “It was a win-win all around,” he says.

The biggest coup for Spieker, however, was when an alum who headed Hawaii-based real estate firm Dillingham Corporation heard about the clever enterprise and called Spieker to ask if he’d considered a career in the industry. He hadn’t, but he didn’t let the alum know that. “At the time, I didn’t understand what real estate was,” Spieker confesses, “but I faked it, and long story short, I got a job.” In reality, Spieker had a real talent for business, which allowed him to launch into a promising career straight from his undergrad days at Berkeley’s School of Business Administration—as the Haas School of Business was formerly known.

Three students with laptops sitting together.
Ashana Makhija, BS 24 (bioengineering); Sophia Cocking, BS 23; and Garrett Chau, BS 24, studying in Haas’ Chou Hall.

Since then Spieker, who was Haas’ Business Leader of the Year in 1998, has become one of the most successful real estate entrepreneurs in the country, eventually building his company Spieker Properties into a real estate investment trust with 42 million square feet of commercial property across the West and a sales price of $7.2 billion by the time he sold it in 2001. He now owns Spieker Senior Development Partners, which has developed over a dozen continuing-care retirement communities and healthcare centers for seniors across California. But he’s never forgotten the excellent preparation that his undergraduate education at Cal’s business school gave him for his career.  

Recently, Spieker and his wife, Carol, BA 66 (political science), gave the single largest gift in the school’s history—$30 million—to expand the undergraduate business program from two years to four. The donation will transform the undergraduate experience for business students by providing more opportunities for leadership development, networking, and co-curricular activities as well as state-of-the-art technology upgrades to classrooms in Cheit Hall. The gift will also create the Spieker Scholars Program to recognize outstanding students and enhance scholarship support and outreach efforts to students from all backgrounds. Enrolling its first cohort in fall 2024, the program will be named the Spieker Undergraduate Business Program in their honor.

Spieker is passionate about the value of an undergraduate business degree as a launching pad to gain on-the-job experience. “When time is so valuable, I wanted to try and make it as efficient as possible for young business students to get out into the world,” Spieker says, “and to give hundreds more students at Cal the opportunity to jumpstart their careers in a meaningful way.”

Easing the pressure

Emma Hayes Daftary, assistant dean of undergraduate programs at Haas, considers the gift an unprecedented opportunity. Currently, students interested in business spend their first two years at Berkeley preparing to apply to Haas for their junior year—and enrollment is by no means guaranteed. Just 33% of applicants are accepted into the program. “There’s a tremendous amount of pressure, as they are laser-focused on completing the prerequisites and getting into the program,” Hayes Daftary says. Once accepted, the pressure then switches to making the most of the two years they have, to take the required courses and land the ideal internship to launch them into their preferred career. “They feel this sense of urgency that they have only two years; they have to make the most of every opportunity. This urgency can exacerbate a drive to compete against their classmates and gets in the way of students practicing authentic collaboration and effective team-building before they start their careers.” 

With the four-year program, she hopes that students feel a part of the Haas community from the moment they step onto campus, creating more camaraderie among the cohort. “More time in the program will allow our students to create deeper connections with each other and with the larger Haas community. We have amazing students and alumni. We want our students to better understand the power of connecting with their fellow students and our alumni community and to make strategic connections that will guide their academic and career choices.”

Adding to the necessity, many firms are now hiring for summer internships before Berkeley students even know if they are accepted into Haas. Stephen Etter, BS 83, MBA 89, a founding partner at Greyrock Capital Group and longtime lecturer in finance at Haas, says the uncertainty surrounding the business major could be driving prospective students away from the school altogether. “Many top high school students are going to other high-ranking undergraduate programs around the country where they are assured admission as freshmen,” he says.

“When time is so valuable, I wanted to try and make it as efficient as possible for young business students to get out into the world and to give hundreds more students at Cal the opportunity to jumpstart their careers in a meaningful way.”

Ned Spieker, BS 66

Etter, who has served on the Haas School Board and as a UC Berkeley Foundation trustee, made a personal investment in the new undergraduate program, specifically dedicated to recruiting candidates from underrepresented communities. “The only way we’re going to have diverse senior leadership in American businesses is if we are producing a diverse set of graduates,” says Etter. “Ideally we would have a student body reflective of society.”

Learning balance

Providing opportunities to high-performing students who may be facing financial difficulties is an important part of the Spieker Undergraduate Business Program. Spieker himself faced his own challenges affording his education. The son of a used-car dealer, Spieker grew up in Atherton before it became part of Silicon Valley. He and his father didn’t always see eye-to-eye, and his parents refused to pay for his college. Spieker worked multiple jobs—as a swimming coach, recreational club manager, and delivery person—in addition to keeping up his grades, playing on the water polo team, and helping run his fraternity. 

