Haas refreshes core MBA curriculum, adds three new courses

Berkeley Haas is rolling out core curriculum changes designed to prepare MBA students for a fast-changing workplace by equipping them with enhanced communication skills and deeper data knowledge.

The refreshed curriculum includes additional training in business communications and persuasion skills, doubles coursework in statistics and data analytics, and creates a new course, perhaps the first required core business class in the U.S., on leading diverse teams. The new courses will be rolled out in the full-time MBA program during the 2021-22 academic year. 

An eight-member faculty task force worked throughout the pandemic to rethink the MBA core experience. The faculty in April unanimously approved the task force’s recommendations. 

Dean Ann Harrison
Dean Ann Harrison

“I am so proud of the hard work that our faculty-led team put into these transformative core curriculum changes,” said Dean Ann Harrison, who created the core committee, which was led by co-chairs Prof. Ross Levine and Assoc. Prof. Dana R. Carney. “We are rolling out innovative courses that will help prepare our students for what’s next, addressing a wide range of workplace challenges—from questioning the ethics of artificial intelligence to recognizing how unconscious bias impacts management decisions.”

Three new courses

The MBA core consists of 14 required courses that form the fundamental building blocks of a general management education. The classes are designed to build on each other, providing students with the analytical tools and knowledge required to manage complex managerial problems–skills every employer expects from an MBA. 

The MBA core consists of 14 required courses that form the fundamental building blocks of a general management education.

The three courses added to the core include:

  • Data Analytics will provide more extensive training in data analytics, artificial intelligence, and related approaches to using big data for decision making. The course is a companion to the existing Data and Decisions statistical analysis course. 
  • Data-Driven Presentations: Making the Business Case will better prepare students to make persuasive arguments using data and advanced data visualization tools. It builds on the knowledge and experience developed in the courses Leading People (mindset) and Leadership Communication (delivery).
  • Business Communication in Diverse Work Environments will help students navigate diverse settings more effectively to improve their ability to create, work within, and lead diverse teams and global organizations. It also develops critical thinking on topics such as identity, relationships across differences, bias, and equality of opportunity in organizations.

Levine said he was proud of the group’s camaraderie and collaboration and the transparency of the process.

Prof. Ross Levine co-chaired the curriculum review task force.

“It’s very important for any type of program to re-evaluate, reassess, renew, modernize, and make things as relevant and useful for students as possible,” said Levine, the Willis H. Booth Chair in Banking and Finance. “We worked very hard to make some changes that would help our students achieve their professional ambitions.”

Jay Stowsky, who served as Senior Assistant Dean of Instruction for the past 13 years, added that the curriculum changes will make it easier for faculty “to address, with relevance to each of their courses and academic disciplines, the broader social impacts of business.” 

Evidence-based changes

Dana Carney
Assoc. Prof. Dana Carney co-chaired the curriculum review task force.

Copious research enabled the task force to have full confidence in the proposed core changes, said Carney, a psychologist who studies racial bias and is the director of the Institute of Personality and Social Research at UC Berkeley. “We knew that we had to have a lot of data to guide and substantiate the changes the data suggested we make; we made sure the data we collected were unimpeachable,” she said.

As part of this research, the task force members sought extensive feedback from different groups before making its recommendations. They met with tenure-track and teaching faculty and current students and separately with MBA students active in the Race Inclusion Initiative (RII) and the Gender Equity Initiative (GEI) at Haas. 

 

“We knew that we had to have a lot of data to guide and substantiate the changes the data suggested we make.” – Assoc. Prof. Dana Carney.

The task force also worked closely with the Haas Board and the Career Management Group (CMG), which developed a survey of recent alumni and collected data from corporate recruiters on the skills they seek when hiring. Early in the process, two clear areas in the existing curriculum emerged that would need a fresh and upgraded experience—interacting with people and interacting with data, Carney said. 

Jenn Bridge, senior director of employer engagement & industry readiness at Haas, said her team’s interviews with recruiters and alumni surveys aligned with findings in the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, confirming the demand for strong data and people-centered skills. 

“Being nimble as a leader and managing people through change are skills that are highly desired,” she said. “The pandemic has accelerated all of this.” 

Learn by doing

One of the ways the task force made room in students’ schedules for the new core courses was to to shift the decade-old Fundamentals of Design Thinking course from the core to an elective. 

Haas pioneered teaching design thinking as part of an MBA core refresh in 2010. Since then, design thinking has become a standard approach to problem solving, woven throughout the curriculum, especially in the required project-based Applied Innovation electives. MBA students will continue to “learn by doing” through design thinking and other decision-making approaches, Stowsky said.  

The part-time MBA programs are considering the core refresh in light of the needs of their students. In the Evening & Weekend MBA program, the Business Communications in Diverse Environments core course will be added to the core and become the capstone course, while the two new data-focused courses will offered as electives. Implementation in the MBA for Executives program is under discussion with the EMBA Academic Program Committee.

Tokyo bound: Four Haasies to compete in summer Olympics

After a year of delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the summer Olympics are here—and four Haasies are in Tokyo to compete in golf, swimming, and water polo.

The Games of the XXXII Olympiad are scheduled from from July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021. The group of competing Haas athletes includes:

Collin Morikawa

Collin Morikawa, BS 19, joins Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau on the men’s U.S. golf team.

Collin Morikawa holding trophy
Collin Morikawa holds the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament at TPC Harding Park in 2020 in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The U.S. will have have more golfers represented than any other nation during this year’s Games, according to Golf magazine.  Pro-golfer Morikawa won the 2020 PGA Championship in his first-ever attempt last year.

When he enrolled at UC Berkeley, Morikawa had a single-minded focus to learn how he could succeed as a professional golfer, treating the endeavor as much as a job as a sport. “If you look at big professional athletes, they’re running their own business, which is their name and their brand,” he told Berkeley Haas Magazine. “I wanted to invest in my future and learn as much as I could so when I turned pro I would be ready for the outside world.”

