Startup KwikKart nabs first prize at LAUNCH Demo Day

Two white male students with crossed arms. t-shirts rad Kwik Kart
KwikKart, co-founded by Aaron Gyure, BS 20, and Sean Houlihan, BA 20, won first place at LAUNCH Demo Day.

Three Berkeley Haas startups nabbed top honors at Demo Day for LAUNCH, the University of California’s accelerator for early stage startups.

The event, organized by Haas and UC Berkeley students and sponsored by the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program (BHEP), was held online on Friday, Jan. 14.

KwikKart, a smart cart that allows customers to scan and purchase items from a smartphone while shopping, took first place; The Blue Box, an at-home urine test that can detect breast cancer, placed second; and PWR WMN, a women’s blazer company, nabbed third. Cleo, a THC and CBD gummy startup, won Audience Choice. 

Eight out of the 14 teams that completed the three month accelerator program made it to the finals, where they pitched to VCs and angel investors. LAUNCH, now its 7th year as an accelerator, aims to transform early-stage startups into fundable companies.

Rhonda Shrader, executive director of BHEP, which oversees LAUNCH, said this fall’s cohort was exceptionally diverse, with eight underrepresented founders and 11 women founders. “Every year our cohorts get more diverse and reflect more diverse thinking around solving the world’s biggest challenges,” she said.

KwikKart, co-founded by Aaron Gyure, BS 20, and Sean Houlihan, BS 20 (electrical engineering and computer science), netted $25,000 in prize money; PWR WMN, led by two Texas A&M University grads and Ana Martinez, EWMBA 23, won $10,000; and Cleo, co-founded by Haas students Andrea Berrios and Spencer Perron, both MBA 22, landed $5,000 in prize money. The Blue Box, led by UC Irvine grad Judit Giro, won $15,000.

Each year, more than 200 startup teams, which must include one UC-affiliated member, apply for a coveted spot in the accelerator. During the program, teams get to test their products with customers, connect with industry experts, receive guidance from Haas mentors, and get the chance to pitch to investors on Demo Day. 

LAUNCH has helped build more than 150 companies, including Haas’ first unicorn, Xendit, co-founded by Moses Lo, MBA 15. Lo, who joined Demo Day for a Q&A, spoke about his entrepreneurial successes and challenges.

LAUNCH Demo Day is now available to stream via YouTube.

Why you may be cheating yourself out of deeper social connections

Intentionally blurred image shows a fast-moving crowd of commuters with two people standing in the middle
Photo credit: Gremlin for iStock/Getty Images

Former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy named loneliness as the most significant preventable disease in the country. And the pandemic-driven mental health crisis has underscored the consequences of social isolation.

Yet in everyday life, most of us make a habit of cutting off conversations with new acquaintance after a few minutes of polite chatter—whether it’s on an airplane, at a conference, or at a cocktail party.

This tendency to cut things short not only runs counter to our own best interests, but it’s based on fundamentally mistaken beliefs about conversation and relationships, according to a new study co-authored by Juliana Schroeder, a Berkeley Haas associate professor and Harold Furst Chair in Management Philosophy and Values.  The study is forthcoming in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“All close friendships begin with a conversation between strangers,” said Schroeder. “The more you talk with someone, the more you know about them, and the more you potentially have to talk about.”

Yet that’s the exact opposite of people’s intuition: Most people are convinced that they will run out of things to say pretty quickly, so they end the conversation before it runs dry, the study found.

Strangers on a train

As a social psychologist, Schroeder has long studied the power of social connections—even of the most casual sort. In a 2014 study, she and co-author Nicholas Epley of Chicago Booth corralled commuters into striking up conversations with those seated near them on buses and trains. Despite telling the researchers they thought they’d be happier keeping to themselves, those who chatted with a stranger said they had a more enjoyable commute than those who were asked to stay disengaged or commute as normal. (In an effort to combat polarization and isolation, the BBC later implemented the idea on the London Tube, creating designated chat cars stocked with conversation-starter cards.)

This time, Schroeder and co-authors Ed O’Brian, an associate professor at Chicago Booth, and Michael Kardas, a post-doctoral fellow at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, looked at how people feel during conversations with strangers, and why people disengage so quickly. In five experiments with about 1,000 participants matched with random conversation partners, they found that most people predicted that their chats would get less enjoyable over time. They did not—when the researchers measured people’s self-reported emotional experiences over the course of their conversations, they found that their enjoyment held steady, and for many people it increased over time.

“We found people mis-predicted the trajectory of the experience of conversation,” Schroeder said. “If you listen to the same song over and over again or do the same activity over and over again, your enjoyment might go down. But it’s not the same with conversation, which can go in so many different directions.”

Breadth over depth

In one experiment, people preferred to switch conversation partners each time they were given a chance, rather than sticking with one partner. But switching around didn’t increase their enjoyment, the researchers found.

“People seem to prioritize breadth over depth,” Schroeder said. “Instead of investing in the same person, they opt to switch—which to me means people are missing a fundamental feature of relationship building.”

Fear of having nothing to talk about

What was most surprising to Schroeder was her findings about why people cut things short. It wasn’t driven by awkwardness or other factors, but rather by people’s worries that they would run out of things to talk about, they found over multiple experiments.

In perhaps the most compelling experiment in the paper, participants were given the choice between sitting alone in silence—without their phones, internet, or other distractions—or chatting with another person for 30-minute session. Most chose to spend the better part of the session in silence. They reported less enjoyment than the pairs who were forced to keep talking for the full 30 minutes. In other words, those who were required to talk actually had a better experience than the people who freely chose how to spend their time.

“There are so many good reasons to be socially engaged for people’s physical and mental health,” said Schroeder. “Yet we find in many contexts that people tend to be less social than is optimal for their well-being.”

Exploring the psychology of why people choose to disconnect from others is an important area for future research, she said.

The study:

“Keep talking: (Mis)understanding the hedonic trajectory of conversation.”
By Michael Kardas, Juliana Schroeder, and Ed O’Brien
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming – advance online publication 2021)

Study: What if you knew how much your boss makes?