Juggling so many responsibilities taught him the self-discipline that has been the hallmark of his business career.  “I learned balance,” he says. “Not just in real estate but in life. I set goals, and I try to achieve them. I think that’s the key to doing really well.”

That sense of balance also applies to his family life. As he and Carol were starting their family, Spieker took a job with the Texas-based Trammell Crow Company, one of the foremost real estate firms in the country. Spieker ran the company’s West Coast operation but insisted that he only develop real estate projects in places that he could fly to and back from during the day, so he could return home to his family by dinner—even if he had to leave at 4 a.m. to get back by 7 p.m. “To have a wife of 55 years and four children and 15 grandchildren is my greatest accomplishment,” Spieker says. “It’s all about setting priorities, and my priority has always been my wife and children.” 

“More time in the program will allow our students to create deeper connections with each other and with the larger Haas community ….We want our students to…make strategic connections that will guide their academic and career choices.”

Emma Hayes Daftary

The new gift isn’t the only way in which Spieker has brought positive change to Haas. In addition to serving on the Haas School Board, he’s also been an active member of the policy advisory board for the Fisher Center for Real Estate & Urban Economics, regularly speaking on campus and mentoring students. The Spiekers’ philanthropic support is evident across campus, recently helping build Haas’ Chou Hall. Spieker Forum, on the building’s top floor, is named for the couple. Spieker actually served as an advisor to the project, helping convince the administration to expand the original plans to maximize the footprint while also reducing costs in design and construction. 

Expanding and Innovating

Haas had been looking to expand the undergraduate program for over a decade, as students and alumni have expressed a desire for a longer curriculum and as peer business schools such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, New York University’s Stern School, and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business offer four-year programs. The first steps came with the 2017 launch of the Management, Entrepreneurship, & Technology (M.E.T.) Program, which allows students to earn both business and engineering degrees in four years. 

“It stood out to us as obvious that Berkeley was a place where students should know they could be entrepreneurs,” says Erika Walker, Haas’ senior assistant dean of instruction and former head of the undergraduate program. “With a top business program and a top engineering program, it just made sense to marry the two.”

Woman and man talking animatedly.
When Dean Ann Harrison approached Ned Spieker, BS 66, about funding the undergraduate program’s transformation, Spieker responded enthusiastically from the beginning.

Students responded enthusiastically to the M.E.T. program, relishing the ability to take business courses their first year as they simultaneously learned to engineer products and services. Building on that success, the following year Berkeley welcomed the first cohort for a new Global Management Program (GMP), a four-year, international business program that kicks off with a semester in London followed by training in management, culture, and language and a later optional semester abroad. Students earn a BS with a concentration in global management—the only concentration offered in the business major. Other recent innovations at Haas include the two-year (soon to be four-year) Robinson Life Science, Business, and Entrepreneurship program, which allows students to simultaneously earn a degree in business and molecular and cell biology, and the Summer Minor in Sustainable Business and Policy, a collaboration with the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics focused on green business development. 

While all of these programs expanded opportunities for students, they serve a relatively small number of undergraduates. Given Spieker’s generous past support of Haas and his own positive experience with the undergrad program, Dean Ann Harrison approached him about funding the undergraduate program’s transformation. Spieker responded enthusiastically from the beginning. “Ned has been such a valued thought partner and supporter to me and to deans before me,” Harrison says. ”We are so thrilled that he and Carol have made a commitment to Haas toward building the next generation of business leaders.”

The $30 million gift will support a range of new programs, services, and scholarships. The aforementioned Spieker Scholars Program will cover tuition and housing for up to four students each year, providing them with a stipend for professional development, to attend conferences or to seed a business idea. Additionally, the gift will fund scholarships that will go toward decreasing students’ unmet financial need—the amount that students have to borrow and pay back—in order to decrease financial barriers for incoming students. The gift will also help improve the student experience with co-curricular programs to integrate students into the Haas community, set them up for academic success, and develop their leadership skills. Students will explore career pathways through strategic networking and internships. 

The technology improvements to Cheit Hall classrooms will be comparable to those in the recently built Chou Hall, with audio-visual components for virtual and hybrid teaching. The school is discussing the development of a new capstone program, which will connect undergrad business majors with a Bay Area nonprofit to use their skills to consult on a real-world project with community impact. “It’s one of the things I am most excited about,” says Hayes Daftary. “No matter what sector our students go on to work in, we really want them to recognize that what they’re learning here will continue to make a positive social impact. Going beyond yourself is one of Haas’ core values, and we want to include experiential learning opportunities in the curriculum that allow students to practice this.”