Ryan Murphy

Ryan Murphy, swimmer
Ryan Murphy, BS 17, backstroker, is heading to his second Olympic Games.

Ryan Murphy, BS 17, is competing in his second Olympics, qualifying again in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke.

In 2016, Murphy won gold in both the 200m and 100m backstroke, and swam to victory in the 400m relay medley with Olympic legend Michael Phelps, Cal alum Nathan Adrian, and Cody Miller. “I honestly didn’t think I’d win the 200m backstroke, but that’s the event I really trained for,” he told Berkeley Haas News at the time. “The 100m back comes a little more naturally to me, so the 200 is the one I have to really work for. It’s the one that meant a lot because I know what’s gone on behind that whole race and what I did in coming up with the best strategy to win it.” This year, he’s serving as an Olympic team captain for USA swimming.

Johnny Hooper

Johnny hooper
Johnny Hooper, BS 19, is Cal’s #2 all-time leading scorer. (Cal Athletics photo)

Johnny Hooper, BS 19, a 6’2″ attacker, qualified for Tokyo as a member of the Men’s Senior National Team, USA Water Polo. Hooper is Cal’s #2 all-time leading scorer with 245 goals, and he helped lead the squad to the 2016 NCAA Championship. The team trained remotely during the pandemic, and Hooper, along with many of his teammates, spent part of the last year playing professionally in Europe.

 

 

Alicia Wilson

Alicia Wilson
Alicia Wilson, BS 22, will swim for Great Britain. (Cal Athletics photo)

Alicia Wilson, BS 22, qualified for a spot on Great Britain’s swim team to compete in the 200-meter individual medley, a technically challenging race involving equal parts backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke, and freestyle. Wilson, a rising senior from England, had an incredible 2021 season, capturing the 2021 Pac-12 crown in the 200-yard individual medley.

Wilson said her inspiration started in 2012 when the London Olympic games “were literally on my front doorstep.” Read an interview with Wilson here.

London Swift, MBA 22, on helping creative freelancers find gigs and demand fair pay

Startup Spotlight profiles startups founded by current Berkeley Haas students or recent alumni.

London Swift photo
London Swift, MBA 22, co-founder of startup Et al, a community for women and gender-diverse creative freelancers.

Before London Swift arrived at Haas, she raised $15,000 on Kickstarter to build a test website called Et al., a hub for women and gender-diverse creative freelancers.

Swift hoped the beta site would bring “creatives”—digital designers, podcast creators, photographers, artists, and writers—together to find gigs.

“We got a tremendous response,” said Swift, MBA 22, who is working with her partner and co-founder Sophia Wirth, a digital brand strategy consultant. “We had 100 people reach out but only had room for 25 people on the site.”

At Haas, Swift is building Et al. from a test site into a business—a place for many more freelancers to showcase their portfolios, and network about everything from collaborative opportunities to fair pay rates to administrative challenges. Employers will use the site’s bulletin board to post job jobs and view users’ creative profiles.

Female “creatives”often face a persistent pay gap in the freelance market, a problem Swift is working to solve with the startup.

“We wanted to build a community where women could better understand the pay issues and work together to close the gender wage gap in the gig economy,” said Swift, a ceramics artist who once considered a career in the arts, but, wary of the low pay, worked as a consultant at Deloitte after her undergraduate program.

“We wanted to build a community where women could better understand the pay issues and work together to close the gender wage gap in the gig economy,” —London Swift, MBA 22.

Part of Et al.’s strategy will be to keep customers’ costs low, by offering flexible monthly user subscriptions.  Platform users will be segmented into professional communities, where they will have access to an exclusive Slack workspace.

Swift said she was inspired when one of their first test users, a new freelancer who had never written for a magazine, built her first creative portfolio and landed her first assignment with Elle UK, an article about how 1990s television sitcoms revolutionized Black beauty. “She is now working full-time as a freelance writer and we could not be happier for her,” Swift said.

Help along the way

Many groups have supported Swift’s startup journey since she arrived at Haas.

First, she was accepted into the Berkeley Student Entrepreneurship Program (StEP), a 10-week campus-wide incubator. Then she raised $35,000 last spring to build a new version of Et al.

Et al founders Sophia Wirth and London Swift
Et al. co-founders London Swift, MBA 22, (right) and her partner & CEO Sophia Wirth, a digital brand strategy consultant, whom she met during her undergraduate program at American University.

She was also the recent recipient of the Hansoo Lee Fellowship, created to honor the memory of Hansoo Lee, MBA 10, and is among the startup founders joining the Blackstone LaunchPad Techstars summer fellowship program for entrepreneurs. There, she’ll work with a mentor and bounce new ideas off other founders.

Last spring, El al. also participated in the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership’s Investing in Inclusion pitch competition, coming in second. “It’s so unique to have a startup space that’s focused on social impact and profitability,” she said. “It felt really special for us.”

Swift is also working with Berkeley Female Founders and Funders to find a few undergraduates who might be able to work with the team this summer. “We have an incredible network of entrepreneurs here,” she said.

London Swift
London Swift, co-founder of Et al., considered a career as an artist.

Outside of the startup world at Haas, Swift is a member of the Consortium, an organization that recruits qualified students who can demonstrate a commitment to its mission of enhancing diversity in business education and leadership, and Q@Haas, the LGBTQ+ MBA community at Haas—and the vice president of academic affairs for her MBA class. She said she’s looking forward to returning to campus this fall. “I’m definitely an extrovert and love being with people,” she said.

Meantime, Swift will focus on her company—and a new ceramics wheel she just bought, getting back into pottery and her creative side.

“Having the opportunity to study at Haas, support women in the arts, and address pay inequity is such a privilege and I cannot wait to see what the next few years bring,” she said.