A hand holds up a bundle of dollars while many other hands do the same in the background
Credit: RapidEye for iStock/Getty Images

More states are requiring employers to disclose information about their workers’ salaries with the hope it will reduce gender and racial pay gaps. But increasing pay transparency can also have some surprising impacts on worker productivity, according to a new large-scale study that is the first to examine how employees respond when they find out how much both their peers and bosses make.

The study, co-authored by Assoc. Prof. Ricardo Perez-Truglia, asked over 2,000 employees at a large commercial bank in Southeast Asia to guess their peers’ and managers’ salaries, then monitored their work habits after they were given the salary information. The main findings: Employees became less productive when they discovered their peers were making more money than they thought, but they worked harder when they discovered their bosses were earning more than they estimated.

“It was not uncommon for employees to find out that some of their bosses got paid three, four, five times as much as they do, sometimes 20 times as much,” said Perez-Truglia, whose study is forthcoming in the Journal of Political Economy. “What shocked us was that when you compared yourself to your peers, small pay differences demotivate you. But when you find out your bosses make an obscene amount more than you make, you don’t care. If anything, you become more productive.”

The productivity boost was strongest for manager positions that were just a few promotions away from an employee’s current job, but the effect faded when it came to high-level, unattainable positions. This suggests workers believe, “If I work hard and get promoted, I will get paid an obscene amount myself,” Perez-Truglia said.

He and co-author Zoë Cullen of Harvard Business School also found that employees were better at guessing peer pay than manager pay. Employees also wanted the company to release more salary information—as long as it wasn’t their own.

The researchers did not study pay disparities by race or gender, but said their evidence relates to the growing debate on pay transparency laws. “There is a widespread view that forcing firms to be more transparent would reduce pay inequality,” they wrote. “Our findings suggest that these policies may be effective, but in a narrow sense: While transparency may pressure firms to reduce horizontal inequality (between peers), employees are unlikely to exert the same pressure to reduce vertical inequality (between employees and managers), which constitutes the bulk of pay inequality.”

The experiment

The research was conducted at an unidentified Southeast Asian bank in 2017, when Cullen was working there as chief economist. The researchers asked employees to guess the average base salaries of their managers and peers. Then, they conducted an experiment: half of the subjects, selected at random, would get to see an estimate of how much their peers or managers actually get paid.

The researchers then measured the behavior of these employees for 90 days after they saw, or did not see, what others were making. They found that employees worked harder–spending more hours at work, sending more emails from their company account and making more sales—when they found out their managers earned more than they thought. But those who found out their peers made more than they had estimated slacked off.

For example, they estimated that a 10% increase in manager salary over what employees had guessed increased the average hours employees worked by 1.5%, while a 10% increase in peer salary over what employees had guessed reduced the hours they worked by 9.4%.

The end of the survey included questions related to employee morale, such as job and pay satisfaction, and attitudes toward pay inequality. “When we tell them their peers get paid more, they say inequality is an issue. But when we tell them their bosses get paid more, they say they don’t care,” Perez-Truglia said.

On average, employees underestimated their bosses’ salaries by about 14%, but when it came to their peers’ pay, about half guessed too high and half guessed too low.

Would companies benefit?

Finding out how much peers earn “would positively affect some people and negatively affect some people,” with the net result for the company being about zero. “They cancel each other out,” Perez-Truglia said. Disclosing manager pay, however, would have a small positive impact on productivity.

On balance, the researchers concluded that companies and their employees could benefit from greater pay transparency.

Their results are consistent with previous research that found employees become demotivated when they find out their peers make more than they do. A 2012 study of University of California employees by UC Berkeley economists David Card, Emmanuel Saez, and Enrico Moretti along with Alexandre Mas of Princeton University showed that employees who found out they were earning less than the median for their unit were less satisfied with their job and more likely to look for a new one, while above-median earners were unaffected.

This new study is the first to look at the impact on employees who discover their boss’ pay, Perez-Truglia said.

He and Cullen also found that employees were hungry for salary information, and many were willing to “pay” for it. In the experiment, some employees gave up a chance to win almost $200 to see their boss’ or peers’ salaries. Employees may feel they need pay information “to decide whether to work harder to get promoted, or to use it as a bargaining chip in future salary negotiations,” they wrote.

Separately, in response to two survey questions, 65% of the employees said they would like their company to disclose to all employees the same type of average pay data provided in the experiment. However, 75% opposed disclosing everyone’s exact salary. “One plausible interpretation,” the authors wrote, “is that while employees value the salary information a lot, they may value their privacy even more.”

 

“Collaboration is the key word:” Venture capital’s rise at Haas

Stanford and Haas students came together at Haas in November for a first of a kind founder-investor mixer.  Left to right: Atusa Sadhegi,  EWMBA 22 (Berkeley Haas), C.C. Gong (Stanford GSB), Alon Dror (Stanford GSB), Alejandra Vergara, MBA 22 (Berkeley Haas), and Dogakan Toka, EWMBA 22 (Berkeley Haas). Photo: Jim Block

On a recent rainy night, more than 100 Berkeley Haas and Stanford GSB students convened in Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum for a first-of-its-kind Founder-Investor Mixer.

Haas MBA students Atusa Sadeghi and Alejandra (Ale) Vergara, along with Dogakan Toka, EWMBA 22 and co-president of the Berkeley Entrepreneurship Association (BEA), were behind the event. As co-presidents of the Haas Venture Capital Club, they decided it was time for students from the two programs to get to know each other in the tight-knit industry, where they’d inevitably run into each other post-graduation. 

“I think collaboration is the key word here,” said Sadeghi, EWMBA 22, a former mechanical engineer who transitioned into venture capital over the last two years. If we’re going to be in the same industry, let’s be united.”

VC Club mixer with Stanford and Haas MBA students
Stanford and Berkeley Haas MBA students getting to know each other at the founder-investor mixer in Spieker Forum. Photo: Jim Block

A new fund

That shared vision for unity among investors and entrepreneurs is something Sadeghi and Vergara, full-time MBA 22, have emphasized since taking on their roles amid the Covid pandemic. Under their watch, they organized the event with Stanford, landing the support of sponsor First Republic Bank and Andrew Liou, a senior relationship manager at the bank, who “didn’t think twice before supporting the collaborative effort,” Vergara said.