As students strive toward that goal, they’ll be guided by the example of Ned Spieker: A leader who both achieved enormous success in his field and created opportunities for others to succeed as well. 

Outside of the Box

Stay on top of your business game with the latest from Haas classrooms.

Whether you graduated five years or 25 years ago, business and leadership are evolving fields, and classes at Berkeley Haas are constantly updated or created to address the skills and knowledge needed in today’s workplaces. Here, we bring you insights from some of our newest MBA classes with resources for staying on top of the trends.

Leading Diverse Teams

Two sides of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich smiling at one another.Business Communication in Diverse Work Environments, a new core class taught by a team of Haas professors, offers a variety of expertise. New Assistant Professor Sa-kiera Tiarra Jolynn Hudson, who will begin teaching the course this spring, says the class aims to provide the tools to analyze, reason, and acknowledge other perspectives, so leaders can problem-solve identity dynamics within their own organizations. “A person might notice that only a select few in their group are speaking up,” she says. “Before immediately assuming a lack of competence, we hope for people to first analyze the power dynamics within the group related to gender, race, political orientation, etc.” Here are three pieces of advice from the class.

We are all capable of changing our biases once we understand how they affect our judgment, decisions, and behavior at work.

End groupthink
This requires a change of mindset from knowing what you’re going to say in a meeting to beginning with an open mind and asking questions. To show students the irrational side of groupthink, Professor Laura Kray runs a hiring simulation, asking students to consider three female job candidates. Kray found that students usually pick an inferior candidate because the group focuses on one thing they agree on, such as where the candidate went to school, and ignores the negative information about that candidate. “You spend the majority of your meeting talking about what you already know,” Kray says. “It’s a phenomenon that happens in groups and you have to be systematic to overcome it.”

Consider inequalities inside—and outside—of organizations
Professor Sameer Srivastava stresses the power that people have to dismantle structural barriers in the workplace and in the communities where they work. He teaches a case study of West Side United (—a consortium of hospitals in Chicago that’s trying to address the stark gap in life expectancies among residents in the city’s different neighborhoods by working closely with community leaders.

Understand implicit bias
Implicit bias applies to the assumptions we make about people based on race, ethnicity, age, gender, LGBTQ+ identity, and ability. We are all capable of changing our biases once we understand how they affect our judgment, decisions, and behavior at work, says Assoc. Prof. Dana Carney. “We’re in a new time where people might not look like what they identify as,” she says. “When you don’t know, ask.”

Business as climate change mitigator

A polar bear on an iceberg that's melting in an office water cooler.You don’t need to be in a sustainability-focused role to make changes that are meaningful to the planet, says Lecturer Chris Jones, director of the CoolClimate Network, a university-government-industry-NGO collaboration at Berkeley. In his Carbon Footprint Analysis for Innovation class, Jones provides tools that can be used by people working in strategy, investor relations, corporate accounting, or marketing and communications.

“We need to work in all of our spheres of influence—from work to the community to household emissions,” he said. “How do you use your own potential to create something new?”

Jones stresses “marginal contributions” that add up. For example, one of his students who works at a big tech company that relies on scores of servers proposed an idea to reduce server load by identifying a uniform way to consolidate repetitive computer code to make servers run more efficiently. Another student working at a fossil fuel company suggested using more lubricant for the company’s machines to reduce overall energy use.

Caterpiller attached to circuit board lines turning into a butterfly.The Data Insurgence

Understanding data used to be for quants. Today, it’s critical to most every job, says Assoc. Prof. Jonathan Kolstad, who designed his MBA core class, Data Analytics, to make information understandable to business students. He offers the following tips for staying ahead of the game.

Cut through the AI hype
Dive deeper into machine learning and artificial intelligence to learn where it works and when it’s useful.

Conduct natural experiments at work
Kolstad calls these “the workhorse tools of a data-driven organization.” These experiments can be used in real time to understand how changing products, pricing, or other variables will impact profits.

Consider learning either the Python or R programming language
Used for statistical computing and graphics, both aid understanding of and using data and can be learned in many online classes, Kolstad says.

“I’m coaching people to sharpen, curate, and focus their information so an audience can act on their message.”