Elle Wisnicki, MBA 22: Why goats should be part of mental healthcare

Haas Voices is a first-person series that highlights the lived experiences of members of the Berkeley Haas community

Elle Wisnicki, MBA 22, dreams of opening a wellness retreat center that offers animal-assisted therapy to children and adults—and she’s moving closer toward that goal at Haas. Wisnicki is a 2021 recipient of the John E. Martin Fellowship, (named for the father of Michael Martin, MBA 09) awarded to students who are working to improve mental healthcare quality and access. 

Elle Wisnicki photo with goats
Elle Wisnicki, MBA 22, dreams of opening a wellness retreat center that offers animal-assisted therapy.

I’m Black and Jewish and was raised by a single mom. I was an independent kid, always wanting to help others, so when I wasn’t caring for stray animals in the neighborhood, you could find me babysitting.

Growing up in Hollywood, Calif., where wealth exists parallel to a large population experiencing homelessness, I learned about mental health challenges at a young age. My mom and I got to know the stories of our neighbors who were homeless and faced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, depression, and more.

From childhood to high school, my career aspiration was to become an OB/GYN doctor or genetic counselor for families. However, after realizing that a lot of people can’t even get to the doctor for basic care, I shifted my goals away from providing care to helping people access care.

After realizing that a lot of people can’t even get to the doctor for basic care, I shifted my goals away from providing care to helping people access care.

After undergrad at Columbia University, I worked in consulting. At that job, I began connecting the dots among common mental health issues within different groups of people I’d met and worked with for over a decade, including homeless veterans, patients I worked with at Planned Parenthood, students I supported as an RA in my dorm, and even my financially well-off consulting coworkers who were burning out. No matter their walk of life , many shared a common thread: determining how to best address their mental health problems.

When I started putting it all together I began to see how I could thrive in this line of work and I wanted to start focusing on it right away. When I considered leaving consulting, I knew I had to align my career with my values so that my work would reflect my life’s greater purpose. After reaching out to diverse people in my network, I was inspired to become a mental health coach at Sibly, a text-based mental health and wellness app.

This was the first step toward starting my own mental health-related venture. However, I knew that creating a startup without the support of an MBA network would be challenging. So I initially came to Haas to focus on startup solutions for crisis response. What I quickly learned was that the many hours of research, customer discovery calls, and networking on a computer screen, on top of my MBA lectures, was leading to burnout.

In November 2020, I took the month off of my startup to spend some time restoring my own mental health. I volunteered for a ferret rescue and took llamas on walks up north in Yuba City, played with goats and did goat yoga in Half Moon Bay, and worked with kitten rescues. My soul lit up.

My soul lit up. I felt healed when an animal rested in my lap or greeted me.

I felt healed when an animal rested in my lap or greeted me, or when I moved my body around innocent beings, who only wanted to provide affection.

goats with Elle Wisnicki in barn
Goats are part of Elle Wisnicki’s animal-assisted therapy plan.

I realized others enjoy animals and nature in a healing way as do I and many people are looking for alternative wellness solutions. My potential customers told me they benefited from being closer to nature, but craved structure and couldn’t find affordable group wellness centers near them.

My vision is to offer that structure, by opening a retreat center with half day, full-day, and weekend wellness retreats. I’m also considering animal-assisted individual and group therapy, goat yoga, sustainable farming workshops, garden box subscriptions, children’s birthday parties, summer camps, a petting zoo, products, and transportation to access all of these services through bus rides between San Francisco and Oakland.

When I was applying for the Martin fellowship I connected with a Haas alum who had won a similar fellowship a few years before me. We recognized we both had similar goals. He recently began developing land he and his family own and considering what kind of venture they want to use it for. We’ve started discussions around the types of pilots we will put together to determine what is most appealing to our customers.

In addition to these plans, I continue to work in mental health tech.  This semester, through the Lean Launchpad entrepreneurship class, I worked for a wellness startup Shimmer, focused on employer wellness benefits and insurance. My summer internship is focused on health insurance and mental health access for children and youth in  foster care.

Throughout this journey, I’ve realized how grateful I am to be living and working at a time where as a society we’re finally prioritizing mental health. There has been tremendous growth in the wellness industry and I am thrilled about increasing access and with the movement toward mental health destigmatization.

How search funds turn MBA “searchers” into young CEOs

Hannah Greenberg and Alex Lopez
Hannah Greenberg and Alex Lopez are “searchers” on the hunt to buy a U.S.-based software company.

Hannah Greenberg and Alex Lopez, both EMBA 20, are best friends who hope to add “chief executive” to their resumes.

The pair are looking to buy a software as a service (SaaS) company in the hospitality or financial services industry through their new search fund Ven Capital Partners. They scour markets for a perfect match, typically a successful 60-something owner who is about to retire. ”A lot of family businesses don’t think about succession and they don’t have a plan of what’s next for them when they retire,” Lopez said. “That’s where we come in.”

Greenberg and Lopez are known as “searchers” in the finance world, joining a growing tribe of MBAs who, lacking a pool of their own capital, use an established investment vehicle called a search fund to acquire a single, privately-held firm.The group includes pioneers like Mahesh Rajasekharan, MBA 09, and Sumit Garg, MBA 08, who co-founded search fund Globe Equity Partners in 2010. Two years later, the pair bought Cleo Communications, where Rajasekharan remains CEO.

More recently, Jeff Oldenburg, MBA 18, co-founder of the Tusker Fund, acquired Echosec, a Canadian cybersecurity company. Lance Barnard, MBA 21, founder of LML Capital, last month acquired and became CEO of Ward Pharmacy in Denver, Co.

“A very young CEO”

The search fund model isn’t new, but it’s growing fast at business schools. More than 400 search funds have been raised since 1984, according to a 2020 Stanford Business School Search Funds study, half of them within the past several years. From 1984 through 2019, investors put $1.4 billion of equity capital into traditional search funds and acquired companies.