Membership in the student-run VC club, founded in 2018 by evening & weekend MBA students Chris Truglia and Scott Graham, has increased from about 100 to more than 500 students, split 50-50 between the evening & weekend and full-time MBA programs. Since its founding, collaboration and networking among students from both the programs has been critical to the club’s success, Truglia said.

Alejandra Vergara (left) and Atusa Sadhegi are co-presidents of the Haas VC Club. Photo: Jim Block

The club hosts popular pitch nights, often partnering with other UC Berkeley clubs, and has built a database with answers to the most common questions students ask about the venture capital industry. This past fall, venture capital club leadership also helped spearhead the creation of Courtyard Ventures, a new venture fund led by Haas MBA students that provides an opportunity for Cal students and alumni to invest in early-stage Cal startups. The fund has recently begun deploying capital, after exceeding funding goals and closing its first two investments in early January, Sadeghi said.

“These women are amazing—they’ve done an incredible job,” said Deepak Gupta, an investor and venture capital industry advisor with the Berkeley Haas Career Management Group.

Deepak Gupta
Deepak Gupta, venture capital industry advisor with the Haas Career Management Group.

While entrepreneurship is a well-established career path at Haas, Gupta said he’s seen a shift in student interest and effort in venture capital over the past three years, as the number of Bay Area VC funds has proliferated. “Now, these funds are coming to Haas to recruit for associate and principal roles,” said Gupta, who is also managing partner of his own pre-seed fund Blue Bear Ventures started at UC Berkeley. By next year, Gupta predicts Haas could double its number of full-time offers.

That growth would be significant. For each of the past two summers, about 15 to 20 full-time MBA students interned at venture capital firms, up from just a few in 2015, said William Rindfuss, executive director of strategic programs in the Haas Finance Group. While there’s a longer track record of students studying finance going into investment banking, a total of around 10 grads took full-time jobs in venture capital over the past two years. “We’ve had more students doing VC internships, and that will likely lead to more full-time VC job offers,” Rindfuss said. 

The passion for investing

But increased hiring comes down to overcoming challenges endemic to the venture capital industry. VC funds can be insular, they don’t hire on a predictable schedule, and entry-level pay can be low compared to other finance jobs—with a big payoff delayed until you make partner, Gupta said.

“Venture is so ‘just in time’ and when people hire you you start immediately. It’s not like consulting  where you get your offer and start next July,” said Jeff Diamond, MBA 22, a VC Club officer and a general partner at Courtyard Ventures. But Diamond, who came to Haas to switch from a career in the entertainment industry to early-stage investing, said he’s committed to a VC career. “It’s a lot of work but it’s rewarding,” he said. “It’s what I liked about working with artists, writers, and directors. You want to be the person who works with them. The idea of being with these companies for the long haul is what interests me.”

“The idea of being with these companies for the long haul is what interests me.” — Jeff Diamond, MBA 22

There’s clearly passion for investing in the Haas alumni network, which is expanding to include graduates like Sydney Thomas, MBA 16, a principal at seed-stage fund Precursor Ventures; Matthew Divack, MBA 19, an investor at Moment Ventures, and Champ Suthipongchai, MBA 15, who co-founded Creative Ventures, a tech VC firm investing in startups that address the impact of increasing labor shortages, rising healthcare costs, and the climate crisis.

Making alumni connections

An earlier success story in venture capital, Michael Berolzheimer, MBA 07, founded Bee Partners in 2008. An internship at pre-seed fund Bee Partners piqued Vergara’s interest last year, but she worried she lacked a technical background. Then Vergara met Kira Noodleman, MBA 17, a partner at Bee, through the Berkeley Female Founder and Funder’s summit last year. “Kira encouraged me to apply,” said Vergara, who landed the internship. That led to a full-time job offer with the fund when she graduates in May.

Looking for more investment experience, Sadeghi found her internship as a senior venture associate at Blue Bear Capital (separate from Gupta’s fund, Blue Bear Ventures). She first met Carolin Funk, a Blue Bear partner invited by the 2020 Haas Venture Capital Club to speak at the school. Interviews at Blue Bear led to an offer. She then learned that recent alum André  Chabaneix, MBA 21, already worked at Blue Bear as a senior associate.

“André is just amazing,” Sadeghi said. “We have a lot in common in terms of our background and industry interest so we bonded pretty quickly. In our overlapping year at Haas we participated in the 2021 Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC)  where we ended up representing Berkeley at the global finals together—and now we’re great friends and colleagues.”

Left to right: Alejandra Vergara,(Berkeley Haas) Alon Dror (GSB), C.C. Gong (Stanford GSB), Dogakan Toka (Berkeley Haas), Atusa Sadeghi (Berkeley Haas), Paola Retes (Stanford GSB).

While students continue their internship and career recruitment this spring, the VC Club already has many events planned, including club-sponsored workshops, student-alumni mixer events and more collaboration with peer MBA programs. Vergara and Sadhegi encouraged students “who are just interested in learning more about VC or are fully committed to this career path,” to check out the club.

“It’s been such a pleasure running the 2021 VC club year with Ale, and we can’t wait to welcome the 2022 leadership team to carry us forward,” Sadhegi said. 

Buzz Solutions nabs top honor at Cleantech to Market Symposium

Seven graduate students smiling
From L-R, top to bottom: Luis Felipe Gonzalez, Federico Cueva Salas, Sean Mandell, Chelsea Boyle, Preston Suan, Dinara Ermakova, and Han Le. Photo credit: Jim Block.

An AI-powered software that automates visual inspections and provides data analytics for utility lines and energy grids earned the top prize at the 12th annual Cleantech to Market Symposium. The event was held in Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum last Friday.

Cleantech to Market (C2M) is a 15-week accelerator course that brings together graduate students, industry leaders, and researchers to pitch cleantech innovations from existing startups, government-sponsored programs, and incubators. 

Five student teams–including 31 MBA and UC Berkeley graduate students from law, policy, and science–pitched emerging technologies aimed at addressing everything from fossil-fuel reduction to carbon dioxide capture to non-flammable batteries.

Buzz Solutions, the AI-powered company that provides power line and energy grid inspections, earned the Hasler Cleantech to Market Award, named after former Berkeley Haas dean William Hasler. 