Persuasive Communication

Woman pointing to a chart. Her left arm is a large green check mark.Continuing Lecturer Alison Bloomfield Meyer’s new core class Data-Driven Communication takes data to a new level by teaching students how to clearly make their point in every speech, meeting, pitch, interview, or event. “I’m coaching people to sharpen, curate, and focus their information so an audience can act on their message,” Meyer says. She encourages students to follow her three-pronged framework to develop skills:

One of the most common leadership performance mistakes is insufficient preparation, Meyer says. This leads to working too hard during the presentation, which leads to reduced performance. Consider asking a trusted manager or peer for feedback before giving a presentation. Also consider in your planning what your audience cares about and how to visualize your points to get your ideas noticed.

As you prepare, consider the following questions: How do you adapt when things go wrong during a presentation? How do engage with your audience and tune in to how they’re reacting to your performance? How do you manage your own nerves when the stakes are high? Meyer recommends keeping a daily journal to articulate thoughts about presentations and determine what areas need work.

After a presentation, take time to learn from the experience using both self-reflection and feedback from others, Meyer says. Look back at what happened, explore what was meaningful, and decide what you will do differently next time.

Faculty Member John W. O’Brien

Financial innovator and MFE founder

Headshot of John W. O'Brien.

Finance industry innovator John W. O’Brien, 85, who co-created and taught in the Haas School’s Master of Financial Engineering Program for 16 years, died October 14 after a battle with cancer.

He launched O’Brien Associates and created the O’Brien 5000 Total Market Index (later the Wilshire 5000) in 1974. After connecting with Haas professors Hayne Leland and Mark Rubinstein in 1981, he became chief executive of Leland O’Brien & Rubinstein, which pioneered dynamic hedging through portfolio insurance. In 1992, O’Brien helped launch LOR’s “SuperTrust,” which was the first exchange-traded fund.

In 2000, O’Brien created the MFE Program—the first of its kind at a business school—with former Executive Director Linda Kreitzman. As an adjunct professor, he taught his Financial Innovation course to MFE students until 2015.

Kreitzman says launching the MFE program would not have been possible without O’Brien. “John was a force of nature—charismatic, brilliant, and innovative as he developed market-revolutionary securities.”

Prof. Emeritus John G. Myers

Marketing expert

Headshot of John G. Myers.

Professor Emeritus John G. Myers, 89, an expert in the science of consumer behavior, died on Oct. 14 in Oakland, Calif.

Myers, who joined Berkeley’s business school in 1964, was one of the early trained behavioral scientists in marketing studies. Among his areas of research were promotional incentives, e-commerce consumer behavior, and consumer indecision, as well as the management of brands and trademarks in Russia.

His fascination with the factors that affect people’s choices—and how to use evolving technologies to define, measure, and analyze those factors—drove his many scholarly pursuits and, ultimately, his leadership at Haas. In the 1980s, he served as associate dean of academic affairs, of curriculum, and of the graduate school. He chaired the Marketing and International Business Group from 1974 to 1977 and was director of the PhD program from 1982 to 1985.

Donations in his memory may be made to the John and Arlyn Myers Marketing Award. Visit and note “in honor of John Myers.” Read his full obituary.

Grant Muir Inman, MBA 69

Berkeley emeritus trustee, VC pioneer

Headshot of Grant Muir Inman.

Grant Muir Inman, 80, a visionary leader and philanthropist, died at home in Orinda, Calif. in June.

After earning his Berkeley MBA, Inman blazed trails in the world of venture capital. Early on, he was a general partner of many VC firms, including Hambrecht & Quist, before co-founding Orinda-based VC firm Inman & Bowman in 1985. He then went on to found Inman Investment Management where he worked until his death.

Inman left an indelible mark on the Cal community, including serving on the Haas School Board and chairing the UC Berkeley Foundation’s Investment Committee, where he helped ensure the university’s long-term financial stability. In recognition of his extraordinary contributions, UCBF honored Inman with both the Wheeler Oak Meritorious Award for leadership in fundraising and its most prestigious honor, the Chancellor’s Award.

Inman also generously donated to numerous schools and programs on campus, including Haas, the College of Engineering, and Cal Athletics. He was named, along with his wife of 56 years, Suanne, a Builder of Berkeley.


Giles Cropsey, BS 34, MS 36
Carolee Todd, BS 45
Richard Brooding, BS 49
Frank Anderson, BS 50
Donald Schroyer, BS 50
Babette Barton, BS 51
Richard Lewis, BS 51
Edward Presten, BS 52
Reid Johnson, BS 53
Herman Trutner, BS 53
Donald Timmerman, BS 54
Howard Wiggins, BS 54
Sheldon Wolfe, BS 55
Michael Hughes, BS 56
Walter Schaetz, MBA 56
Donald Foster, BS 58
Laurence Kay, BS 58
Sam Saghera, BS 58
Gordon Huber, BS 60
Richard Hungate, MBA 61
John Boyl, BS 62
Richard Lieser, MBA 63
William James, MBA 65
Jeanne Yeh, BS 67
Richard Beacham, MBA 68
Gerald Vaught, MBA 72
Melvin Burruss, BS 73
Ray Reynolds, BS 74
Mitchell Lee, BS 75
David Bowen, PhD 76
Jennie Hoopes, BS 80
John Obana, BS 81
David Makofsky, MBA 81
Grace Spiridon, BCEMBA 12
Daniel Freitas, Friend

Lisle W. Payne, MBA 67

Real estate executive, philanthropist

Headshot of Lisle W. Payne.