Jan Simon teaches the Search Funds course at Haas.

“Search is really taking off,” said Jan Simon, a former Goldman Sachs executive who teaches the popular Search Funds course at Haas and is a managing partner at Vonzeo Capital Partners, typically investing in up to 25 search funds per year.  For MBAs who want to partly own a firm and serve as CEO, “it doesn’t get better than the search fund model,” said Simon, who also teaches at Barcelona’s IESE business school. “The average person who does this is 32 years old, a very young CEO,” he said. A typical search fund entrepreneur can land 25% to 35% ownership in a company (30% in the case of a team) over several years.

“Search is really taking off,” said Jan Simon, a former Goldman Sachs executive who teaches the popular Search Funds course at Haas.

Bill Rindfuss, executive director of strategic programs for the Haas Finance Group, pitched Search Funds as a new Berkeley Haas finance course in 2019, inviting Simon to teach it as an extracurricular. “It was well-attended and got great student evaluations, which helped greatly in getting it approved as a new course,” Rindfuss said.

While other courses, including New Venture Finance taught by Maura O’Neill and M&A courses taught by Peter Goodson, help prepare students to launch their own funds, the Search Funds class is the headliner for students focused on search.

The course teaches MBA students with little to no CEO experience how to raise money—usually between $500,000 to $800,000—from a group of a dozen or so individual investors. The class also walks students through the complexities of the search and acquisition process. Searchers typically hold the companies they buy for six to 10 years.

Startup vs search

The model isn’t for everyone, though, as there’s risk. About a third of all searches end without an acquisition. Search also might not be the right fit for students with true startup aspirations. “I ask students, ‘What appeals to you?’” Simon said. “Do you like to go from 0 to 10 in starting a company? A lot of people want to be in the middle—from 100 to 1,000. It’s that type of entrepreneur we’re looking for, someone who is taking an existing business and growing it.”

For Lopez, a former U.S. Marine with an investment banking background, and Greenberg, who has a private equity background, a search fund is the perfect middle ground, as both are entrepreneurial but had no interest in building a startup from scratch. While their total fund amount is undisclosed, their lead investor is Pacific Lake Partners, and they’ve also drawn a few investors in the Haas community.

They’re now looking to buy a company with a minimum of  $1.5 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) on revenue up to $50 million, and a clear path of repetitive business from existing customers. “Our job is to find companies that aren’t actively for sale and figure out where they are financially before it gets to the point where they want to be more formal,” Greenberg said.

Lopez, whose family is from Mexico, said he and Hannah add to the diversity of an industry that is lacking Latinx and female representation. Women account for just 7% of searchers, according to the Stanford Business School study. No data in the study tracked ethnicity.

“Women and Latinx entrepreneurs are slowly getting more opportunities in the space, but Hannah and I would love to pave the way for many more,” said Lopez.

A roller coaster at times

Joe Odell photo
Joe Odell, EMBA 20, co-founded search fund Steadfast Horizon.

There are also relatively few MBAs with families in the search fund space, which demands that searchers move to wherever they buy a company. Jess Patterson and Joe Odell, both EMBA 20, are an exception, starting search fund Steadfast Horizon last year.

By March, they’d raised $800,000, on the high end for a search fund, from 24 investors.

They’re unique in search in that they both have families—yet are willing to relocate to where a deal takes them. “Traditional search skews toward a different profile than our own,” Patterson said. “But our families are all in and ready to move.”

Odell said the process has been an emotional roller coaster at times, but fun.

“I didn’t feel like we were going to make it a few times during fundraising,” he said, adding that the “searcher” community has supported them along the way. “Search is incredible opportunity-wise and it’s not cutthroat. Each one of us is trying to build a new future for ourselves and those we love.”

 

 

Faculty, student instructors honored with Cheit teaching awards

photo of Cheit teaching award winners
Clockwise from top left: Ross Levine, Panos Patatoukas, Nancy Wallace, Dan Mulhern, Guo Xu, and Jenny Herbert Creek.

Six faculty members and five Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) have been honored at 2021 commencements for excellence in teaching.

Students in each degree program choose faculty each year to receive the Cheit Award, named after Dean Emeritus Earl F. Cheit, who made teaching excellence one of his top priorities.

This year’s winners include:

  • Evening & Weekend MBA program: Assoc. Prof. Panos Patatoukas (evening cohort), who teaches financial information analysis, and Prof. Ross Levine (weekend cohort), who teaches macroeconomics
  • Full-time MBA program: Lecturer Jenny Herbert Creek, who teaches finance
  • Undergraduate program: Dan Mulhern, who teaches leadership in the Management of Operations Group as a continuing lecturer and distinguished teaching fellow
  • PhD program: Asst. Prof. Guo Xu of the Business & Public Policy group
  • Master of Financial Engineering (MFE): Prof. Nancy Wallace, chair of the real estate group.  received GSI teaching awards.
  • Graduate student instructors (GSIs): Atusa Sadeghi (EWMBA); Devan Courtois (FTMBA); and Sooji Kim (undergraduate); and Maxine Sauzet and Nick Sanders (MFE)

Speaker to 2021 MBA grads: ‘Become more than you can even imagine’

Grad in front of the bears statue
A total of 276 Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA students and 167 Evening & Weekend MBA students graduated last Friday. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small

Commencement speaker Soyeon Yi, MBA 14, South Korea’s first astronaut, congratulated the Berkeley Haas Full-time and Evening & Weekend classes last Friday for making it to the finish line, sharing her own challenge in space that almost took her life.

Yi, who survived a near-fatal landing in 2008 after her spacecraft flipped upside down upon reentry to earth, urged the students to learn from their experiences during the pandemic. 

Soyeon Yi, South Korea’s first astronaut, gave the commencement speech.