Team members included Chelsea Boyle, EWMBA 21, Dinara Ermakova, PhD 22 (nuclear engineering), Federico Cueva Salas, MBA 22, Han Le, PhD 24 (chemistry), Luis Felipe Gonzalez, MBA/MEng 22, Preston Suan, MBA 22, and Sean Mandell, MBA 22. 

Dean Harrison kicked off the symposium with a keynote, emphasizing the need for more cleantech solutions to address climate change.

“This is no longer a problem that our grandchildren will face. This is a crisis that we’re dealing with now,” said Harrison, pointing to recent catastrophic events, including California’s wildfires and extreme heat waves worldwide. “Our planet is out of its comfort zone, which is why this symposium and the development of cleantech solutions is so crucial.”

Other notable guest speakers included James Zahler, associate director for technology-to-market at Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E); Liam Berryman, CEO of Nelumbo; Miguel Sierra Aznar, CEO of Noble Thermodynamics; and Kristin Taylor, CEO of Radical Plastics. All three CEOs participated in previous C2M symposiums.

“I’m so proud of our students and what they have accomplished in the last 15 weeks,” said Brian Steel, director of C2M. “They’ve spent nearly 1,000 hours speaking to experts and investigating a wide range of market opportunities for cleantech startups that are tackling the most pressing issues of our time.”

How burnout built a startup

Yannell Selman, MBA 21, arrived at Berkeley Haas suffering from what she called “late-stage clinical burnout” from work. 

Within months, Selman was working to solve the root causes of her own problem.

Yannell Selman
Yannell Selman, MBA 21, turned her experience of suffering burnout into a startup.

That work turned into a startup, Cultiveit, which is building an online wellness platform that human resources departments use to recommend “high-quality time-off” experiences to treat worker burnout.

“Our goal is to shift workplace culture so people have boundaries between working and not working,” said Selman, who co-founded the company with classmate Dunja Panic, MBA 21. The pair met during the UC Berkeley Student Entrepreneurship Program (StEP), which helps students find other entrepreneurs and explore the viability of their startup ideas. 

Photo of Dunja Panic
Dunja Panic, MBA 21, met co-founder Yannell Selman at Haas.

First, Selman and Panic considered a startup focused on kids, screen time, and parental burnout. Then they pivoted to exploring burnout as an adult issue. Last fall, while conducting research, they noticed a pandemic “paradigm shift” as the lack of separation between home and work increasingly impacted workers.

While working on the startup at UC Berkeley’s SkyDeck incubator, they began viewing burnout as not an individual’s problem, but as a systematic issue, connected to how work is structured. 

They began viewing burnout as not an individual’s problem, but as a systematic issue, connected to how work is structured. 

It starts with “a grind of nonstop work that blends from day to night,” progressing to cynicism that leads to negative attitudes toward clients and your team, Selman said. Finally, there’s helplessness. “You lose hope that anything will change,” Selman said. “You try to make a change but realize nothing works so you quit or get a new job. You take two weeks off, but then the cycle starts again.”

Selman’s leadership on the issue has attracted attention. TaskRabbit CEO Ania Smith wrote a recent Forbes article that cited the benefit of  “what burnout consultant Yannell Selman calls “high-quality time off” (HQTO).”

“To qualify as HQTO, employees should engage in activities that are active and support cognitive distance (like rock climbing versus a massage), intrinsically satisfying and reconnect employees to their non-work identities (salsa dancing versus laundry), disconnected (hiking versus watching TV), sensory-stimulating (surfing versus video games) and encourage meaningful growth (woodworking versus social media),” Smith wrote.

Kelli Schultz, a senior people development specialist at TaskRabbit, recently worked with Cultiveit to help employees figure out what HQTO means to them—and urged them to make the most of a paid week off after a busy seasonal period.  

After the vacation week, TaskRabbit employees shared photos, emphasizing how they’d challenged themselves. Schultz said she headed to Tennessee where she went went ziplining, left her computer at home, and hit the hot tub when she thought about checking emails. 

Results of the company’s twice-annual engagement survey showed the program’s success: a jump of 12 points in employee satisfaction, which Schultz called “amazing, especially during Covid.” 

Selman also worked with leaders at content management company Box last July. She held a one-hour info session about burnout, attended by 60 people; 24 people signed up to try a new HQTO experience, said Andrew Chang, corporate finance and strategy manager at Box.

Each participating employee received $50 to spend on experiences ranging from cheesemaking to a botanical garden trip. The feedback from participants was enthusiastic, and planted a seed that company leaders are responding to, Chang said. “Anyone can talk about burnout and what they think it is,” he said. “Yannell tells it to people in a way that’s meaningful. That was the “wow” moment for me.”

Selman is now planning to expand Cultiveit, working on a seed funding round and continuing work with their corporate partners. The company makes money by receiving a percentage of the cost of classes or experiences it promotes to its clients.  

“The main thing is that we want to engage with the community,” she said. “We want to meet with more managers and HR leaders who see this as critical and want to participate. Nutrition and meditation aren’t enough to cure burnout. You have to change your work habits.”

Salaries, bonuses edge upward for 2021 FTMBA grads

Average salaries for the Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA Class of 2021 edged up $9,000 this year, with the consulting and technology sectors again luring more than 60% of graduates.

photo of Abby Scott
Abby Scott said Haas alumni went “beyond themselves” to help grads find jobs.

“I’m so pleased to see this jump in starting base salary and strong employment outcomes, which represent the continuing strength and confidence in our students and the Berkeley MBA,” said Abby Scott, assistant dean of MBA Career Management & Corporate Partnerships. “This is particularly encouraging, given the pandemic and slower reopening of the California economy. The effort that our grads put into their job searches and the help of our alumni who went beyond themselves really helped this class land jobs.”  

Of the total class of 283 students, 239 students were seeking jobs. Within three months after graduation, 90% received job offers and 88% of the class—or 211 students—accepted, up slightly from 87% for the class of 2020.