Lisle W. Payne, 80, beloved husband, father, mentor, coach, and businessman, passed away on October 12 at Stanford Hospital after a seven-week battle against a rare blood cancer and disorders.

After earning his MBA at Berkeley, Payne pursued a successful career in real estate, including founding the Fox Group, which he led as CEO.

He demonstrated leadership in the industry at the national, state, and local levels as a member of the board of directors for the Real Estate Securities and Syndication Institute, chair of the board of directors for the California Housing Council, and a member of the real estate investment committee to the Corporations Commission of California.

He taught for several years at Haas, and he and his wife, Roslyn, were generous donors to Berkeley and to Haas, especially to the Fisher Center for Real Estate & Urban Economics.

Together they endowed the Lisle and Roslyn Payne Chair in Real Estate and Capital Markets and were named Builders of Berkeley. He was also a trustee on the UC Berkeley Foundation.

Wendy Nguyen, BS 02
Co-Organizer, Stand with Asian Americans; CMO, Section4

Wendy Nguyen.Wendy Nguyen, a first-generation Vietnamese American, was raised to give back to society. So when presented an opportunity to speak up against assaults on Asian Americans, she didn’t hesitate.

It was March 2021 and eight people, including six Asian women, had been murdered by a gunman in Atlanta. “The killings were a breaking point for the community,” Nguyen says. 

Soon after, entrepreneurs Dave Lu and Justin Zhu sought her advice on how to promote a pledge they were writing to stop Asian American Pacific Islander hate crimes. Nguyen had been in marketing for some 14 years in the areas of social advocacy and health. How, they asked her, could they bring attention to protecting and supporting members of the AAPI community? 

“We have to publish it in the Wall Street Journal,” Nguyen told them. 

The pledge was published on March 31. “We thought if we could get 300 people to sign this letter, we would have done well,” Nguyen says.

More than 8,000 people signed, from Door Dash drivers to former President George W. Bush. It was the start of Stand with Asian Americans.

Since then, SwAA has raised over $1 million and made grants to more than eight nonprofits. One recipient held a contest to design the best AAPI hate-crime tracker. Another developed a youth program to register and drive voter turnout among the AAPI population.

“We are recruiting and inspiring the next generation of Asian American activists,” says Nguyen. “Activism can happen anywhere: home, workplace, streets. We want to be an outlet for anyone looking to contribute.”  

Shock and Awe

The pandemic’s effect on innovation

In 2014, when Jerome Engel and colleagues presented a framework to describe innovation communities in Global Clusters of Innovation, the world was different. Now Engel has refined that framework with Clusters of Innovation in the Age of Disruption, a collection of essays from business leaders and teachers. Berkeley Haas asked Engel, the founding executive director emeritus of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship (now the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program), about his new findings.

Clusters of Innovation in the Age of Disruption Book CoverWhat inspired this book?

In my first book, we demonstrated how innovative technology companies tend to emerge in clusters in certain regions—and we questioned what drives that process. The world has since entered a period of severe economic, cultural, and environmental disruption due to an ongoing series of shocks. We wanted to investigate what was happening in these innovative communities and whether they demonstrate enhanced resilience. We found that the answer was yes. Clusters of Innovation have entrepreneurial agility that enhances their resilience to external shocks, contributing significant social and economic value to society.

How do they do this?

Through innovation, which I define as the positive response to change. Truly innovative tech trends are often pursued by venture capital-backed entrepreneurial firms. Their market entry strategy is often to approach niche markets, which provide a beachhead opportunity because incumbent firms are not serving their needs exactly. Many of the entrepreneurial firms that blossomed during the pandemic had been in place for years, refining their technology and products. This allowed them to quickly provide solutions when the shock occurred.

Can you provide an example?

Zoom, which displaced slower-moving incumbents to (seemingly overnight) revolutionize business, personal, and educational communications. Its quick mass adoption revolved around product-led growth, an evolution of the freemium model emphasizing ease of user adoption (no logins, no hassle). This allowed the rapid behavior change that enabled a greater collective agility—a greater resilience.