“Like my landing, you’re passing one big challenge now,” Yi said. “There will be many more challenges ahead of you, even if we face the most unluckiest situation again. The most important thing we should do is ask how we can go through it and what we can learn from it.”

A total of 276 Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA students and 167 Evening & Weekend MBA students graduated last Friday with virtual ceremonies that included congratulatory videos from Dean Ann Harrison, student speakers, and alumni. (Watch the FTMBA video here and the EWMBA video here.)

Harrison praised the graduates for their academic achievements, along with their empathy, and leadership. The students not only continued to pour energy into clubs and conferences held online during the pandemic, but also called attention to racial injustices and helped small businesses stay afloat through many volunteer efforts, she said.

“This required more thought, more ingenuity, more dedication than in any prior year,” Harrison said. ”But you persevered and you became stronger leaders for it.” 

‘This is our unique story’

Some Haas grads joined grads across campus last week, crossing the stage at the Greek Theatre. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small

Peter Johnson, assistant dean of the Full-time MBA program, commended the class for its accomplishments inside and outside of the classroom.

I’m honored to play a role in celebrating everyone’s success today, including the family and friends of these graduates,” Johnson said. “This is your celebration too.” 

Fede Pacheco, the full-time MBA commencement student speaker, talked about one of the darkest days of the pandemic, when wildfires brought an apocalyptic orange sky to the Bay Area, and the photos he took to mark that day.

Pacheco urged students to savor the good times and reflect on the moments when they found creative ways to lean on each other, in spite of the unprecedented year they all endured. 

“This is not a beautiful story, but it’s our unique story. We are our unique story,” he said. “We found each other, we have each other. We have to hold onto each other.”

An MBA grad celebrates commencement with her little bear. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small

‘Become more than you can even imagine’

Jamie Breen, assistant dean of MBA Programs for Working Professionals, said that the students in the EWMBA program continued to balance school, work and their personal lives with “grit, grace, and energy,” during the pandemic.

Commencement student speaker Kate Hughes, EWMBA 21, noted that members of her class arrived at Haas with a unique set of “brands” or labels that influenced their identities such as gender, family status, and lived experiences. They are leaving the school as Haas graduates, another distinctive brand, she said.

“We’ve been pushed to lead with authenticity, harnessing our backgrounds to foster a different way of creative thinking,” she said. “As we step into this new chapter of our lives, I challenge you to become more than you can even imagine. I challenge you to embrace everything that we’ve learned at Haas to create a new brand of leader. One that can make a profound impact at a time when our country and planet need it the most.”

Haas alumni, who ranged from recent grads to veteran business leaders, also sent their well wishes and encouraged grads to tap into their network regularly. 

Graduates hugging
Celebrating with family and friends on campus. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small.

Among those alumni were Shantanu Narayen, MBA 93, chairman, president, and CEO of Adobe; Scott Galloway, MBA 92, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business; and TubeMogul founder Brett Wilson, MBA 07; Abhishek Sharma, MBA 16, founder and CEO of Shake the Cosmos; Bree Jenkins, MBA 19, a leadership development associate at Pixar; Jessie Tang, MBA 20, principal and head of strategic initiatives at Gratitude Railroad; and Liz Rockett, MBA/MPH 10, director of Kaiser Permanente Ventures.

Haas faculty also bid farewell to graduates and told them to stay in touch as they start the next chapters of their lives. Among those faculty were Prof. Ross Levine, Assoc. Prof. Yaniv Konchitchki, Assoc. Prof. Panos Patatoukas, Rebecca Portnoy, a professional faculty member, and Mark Rittenberg, a continuing professional faculty member

Award winners for the full-time MBA class of 2021:

Achievement Award: Devan Courtois

Student always: José Ramón Avellana

Beyond yourself: Kendall Bills

Question the status quo: Fayzan Gowani

Confidence without attitude: Fede Pacheco

Cheit award for Graduate Student Instructor: Devan Courtois

Haas lecturer Jenny Herbert Creek, who teaches finance, won the Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching. Students in each degree program choose faculty each year to receive the award, the top teaching honor at Berkeley Haas.

Award winners for the evening & weekend MBA class of 2021:

Achievement Award: George Pradhan

Student Always: Lindsey Hoell

Beyond Yourself: Kyle Cook

Question the Status Quo: Alyssa Farrelly

Confidence without Attitude: Kate Hughes

Berkeley Leader Award Winner: Anna Lee

Cheit Award for Graduate Student Instructor: Atusa Sadeghi

Prof. Panos Patatoukas, who teaches financial information analysis, won the Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching in the evening cohort and Prof. Ross Levine, who teaches macroeconomics, won the Cheit Award in the weekend cohort.

Five questions with Paula Fernandez-Baca, MBA 21, who leads with empathy

Portrait: Paula Fernandez-Baca, MBA 21
Paula Fernandez-Baca will join consulting group Bain & Company after graduation. Photo credit: Benny Johnson, MBA 20.

As commencement approaches, we’re interviewing students from different Haas programs about their experiences at Berkeley Haas and where they plan to go next. 

Today we feature Paula Fernandez-Baca, MBA 21, a former educator and fundraiser who worked at Teach for America and KIPP Public Charter Schools in Texas and in the San Francisco Bay Area. At Haas, she served as VP of Community for the full-time MBA Association, VP of the Latinx Business Club, and as a team lead of the Race Inclusive Initiative, a student consulting group focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Fernandez-Baca will join global managing consulting firm Bain & Company this summer.

You began your career in education, taking on teaching and philanthropy positions at Teach for America (TFA) and KIPP. Why did you decide to go to business school?

Going to business school was about setting myself up to make an impact in the long term. I loved working at Teach For America and KIPP because of their missions to help underserved students and communities that mirrored my own. I also admired and wanted to be like the leaders who ran these organizations. I decided to research their backgrounds and realized there was a trend: the vast majority of these people had a business background. So I thought, if I wanted to be like them, I needed to get some business skills. 