A few highlights:

  • Starting base salaries are up to $149,000 median from $140,000 last year. 
  • 72% of students received a sign-on bonus and 42.6% received stock options or grants, adding significantly to long term compensation. The average sign-on bonus was $33,775, up from $31,000 last year.
  • Tech dominated employment outcomes at 34%; about 28% of the class went into consulting, up from 25% in 2020. 
  • About 12% of students took jobs in financial services; 10% went to startups; 6.6% landed in healthcare & biotech, 6.2% went to CPG/retail companies, and about 3% are employed in the energy industry.

This year’s top employers—companies that hired three or more graduates—included Amazon, Boston Consulting Group, Google, McKinsey & Company, Deloitte, Bain & Company, EY Parthenon, Adobe, Facebook, LEK, Microsoft, PwC Strategy and Samsung. Consulting was particularly strong this year, Scott said, with McKinsey and Deloitte hiring “the largest number of graduates we have ever seen.”

“One of a kind” Silicon Valley network

Photo of David Bolivar
David Bolivar, MBA 21, is a senior treasury analyst at Google.

David Bolívar, MBA 21, landed a job at Google as a senior treasury analyst after interning at Uber while at Haas.

Throughout the recruiting process, he spoke with over a dozen Haas alumni who work in tech, including several Haas alumni who work in Finance at Google. “The Haas network in tech in Silicon Valley is one of a kind,” said Bolívar, who credited Haas Career Management for its help providing key points of contact and coaching him on how to deliver impactful personal stories as an international student during interviews. “The Haas MBA gives you access to a unique network of alumni and faculty who become such valuable resources for your career.”

Bolívar said he was drawn to Google’s commitment to culture and to supporting its employees professionally and personally. “Google is a consensus-driven, flat organization, which is great if you are the kind of person not looking to operate under the mandate of traditional hierarchies.”

For many students like Bolivar, connecting with Haas alumni helped ease the recruitment process. Terence Mullin, MBA 21, who works in corporate strategy and strategic finance at Epic Games, said a fortuitous connection with an alumnus helped him find his career path.  

Terrence Mullin
Terrence Mullin, MBA 21, works in corporate strategy and finance at Epic Games.

Mullin, who returned to playing video games in his spare time during the lockdown, realized how much he loved games. That led to a eureka moment: “I thought I could do this as a job,” he said.

Mullin started connecting with Haas alumni who work in gaming, and talked with Roland Luk in Haas Career Management about finding internships. The day after he talked to Luk, Chris Kavcsak, MBA 17, who works in strategy at Epic Games, reached out to Luk about an internship in strategic finance at the company, the maker of the blockbuster multiplayer game Fortnite.

Mullin, who had been working on a game pricing project independently, studying Epic’s business model, accepted an internship working for Kavcsak. “Chris took me under his wing, and three months on they let me know things were going well—and then I came on full-time.”

Choosing a startup

Other students have found internships and jobs through a collaborative online effort called Hire Haas. The program, which generated 250 jobs from alumni in 2020, doubled that number to nearly 500 job postings from alumni in 2021.

Eduardo Bustamante, MBA 21, found his MBA internship at e-scooter and e-bike startup RidePanda through Hire Haas, which connected him to Ridepanda’s co-founder and CEO Chinmay Malaviya, MBA 18.

Bustamante said he came to Haas expecting to work in consulting or tech—but his Ridepanda experience led him to interview at Canoo, an electric vehicle startup that went public in December 2020.  “I got to wear different hats (at Ridepanda) and learn many things,” he said. “I liked the way it worked at a startup. That’s why I joined Canoo.” 

In his role as program controller in operations and finance, he’s working on the company’s new product rollout, a lifestyle vehicle that is scheduled to launch in late 2022.

View the 2021 employment report here.

‘Driven by our own mission’: Blackbook University builds community and belonging

Blackbook’s co-founders and supporters attend a pre-launch presentation. From L-R: Maya Hammond, former BSU president; Farhiya Ali; Imran Sekalala; Ibrahim Baldé; Nahom Solomon; Hana Baba, NPR; Joy Dixon, Salesforce; Marco Lindsey, associate director of DEI at Haas; Nicholas Brathwaite; and Chase Ali-Watkins. Photo courtesy: Ibrahim Baldé.

As an undergraduate, Ibrahim Baldé, BS 20, said he faced many challenges on top of managing a rigorous course load. They included battling imposter syndrome, experiencing microaggressions from peers, and feeling pressured in class to be the spokesperson for his race as he was often the lone Black student.

After speaking with friends and classmates who also identified as Black, Baldé learned that they faced the same hurdles. A 2019 campus-climate report published by UC Berkeley’s Division of Equity, and Inclusion also confirmed Baldé’s experience, which found that many Black students experienced exclusionary behaviors from peers, including being stared at or singled out to represent their race.

Wanting to improve the Black student experience at Berkeley, Baldé co-founded Blackbook University, a website and mobile app that provides educational and professional resources to help Black undergraduate and graduate students navigate their journey at Berkeley. Blackbook’s other co-founders include Nicholas Brathwaite, Chase Ali-Watkins, both BA 20, Nahom Solomon, BA 21, Farhiya Ali and Imran Sekalala, both BA 23.

The app, which launched Nov. 18 and is a revival of a Black student handbook published in the 1980s and 1990s, includes a calendar with extracurricular and career-related events, a student-alumni-faculty directory, a live chat feed for users to interact, and a scholarship and internship database. The website features student profiles and an internship program for students interested in entrepreneurship and tech. 

Brathwaite manages product development, Ali and Sekalala handle data analysis and design, Solomon serves as the director of operations, Ali-Watkins is the chief marketing officer, and Baldé is CEO.

Student Profile – Adaeze Noble from Made By Chase on Vimeo.

The journey

The son of an imam, Baldé was instilled with a “beyond yourself” mindset at an early age. Growing up in Alameda, Calif., Baldé knew that he wanted to combine his three passions: social impact work, business, and tech. Once at Haas, Baldé took Haas Lecturer Alex Budak’s leadership class called Becoming a Changemaker

“That class allowed me to think about my mission and purpose and to understand that leadership isn’t a defined trait,” Baldé said. 

