The startup roundup series spotlights students and alumni who are starting a new business or enterprise.
Sal Parsa, MBA 18
Joel Simonoff, BS 19
Nearly everyone who spends much time on social media has probably posted or tweeted something they wish they hadn’t. But the Internet has a long memory, and an ill-conceived post can damage chances of landing a new job or being admitted to a prestigious university many years later.
Sal Parsa, MBA 18, who himself admits to occasional forehead-slaps over regrettable social media posts, thinks there’s a business in cleaning up the detritus of online foolishness. “We noticed how many admissions officers and hiring officials were screening the social media posts of applicants,” he says. “We were surprised that there was no smart and easy system to help clean up (those posts) and build a better personal brand.”
As Parsa thought about starting a business, he logged onto Bearfounders.com, a service to connect UC Berkeley students and alumni looking for like-minded, would-be entrepreneurs. He met Joel Simonoff, a Berkeley engineering undergraduate, who then introduced him to Matthew Vavricek, a Nebraska high school student. Simonoff and Vavricek had met while working on a startup that was designing exoskeletons for kids with cerebral palsy.
The three formed a venture called Social Filter, built around software that uses machine learning and natural language processing to analyze social media posts and flag potentially harmful content. Users are notified of suspect content and can then delete it via an online dashboard. For now, the software scans Facebook and Twitter posts, but they are looking to expand to other social media sites and add image scanning capabilities in the coming months.
The site already has about 1,700 users, including many Haas students who have given the company a good deal of helpful feedback, says Parsa, a recipient of a Haas Jack Larson scholarship. The company incorporated in August with the help of the Berkeley-Haas Entrepreneurship Program (BHEP) and UC Berkeley Law.
Leon Rodriguez, MBA 18
With a father and grandfather who practiced medicine, brothers Diego and Leon Rodriguez, MBA 18, always suspected they would return to their roots.
And they have. The brothers, alongside several colleagues, have developed an online solution to bring low-cost health care to patients in the US and Mexico who have difficulty traveling to a doctor’s office.
NecesitoDoc, Spanish for “I need a doc,” uses Internet video to connect patients to a primary care doctor or nutrition physician for about $8 a consult. In Mexico, where the platform is already in operation, the company uses a business-to-business model, contracting with companies to offer the service as a benefit to employees.
The model in the US, where licensing regulations and high fees make it impractical to offer telemedicine, is consumer-focused and limited in scope when compared to the Mexico solution, Leon Rodriguez said. NecesitoDoc will connect patients—the target audience is the undocumented Spanish-speaking community—with a doctor in Mexico who will conduct a screening and steer them to a licensed provider in their area. However, they cannot order treatment or provide prescriptions.
NecesitoDoc is in conversations with different US-based companies that offer services to the Hispanic community, which will help provide the company with a local presence, Leon says.
In Mexico, NecesitoDec offers a web-based solution that works on both smartphones and personal computers. In the US, Leon said the company is working on developing a customized solution that addresses the main concerns of the US immigrant community.
NecesitoDoc was nurtured in the UC Berkeley LAUNCH program, and Leon was awarded $5,000 from the Dean’s Startup Seed Fund. He was also a Hansoo Lee fellow and received a $70,000 grant from the Mexican government, which helped launch the young company.
Alex Zekoff, MBA 17
Clay Anthony, MBA 17
Gagan Mac, EWMBA 17
Juan Ordonez, MS 17 (Engineering)
Advertising is the lifeblood of the web, but as more and more people use ad blockers or simply tune out commercial messages, advertisers are looking for new ways to make their message heard. One tactic has been paid “influencers,” people who post or tweet rave reviews and friendly blogs touting a company’s products.
But how does an advertiser to know if its influencers are really influencing anyone? What’s the ROI?
Enter LikeWallet, a Haas startup developing an analytics tool to measure the performance and ROI of each post by an influencer. By tracking the performance of posts and tweets, the advertiser will be able to tell if that social media message resulted in a consumer making an online purchase, and how many “likes” and comments it garnered. The software will also analyze and report on the sentiments those comments reveal.
LikeWallet started life as Pinpoint, a service to provide tailored, peer-to-peer recommendations for travelers and tourists. But as the team went through the UC Berkeley Lean Launchpad class, conducting more than 150 interviews, it became clear the idea was a non-starter, says co-founder Alex Zekoff, MBA 17. “What we were offering simply wasn’t unique,” he says.
But the idea–that online recommendations from friends and people they respect motivates consumers to buy–stuck. That insight became even more clear when Zekoff’s brother created an Instagram account for his dog and was soon rewarded with more than 20,000 followers and offers from advertisers to use that account in advertising.
“Big companies hire stars, people with hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers to tweet and post for them. But influencers with much smaller followings—1,000 to 100,000—can make a difference as well, and those are the people that we as cofounders believe will have a greater impact for business,” Zekoff says.
The Dean’s Startup Seed Fund helped launch LikeWallet with a grant of $5,000 and free office space, but most of the funding is coming from the founders themselves.