What initiative or project are you most proud of as a Haas student and why?

One of the things that attracted me to Haas was its work around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), particularly its efforts to increase the number of underrepresented minority (URM) students on campus. I joined the Race Inclusion Initiative, a student consulting group that works with the administration on DEI issues. I led a team of three, which included classmates Kimberly Mendez and Lupe Manriquez, and partnered with Om Chitale, director of Diversity Admissions at Haas, to create a structured, equitable, and holistic interviewing process for Haas candidates. 

We also worked on a feasibility study to test whether Haas could partner with a test prep agency to offer free GMAT test prep for prospective Haas students. One of the biggest barriers to applying to business school for URM students is the cost of test prep. Last semester, we presented our findings to faculty, staff, students, and Dean Harrison. After our presentation, Dean Harrison wrote to us, expressing her support for the initiative. Doing this kind of work and working with my classmates was incredibly meaningful to me.

What are some of the skills you learned at Haas that have made a difference in how you see the world?

I’ve learned three skills at Haas that have made a difference in how I see the world. One, the ability to make decisions with limited data. In my previous jobs, I always relied on or pushed for data to make the best decisions for my organizations, but I’ve now learned that sometimes, I’m not always going to have all the data that I need. The real world doesn’t work that way. So I now ask myself, how can I make the best decision with the information that I have? 

Two, the power of owning and sharing my story. I took an elective course called Storytelling for Leadership and it was one of the most impactful experiences that I’ve had. Every week, students were tasked with practicing a certain story about themselves and drilling down on what makes a good story. We learned how to draw people in and bring them along on our journey. I used the skills from that class to tell a very personal story during Story Salon, a Haas event where students tell personal and vulnerable stories. 

Three, learning how to manage change. Historically, I haven’t managed change well. But this year has taught me to lean into my experiences, get comfortable with the unknown, and accept the fact that I can’t know everything that’s going to happen in the future. Instead I can make the best decision that I can right now. 

You took on many leadership roles at Haas. You served as VP of the Latinx Club and the VP of community for the FTMBA Association, to name a couple of examples. How did you reinvent these roles during the pandemic?

I loved my VP of community role because it gave me the chance to connect with and support the Haas student community and culture. I didn’t do this work alone. I’m grateful to the Story Salon team and coaches who were absolutely amazing. I’m proud of the fact that we hosted events that were super popular despite the pandemic. Roughly 120 people would tune in to Story Salon and about 150 people participated in Deep Dish Lunches throughout the semester. To have that type of engagement when everyone is Zoomed-out is just not heard of. 

I came into the new role of VP of culture with the Latinx Business Club feeling excited about hosting for the first time a series of events for Hispanic Heritage Month. When the pandemic hit, I was determined to make sure that we were showcasing Latino culture at Haas. Our presence was going to be felt, even if all of our events were virtual. We organized interactive activities such as a Dominican food cooking demonstration and a Latin cocktail demonstration, which was one of the most highly-attended Zooms of the Week.

We also hosted our own “Ask Me Anything” event, inviting Latinx first-and second-year students to share their stories with classmates about what it’s like to be Latino in America. Lastly, we invited Latinx alumni, whom we fondly called our elders, to give career advice to current students. 

What did you take away from doing the MBA program during a pandemic and what’s next for you? 

I’ll be working as a consultant at Bain & Company in Houston, Texas. Bain has a generalist model, so I’ll be working on all types of projects across multiple industries. 

What I’ll take away most from this MBA program during a pandemic is learning how to lead with empathy. It has become so clear to me the importance of dialing in to how people are feeling and to let them know that you’re there with them, especially during times of uncertainty. It’s such a cliche quote, but it rings true for me: “People aren’t going to remember what you know, or what you say, but people will remember how you made them feel”.

Berkeley MBAs earn third-highest lifelong salaries among b-school alum

Berkeley MBAs are not only making an impact in their careers, they’re also earning the third highest salaries among top business school graduates over a lifetime, according to new research.

A recent Poets & Quants article The MBA Premium: What MBAs Earn Over A Lifetime Will Shock You detailed what MBA grads can expect to earn mid-career and over an estimated lifetime.

P&Q commissioned PayScale to collect this data for the first time since 2014.

The compensation software maker surveyed online data for 2,390 graduates from the top 50 U.S. business schools. They estimated median pay and bonus over both a 20-year and 35-year period, essentially a lifetime of post-MBA earnings.

Harvard Business School MBAs topped the PayScale list with its graduates earning a median lifetime income of $8.5 million, followed by Stanford with $8.3 million, and Berkeley Haas with $8.25 million.

Early-career pay for Berkeley Haas grads was $137,000, with 20-year earnings growing to $3.67 million.

Comparatively, the lifetime median earning of a Top 50 MBA grad is $5.65 million. (Lifetime median pay for all graduates with bachelor’s degrees is $3.32 million.)

“It is clear from this new data that our grads are not only making an impact on the world and building powerful networks through Berkeley Haas, but they are also launching rewarding lifelong careers that carry a clear return on the investment made in their degrees,” said Berkeley Haas Dean Ann Harrison.

The PayScale estimates include base salary, cash bonuses, and profit-sharing in today’s dollars.

“The estimates show that the MBA degree–despite all the second-guessing over its value–is one of the surest paths to a lucrative career,” Poets & Quants Editor John Byrne wrote.

The PayScale research was also published in Forbes.

Emmy-winning journalist Diane Dwyer and astronaut Soyeon Yi named commencement speakers

South Korea’s first astronaut, Soyeon Yi, MBA 14, and Emmy award winning former broadcast journalist Diane Dwyer, BS 87, will serve as commencement speakers this May. 

Yi will speak at the Full-time and Evening & Weekend MBA commencements and Dwyer will speak at undergraduate commencement.