Following that class, Baldé began to lay the groundwork for Blackbook University. He teamed up with his co-founders and formed an advisory board of faculty and staff across campus, including Budak, Marco Lindsey, associate director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Haas; Miya Hayes, BA 92, associate director of Campus Partnerships & Engagement; and staff from the African American Student Development Office. 

Baldé surveyed about 150 Black Berkeley and Haas students to assess if he had a winning idea. The answer was a resounding yes. 

While Slack and GroupMe are useful networking tools, 90% of surveyors reported that it was important to have a tool that was designed for them.

“Students can’t take ownership of Slack and GroupMe, but they can take ownership of Blackbook,” Baldé said.  

A copy of the original UC Berkeley African American Student Handbook published in 1996.

Successes and challenges

Baldé and his team have had some successes. They participated in UC Berkeley’s Free Ventures pre-seed accelerator, allowing them to test and tweak their business model. They also were one of the Big Ideas Contest grand prize winners, earning $10,000 in prize money. 

But they’ve also had some setbacks, including finding the best developer who could deliver the app they envisioned. Another setback was validating their business model to potential investors. Currently, Blackbook is free to download. 

“We just tune out the noise,” Baldé says. “We’re driven by our own mission and that is to build community and to make our resources and networks available to Black student communities.”

Despite the hurdles, the team continues to press on. Their goal is to make customized versions of the app for Black student communities at colleges and universities nationwide. 

Faculty and staff advisors praise Baldé and his team for creating a sense of belonging on campus.

“I’m inspired by how Ibrahim can readily imagine a better future and then rally the people and resources needed to turn these ideas into reality,” said Budak. “We talked about how one of the greatest acts of changemaking is creating the opportunities for others that we wish we had for ourselves and Ibrahim is doing just that.”

Hayes agreed. “I’m in awe of their innovation–taking both the best and most challenging aspects of their time at Berkeley to create something that sustains and nourishes our sense of belonging,” she said. “They’re giants in their own right.”

Why Black and Latino homeowners profit less than whites

Credit: Leslee for iStock/Getty Images

New research has found Black and Latino homeowners make significantly lower returns on buying a home than whites, on average. But surprisingly, it’s not because of differences in home prices or appreciation rates in their neighborhoods.

In fact, when it comes to regular home sales, minority sellers realize about the same returns on average as whites. The study found instead that almost all of the disparity is driven by higher rates of foreclosures and other distressed home sales among Blacks and Latinos, which wipes out a huge chunk of potential wealth and lowers average returns.

Amir Kermani
Assoc. Prof. Amir Kermani

“Most of us think of home ownership as an excellent way to build wealth, so I think it’s natural for politicians and policymakers to believe that the best way to reduce the wealth gap is to promote home ownership among minorities,” said Berkeley Haas Assoc. Prof. Amir Kermani, study co-author. “What’s striking is that we found that equalizing rates of first-time home ownership would have almost no effect on the housing wealth gap, whereas helping people keep their homes would make a huge difference.”

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper, co-authored with Francis Wong of NBER, has important implications for housing policy, and also identifies the disturbing and deep-seated disparities in job stability and liquid wealth that underlie the higher foreclosure rates for Blacks and Latinos—even those with higher incomes.

The persistent wealth gap

In the United States, the median white household holds ten times the wealth of the median Black household. But although Black home ownership has increased from 23% in 1920 to 45% in 2021, the wealth gap has barely budged. Kermani was curious as to why decades of policies to increase homeownership hadn’t made more of a difference in closing the wealth gap.

He and Wong harnessed massive datasets linked together by the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics, capturing 6 million home ownership spells from 1990 to 2017. The data includes Home Mortgage Disclosure Act records with self-reported race and ethnicity from loan applicants, real estate transaction records from data provider ATTOM; credit reports and loan-servicing data from Equifax-McDash; plus loan information from several other government and private sources. The study is the first to estimate the gap in returns on home ownership for Blacks and Latinos using data on individual transactions.

Across the housing market, discrimination has been well-documented, from redlining to unequal tax assessments to unfavorable loans and refinancing deals. And historically, minorities have often faced lower house price growth in their neighborhoods. That’s why Kermani was surprised to find that for regular home sales over the last two decades, average returns were very similar across racial groups—within neighborhoods with many minority homeowners and those that are primarily white. While some individual Black and Latino sellers sold their homes for much lower prices, gentrification pushed prices sky-high in other neighborhoods, bringing up the average. 

Yet averaged across all types of sales annually, Black and Latino homeowners make 3.7 and 2.0 percentage points less than white homeowners, the researchers found. Compounded over ten years, that’s a 44% lower return for Blacks and 22% lower for Latinos. These disparities in returns on home investments exist across all income levels, even the richest one-third of minority homeowners. (The magnitude is greatest among lower-income and single-parent families.)  

Averaged across all types of sales annually, Black and Latino homeowners make 3.7 and 2.0 percentage points less than white homeowners. Compounded over ten years, that’s a 44% lower return for Blacks and 22% lower for Latinos.

Distressed sales

It’s among distressed sales where the chasm emerges. Distressed sales include foreclosures, where a borrower stops making payments on their mortgage and the lender sells the home to recover the balance, as well as short sales, where a lender forces the homeowner to sell for the outstanding mortgage balance. 

Minority homeowners are 5% more likely to experience a distressed sale, and to live in neighborhoods where forced sales carry a steeper price discount, likely because there are fewer buyers, Kermani said. Distressed sales usually carry a price penalty, but even within distressed sales, Black and Latino homeowners make 3.8 and 2.7 percentage points lower returns than white homeowners, respectively. 

“If we could equalize the rate of return on homeownership for Blacks and whites—without any increase in home ownership—we would reduce the Black/white housing wealth gap by about 40% at retirement,” said Kermani. “If we were able to equalize both home purchases and the rate of return on ownership, we’d reduce the gap by 50%.”

Less job security, fewer assets

So why are minorities so much more likely to lose their homes in forced sales? It’s not because they take on more debt to buy them, and although differences in income and overall wealth play a role, they’re not the primary driver, the study found. For Blacks in particular, the researchers found a huge gap in liquid assets—cash or its equivalent—that accelerates from age 50 on. They also found that Blacks and Latinos are much more likely to lose their jobs than whites, across all sectors, education levels, geographic locations, and income levels.

