Startups pitch to win at 2018 LAUNCH finals

Judges at the 2018 UC Berkeley LAUNCH competition last Thursday awarded top honors to a team led by a College of Engineering student with a big data startup.

This year marked the 20th anniversary of LAUNCH, UC Berkeley’s startup accelerator created by and for UC Berkeley founders.

Every year, startups complete three months of mentoring and product development designed to transform early stage startups into fundable companies.  The program culminates with a pitch competition.

Judges winnowed this year’s crop of 23 startups to 10 finalists. Their founders had just five minutes each to make a pitch touting their business plans, as the nearly 400 people who filled Andersen Auditorium watched, ate pizza, and cheered on their favorites.

This year’s finalists represented a wide swath of the business world, from farming to medicine and emerging technologies like machine learning. “The best part for me was seeing our founders crush their presentations,” said Christian Keil, MBA 19, the co-chair of LAUNCH. “They’ve come so far in the three months of our program—so many pivots made, interviews completed, storms weathered. To see them shine in front of investors and the general public was amazing” Companies that have completed the intensive LAUNCH program over the last three years have raised more than $36 million in venture funding, Keil said.

LAUNCH teams from Haas and beyond

Haas-founded finalist teams included, Chema González-Garilleti, MBA 19, who leads Collaboratorium, an enterprise decision-making Software-as-a-Service product; Shom Gupta, MBA 19, of NearFarms, which is creating a marketplace linking consumers and local farmers; and Jessica Eting and Pedro Moura, EWMBA 18, who lead Flourish, a personal finance tool that uses games and rewards to help people establish savings habits and achieve financial security.

Startup Social Filter, from left to right: Joel Simonoff, John Melizanis, keynote speaker and Venmo co-founder Iqram Magdon-Ismail and Sal Parsa, MBA 18.
Social Filter, from left to right: Joel Simonoff, John Melizanis, Venmo co-founder and LAUNCH keynote speaker Iqram Magdon-Ismail, and Sal Parsa, MBA 18.

Data Agora, winner of this year’s $25,000 grand prize, is building a secure, online marketplace for buyers and sellers of big data.

“Acquiring high-quality data is very difficult,” says founder and CEO Ashwinee Panda, a sophomore in the College of Engineering. Unlike data brokers, the usual avenue for the commercial exchange of data, Data Agora’s systems never see the data. Instead the company uses machine learning to facilitate the transaction and avoid the risk of data breaches and the loss of privacy, Panda says.

In addition to $36,000 in prize money awarded by the LAUNCH team, finalists also won interviews with top investors like LAUNCH partners The House, 500 Startups, and Andreessen Horowitz.

The $10,000 second-place prize went to Jobwell, a tool that helps organize job searches and provides virtual coaching for users. The company was founded by former LegalZoom employees; May Lu, a Wharton MBA, and Daniel Kent, now a graduate student at UC Berkeley’s School of Information.

Third-place winner of $1,000 was Medinas Health, founded as a market for surplus medical supplies by CEO Chloe Alpert. Medinas Health handles items as small as a box of sutures, worth about $300, or as large as a C-Arm, a $100,000 device that holds medical equipment in place.

The company acts as a broker, and arranges inspections of critical equipment, Alpert says.