This year, commencement celebrations will be held virtually. The MBA commencement will take place Friday, May 21, 2021 and the undergraduate commencement will take place Saturday, May 15, 2021. Commencement celebration videos for undergraduate, Evening & Weekend, and Full-time MBA celebrations can be viewed online via Marching Order, an online platform used to host UC Berkeley’s virtual graduations.

“We’re so pleased to welcome two inspiring alumnae to address our soon-to-be graduates,” said Haas Dean Ann Harrison. “Soyeon and Diane reflect the very best of Haas and truly embody our Defining Leadership Principles.”

Soyeon Yi, MBA 14

Before coming to Berkeley, Yi spent 10 days at the International Space Station in 2008, making her South Korea’s first astronaut.  

Six years after her space mission, Yi decided to add a Berkeley MBA to her PhD in biosystems. Currently, she leads customer engagement at startup ProtoPie and works with Silicon Valley satellite startup Loft Orbital Solutions. 

Yi has lectured at the University of Washington and was recently selected to join the Karman Project 2021 Fellowship Program, which aims to foster trust and encourage collaboration among global leaders who want to positively impact space-related initiatives.

Dwyer worked as a broadcast journalist for 25 years, reporting important stories that range from the inauguration of President Bill Clinton to the Oakland Hills Firestorm.  

She started her career as an anchor and reporter at KXLF in Butte, Mont. in 1988. She joined the KTVU-Channel 2 newsroom two years later, where she launched and co-hosted the Morning Show with Ross McGowan for several years. 

Thereafter, she became the solo weekend news anchor for NBC Bay Area. Her reporting won her two Emmy awards and prestigious awards from the Associated Press and the National Academy of Radio and Television Artists. 

Dwyer is a professional faculty member at Haas who teaches a course called Innovations in Communications and Public Relations and currently runs her own consulting business, Dwyer Media Consulting.

Berkeley Haas startup founders raise record funding

A sustainable, space-saving vertical strawberry farm that produces ultra-sweet berries without pesticides and an online bank for “free thinkers, rebels, and entrepreneurs” were among the new companies that propelled Berkeley Haas to No. 4 for fundraising on the Poets & Quants Top 100 MBA startups list this year.

Annually, Poets & Quants ranks b-school startups with at least $5.5 million or more in funding. To be considered, founders must have launched their startups within the five prior years (2015-2020) and have at least one founder enrolled in an MBA program within that time frame.

Hiroki Koga, MBA 17
Hiroki Koga, MBA 17, developed his idea for more sustainable farming with Oishii at Haas.

This year, five Haas companies founded in that period raised a record total of $125 million. Two Haas startups made it into the Top 20, including Oishii, founded by Hiroki Koga, MBA 17, ($50 million) and Oxygen, founded by Hussein Ahmed, EMBA 18, ($33 million).

Also on the list were Kyte, a car-sharing startup co-founded by Ludwig Schoenack, MBA 19, ($18 million); Time by Ping, a timekeeping automation company co-founded by Kourosh Zamanizadeh, EWMBA 18, ($17.3 million); and healthcare startup Twentyeight Health, cofounded by Amy Fan, MBA/MPH 19, ($6.08 million). Twentyeight Health also made Poets & Quants’ 2020 “Most Disruptive Startups” list.

Amy Fan
Amy Fan, MBA/MPH 19, co-founder of Twentyeight Health

Stanford, Harvard, and Columbia Business School had seven startups on the 2021 list, while Haas, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and France’s INSEAD all had five.

“We’re so proud of what these startup founders have accomplished,” said Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program, noting that founders from four MBA degree programs–full-time MBA,  evening & weekend MBA, MBA/MPH, and executive MBA—are represented on the P&Q list. “Their ongoing success is proof of the depth and breadth of our entrepreneurship programs across campus, and a testament to the drive that so many of our students have to build world-changing startups.”

More proof of that drive came this week as Ryan McQuaid, MBA 08, announced that he’d sold his startup, virtual primary care platform Plushcare, to Accolade for $450 million. McQuaid, who started Plushcare at Haas, made previous Poets & Quants Top MBA startup lists.

Entrepreneurship is one of Dean Ann Harrison’s top three priorities for the school, and Haas continues to invest in new resources, recently announcing three new professors in its Entrepreneurship & Innovation group and a plan to build a new entrepreneurship hub on campus. “It’s gratifying to see so many Haas founders on this list who are solving important problems that impact everything from the environment to healthcare,” Harrison said.

Validating the business model

Oishii strawberries
Oishii’s sustainable strawberries have two to three times the sweetness of a conventional strawberry. Photo: Oishii

Jersey City-based Oishii, ranked No. 14 on the list, runs a vertical farming operation, raising top-quality strawberries that are tested to ensure two to three times the sweetness of conventional berries.

Founder Koga arrived at Haas in 2015 after working as a consultant in the vertical farm industry in Japan. Realizing that agriculture was no longer sustainable, he decided to tackle the problem by growing crops indoors, which allowed him to use 90% less land and water, eliminate the use of pesticides, and cut down on food transportation distances.

The MBA program provided two years to assess his hypothesis and validate the business model in the U.S., something he said he could never have done from Japan. During Koga’s second year, he entered the LAUNCH accelerator program—and won the competition, “which gave us more credibility and recognition as we were raising our seed round.”

Oishii’s strawberries, coveted by chefs, sold out pre-pandemic, Koga said. But as more people started cooking at home over the past year, they became increasingly aware of what they were eating and more willing to pay for higher-quality produce. As a result, many vertical farm companies have grown quickly and experienced a significant increase in revenue and funding, Koga said.

Filling in missing pieces

Startup Oxygen, No. 19 on the P&Q list, offers banking to freelancers, consumers, and small businesses, with no monthly fees, marketing itself as a new kind of bank account for “free thinkers, rebels, and entrepreneurs.”