“That was what surprised me the most: Even Black households with income over a hundred thousand dollars are still about 5% more likely to experience a layoff,” Kermani said. “The combination of higher job instability and fewer liquid assets makes people very vulnerable to a temporary shock, and increases the chances of losing all the wealth they’ve accumulated in their house.”

The researchers found that controlling for liquid assets and income shocks explains one-third of the higher mortgage delinquency for Blacks, and nearly half the difference for Latinos. Kermani said he hopes to dig deeper into the causes of the layoff disparities in future research.

Policy implications

“What’s clear is that the main problem seems to be rooted in the labor market, and the main fix has to be creating more stable jobs and ways to build liquid assets,” he said. “But in the short term, one solution is more flexible mortgage contracts and more mortgage modifications.”

The researchers estimated that receiving a modification after three months of failing to make mortgage payments can reduce the likelihood of a foreclosure by 37 percentage points, and increase a homeowner’s average annual returns by nearly 9 percentage points.

MBA team wins 2021 UT Austin Real Estate Competition

Group of male MBA students and woman faculty advisor holding big check
The Haas MBA team wins first place and $10,000 in prize money. (From L-R: Ian MacLean, Alex Dragten, Abby Franklin (faculty advisor), Carson Goldman, Andrew Johnson, Fukang Peng, and Travis Kauzer.)

Converting an office building into a life science center to lease to medical and biotech companies landed a team of Berkeley Haas MBA students a first place win at the 2021 UT Austin Real Estate Competition. 

The competition was held Thursday, Nov. 18 and hosted by the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business. 

Team members include Carson Goldman, Andrew Johnson, Ian MacLean, Alex Dragten, all MBA 22, Fukang Peng, and Travis Kauzer, both EWMBA 22.

Haas bested 19 other teams from top U.S. business schools including Columbia, Yale, Wharton, NYU Stern, and University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and won $10,000 in prize money. This is Haas’ third first place win at this competition in the last four years. 

MBA teams were tasked with creating a business plan for a building with a single tenant whose lease was about to expire. They had to consider maximizing risk-adjusted returns and demonstrate an understanding of macroeconomic trends, including the effects of inflation and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Haas MBA team decided to convert the building into a life science center to attract multiple tenants and maximize high returns.

Team lead Carson Goldman credited the team’s win to practicing case presentations every week this semester and to work they did with their faculty advisors.

“Our coaches Bill Falik and Abby Franklin provided constant feedback and guidance and were wholly committed to this competition,” Goldman said. “Our alumni were just as important as they had volunteered weekly to judge our practice cases and offer constructive criticism,” he added.

“It’s very gratifying to see our students progress over the semester and to win first place,” said Haas Lecturer Bill Falik. “We’ve had victories, but to win first place in three out of the four years at this national competition–this has never been done before.”

Master of Financial Engineering Program ranked #2 by Quantnet

The Berkeley Haas Master of Financial Engineering (MFE) Program returned to the #2 ranking in this year’s Quantnet survey of US financial engineering programs. It ranked #5 for the two prior years.

Higher employment scores and starting salaries for the March 2021 graduates were key factors in this ranking.

Quantnet bases 55% of its ranking on employment outcomes, including employment rate at graduation (10%), employment rate three months after graduation (15%), average starting salary and sign-on bonus (20%), and an employer survey score (10%). Student selectivity accounts for 25% of the ranking, and a peer assessment score for 20% of the ranking.

Find a full report at Quantnet.com. In comparison, the Berkeley Haas MFE continues to rank #1 in TFE (The Financial Engineer) Times.

California Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris on being a changemaker

Every semester, Berkeley Haas Lecturer Alex Budak kicks off his class on Becoming a Changemaker with examples of changemakers who inspire him. For the past two years, he’s led with childhood trauma expert Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, California’s first Surgeon General.

On Nov. 9, his students got to hear directly from Burke Harris, who answered their questions virtually as a guest during class.

“She charts her own path in everything she does,” Budak said. “From being the first-ever Surgeon General for the State of California to championing a crucial-but-overlooked aspect of childhood health, she doesn’t have a playbook to follow. She invents it herself, every day—and she does so in a way which is empathetic, humble and tenacious.”

Burke Harris, who has established early childhood, health equity, and toxic stress as her key priorities, is the author of The Deepest Well, which addresses how deeply bodies can be imprinted by or Adverse Childhood Experiences—or ACEs—like abuse and neglect. The ACEs Aware initiative is a first-in-the-nation effort to screen patients for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) to help improve and save lives.

The pandemic has worsened mental health for many, and Burke Harris pointed to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which just announced a national mental health emergency for children.

“We recognize that (the pandemic is) also this massive, massive stressor and there’s never been a more important time for us to implement trauma-informed systems and trauma-informed care at scale,” Burke Harris said. “A lot of my focus, in addition to helping with vaccines and thinking about our rollout, is our strategy for equity, which is another huge thing right now because when you have a public health emergency, it doesn’t effect everyone equally.”

Being a changemaker is about more than working hard and being intense, she said. “I work hard, that’s no joke,” she said. “But it’s really that ability to replenish ourselves, that ability to nourish ourselves and take breaks and be joyful and really integrate the work we do and our purpose, also with our lives, I think allows us to sustain the work we’re doing and it also cultivates creativity and innovation and all of things that help us be more successful and change-making.”

Asked about a changemaker she admires, Burke Harris described a Google-organized dinner she attended, where she met lawyer Bryan Stevenson, the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. Stevenson worked on Supreme Court decisions to prohibit sentencing children under 18 to death or to life imprisonment without parole. “That was a total changemaker moment,” she said. “It was so joyful to talk to someone who was similarly passionate about caring for our vulnerable community members.”

This video is also listed as a Dean’s Speaker Series talk.

Ready for flying taxis? 2021 Mobility Summit to focus on future of transportation

three males smiling
From L-R: Thomas Fantis, Sam Bauer, and Jon Wan, all MBA 22.

Driverless trucks and electric air taxis are generating a lot of buzz. But are these new modes of transportation worth the hype?

Second-year MBA students Jon Wan, Sam Bauer, and Thomas Fantis hope to tackle that question next week at the second annual Berkeley Haas Mobility Summit. 

“Cutting Through the Hype” is the theme for this year’s summit, which brings together students, faculty, alumni, and industry leaders to explore sustainability, equity, and commercialization challenges that may arise from adopting new mobility technologies. 

The summit, organized by the Transportation & Mobility Club, will be held Nov. 19, from noon to 4:30 p.m. in Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum. Conference organizers include Wan, Bauer, Fantis, Marcus Brandford, Graham Haydon, Ryota Soshino, all MBA 22, and Yiannos Vakis, MBA 23.

“There’s a lot of optimism around these new technologies that promise pollution and traffic reduction in cities, for example, but we haven’t seen much of the benefits yet,” said Fantis. “We hope to create some dialogue about the implications of adopting autonomous and electric cars and how to apply these technologies responsibly and equitably.”

Bert Kauffman, head of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs at Amazon’s autonomous car startup Zoox, will kick off the half-day conference with a keynote address, followed by panel discussions on the future of ride hailing, the scalability of electric vehicles, solving supply-chain challenges via autonomous trucking, and the creation of electric air taxis. 

Other notable guest speakers include Nick Matcheck, MBA 20, partnerships manager at Hyundai Urban Air Mobility; Jeff Sharp, MBA 21, government operations associate at Joby Aviation; Misha Cornes, MBA 01, UX research & strategy leader at Lyft; Shana Patadia, BS 10, director of Business Development at Chargepoint; Nick Silver, MBA 11, head of Marketing for US and Canada at Uber; Haas lecturer Molly Turner; and UC Berkeley civil and engineering professor Susan Shaheen.

“We hope this summit will serve as a guide for students interested in joining the mobility industry and that they find companies that are making the greatest impact in terms of sustainability and equity,” Bauer said.

“Our goal with this summit is to establish Haas as the center of mobility and put it on the map as the best school to attend for this [mobility] field,” Fantis added. “When prospective students look for MBA programs that offer mobility courses and clubs, we want Haas to be at the top of their search.”

Junaid Lughmani, MBA 23, honored by Tillman Foundation for Afghanistan evacuation work

Junaid Lughmani at the Tillman Foundation Awards in Chicago
Junaid Lughmani, MBA 23, speaks during the the Pat Tillman Foundation’s annual Tillman Honors event held Nov. 4 in Chicago.

Junaid Lughmani, MBA 23, was honored by the Pat Tillman Foundation last week for his work on “Digital Dunkirk,” a massive online effort by military veterans to help evacuate at-risk Afghans following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The annual Tillman Honors are named for Pat Tillman, the former NFL player who tragically died in Afghanistan while serving in the U.S. Army in 2004. The event gathered hundreds of supporters, investors, Tillman Scholars, and others in Chicago on Nov. 4 to celebrate Tillman’s legacy of service and leadership. The Foundation’s 2021 Champion Award went to Afghan politician and women’s rights activist Fawzia Koofi. Previous Champion award recipients include Sen. John McCain and former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords & Sen. Mark Kelly.

Lughmani, Kate Hoit, and Rick Schumacher, who are among 60 Tillman Scholars chosen in 2021, accepted the “Make Your Mark” award on behalf of the Digital Dunkirk organizers. The Washington Post featured Lughmani’s work with former Green Beret Jon Reed in Berkeley in an Aug. 26 article. The pair joined veterans, active-duty service members, former government officials, and civil servants who volunteered to help Afghans flee Taliban retaliation.

How do we value hope?

Lughmani, a first-generation American of Pashtun origin, worked as an interpreter in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012, serving as a liaison between the U.S. and Afghan governments. He later returned to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army as an infantry officer, leading his platoon on multiple combat missions.

In his speech during the awards ceremony, Lughmani said that while in Afghanistan he received “the greatest gifts of love, generosity, care, and goodness from the people.” “From the children who would call me “kaka” (uncle) to the elders who treated me as their own son, Afghans embraced us, broke bread with us, and truly taught us the power of human connection.”

Watch Junaid Lughmani’s speak during the annual Tillman Honors (begins at 39:57 minutes.)

Lughmani, who sought an MBA with a plan to return to Afghanistan as an investor to help grow the country’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, spoke of how torn he was in the days when he began his MBA classes as the Taliban reclaimed power in Afghanistan.

“As I sat through valuation lecturers and read through spreadsheets and assessments I wondered: how do we value hope?” he said. “Our dreams cannot be summed up by a formula in a little box. Our hearts belong in the in-between spaces. The Afghans who changed my life stepped out into the in-between spaces. If they could do that, given all they were up against, I decided that I would also choose the in-between spaces. I’d work with whoever showed up, to help as many people as we could.”

With winter fast approaching, more than half the population of Afghanistan is at risk of running short of food.

“The evacuation efforts are ongoing, and there is a desperate food crisis in Afghanistan with 23 million people at risk of facing starvation through the winter,” Lughmani said. “But refugees also need our help. There are over 50,000 refugees who are currently housed on U.S. military installations across the U.S. with little to no belongings; many possess only the clothing on their backs and about half of these refugees are children.”

Uniting B-school forces

Responding to military housing conditions, Lughmani and fellow members of the Haas Veterans Club launched a drive to collect clothing, household appliances, toys, personal care items, electronics, books, and baby supplies, for relocated Afghan refugees in Northern California. 

Haas Veterans Club
The Haas Veterans Club, holding the Afghan flag, organized the collection drive for evacuated Afghans now living in Northern California.

So far, they’ve collected over 3,000 items, Lughmani said. “Our donations go directly to refugees, cutting through the red tape typical of NGOs that have a more complicated aid-delivering process,” he said. “Our way enables us to identify communities that need help and respond directly through our military, veteran, and Afghan networks.”

The club is reaching out to veterans at other business schools nationwide to expand the effort. To date, veterans’ groups at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, NYU Stern, USC’s Marshall School of Business, University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, UCLA’s Anderson School of Business, University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business have signed on, and conversations continue with more schools.

The Berkeley Haas collection drive, located on the second floor of Chou Hall, is planned until Nov. 19, but may continue through the holidays, depending on need.

Read the latest campus information on coronavirus (COVID-19) here →