Hussein Ahmed, EMBA 18, founded Oxygen to help people who don’t fit the “typical mold” for banking.

Ahmed said he founded Oxygen out of personal experiences with banks. “Living for a big part of my life as a “solopreneur,” consultant, and business owner, it was always a struggle to work with banks and financial institutions because I didn’t fit the typical molds they have—either a 9-to-5 full-time employee or a corporation—nothing in between,” he said.

The pandemic, while horrible, was “a blessing in disguise” for Oxygen, he said. With stay-at-home orders, digital banking suddenly became the only way to bank “without having to drive down to a branch and wait in line masked up,” he said. There was also a massive boom in new business formations in the U.S., which significantly accelerated Oxygen’s small-business banking growth.

Ahmed, who has an engineering background and started companies before he arrived at Haas, said the MBA program helped fill in missing pieces.

“With an engineering background and product focus, along with scars and wins and street smarts, I was still missing the academics and business tactics from economics, finance, and accounting,” he said. “Having those subjects, great professors, and class discussions gives a lot of perspective on how to think about all those different angles and perspectives—while being at the helm dealing with everything on a day-to-day basis.”

Poshmark’s Manish Chandra, EWMBA 95, on how clothing creates community

As CEO of Poshmark, Manish Chandra, EWMBA 95, constantly questions how and why people shop, and the journey clothing takes from the supply chain to closets to resale.

Manish Chandra, MBA95
Manish Chandra, EWMBA 95

A decade after he graduated from the evening & weekend MBA program, he started the pioneering social shopping platform Kaboodle, which he sold to Hearst two years later in 2007.  Poshmark, a social marketplace for new and used clothing and accessories that he founded in 2011, focuses largely on extending the life cycle of clothing.

In a Dean’s Speaker Series event on April 9, MBA students and Robert Strand, executive director of the Center for Responsible Business at Haas, interviewed Chandra about how he embeds sustainability into the core of his business, his journey as a leader, and his vision for the future of capitalism.

Here are a few highlights from the interview.

On the meaning of clothing: “Clothing really binds people together. It brings a sense of community, it empowers people, it makes people feel good, proud. It can uplift people.”

On Poshmark’s rise in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic: “Covid 19 was a seismic shock and a very sad shock for all of us. We’re still reeling from it. We’re isolated and we’re not physically connected. The circular economy and the resale really was in many ways a connector. When you bought and sold things from each other it connected you to another human being. It gave you something that was very powerful, that took energy to do. We saw the rise of second hand.”

On capitalism in the post-pandemic world: “We’re at a very powerful moment in our history…As we come out of hiding places and the world reintegrates over the next few months, I feel like everyone is looking at their life and looking at their values in a very different way. And as we go out and truly experience both the wonder of human connection and the misery that people have had, it’s a really important time to transform how we feel about consumption, how we feel about capitalism, and how we feel about sustainability. I think all three things can exist in a meaningful way.”

On getting an MBA: “Haas is, for me, one of the most transformational experiences, particularly because it happened after I’d worked for a few years and I was looking at finding that next level of growth for me.”

Watch the full interview:

 

Startup Spotlight: Lastbit’s plan to revolutionize cross-border payments

Startup Spotlight profiles startups founded by current Berkeley Haas students or recent alumni.

Lastbit
Co-founders: Bernardo Magnani, MBA 20, and Prashanth Balasubramanian

lastbit logo

Economist and former McKinsey consultant Bernardo Magnani, MBA 20, said he spends a lot of time thinking deeply about the meaning of money and how it regulates societies and human behavior. That fascination—and a drive to shake up the international payment industry— led him to early bitcoin user Prashanth Balasubramanian, and fintech startup Lastbit. In this interview, he discusses how he fell into entrepreneurship at Haas and wound up making it into the prestigious Y Combinator accelerator.

 

What does your startup do (in about 20 words)?

Lastbit is building a payment platform to enable cheap and instant cross-border settlements leveraging the Bitcoin Lightning Network

How did you get started in entrepreneurship at Haas? 

Bernardo magnani
Lastbit co-founder Bernardo Magnani, MBA 20, is on a mission to offer cheaper and faster cross-border payments.

When I came to Haas, I didn’t really know I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I didn’t even take a single entrepreneurship-related course during my MBA program. Nevertheless, I was very clear about the fact that I wanted to work close to financial institutions and payments.

I came to business school sponsored by McKinsey, and despite the fact that my experience with the consulting firm was very positive, I was having doubts about whether it was the right platform for me to drive change.

During my summer internship, I worked for one of the biggest financial institutions in South America, looking for an alternative path. I had a beautiful experience, leading three teams and nine people in digital transformation initiatives. But again, I didn’t feel that was my path. I wanted to do more things, faster.

Following my intuition, I came back to Haas determined to explore entrepreneurship. I reached out to Santiago Pezzoni, Santiago Freyria, and Francesco Dipierro, co-founders of StEP, who are now dear friends. I had heard amazing things about the program and felt that joining a rising project at the heart of the business school was the best way to learn. Eventually, I became part of StEP’s leadership team and fell in love with entrepreneurship.

Where did you meet your co-founder Prashanth Balasubramanian?

Prashanth Balasubramanian
Lastbit founder Prashanth Balasubramanian faced challenges moving money from India to pay his tuition in Switzerland.

After joining StEP, I knew I wanted to find an opportunity with a fintech startup. I first heard about Lastbit and Prashanth through SkyDeck. I read everything I could find online about Prashanth and his project. I immediately felt connected to his story, values, mission, and even his love for heavy metal music. I had to meet him.

Intending to meet him, I went to my first and last networking event of my MBA. He was not there. I was bummed. Eventually, I found him and we started working together almost immediately. I never looked back after that.

Today, I’m very proud of our partnership and feel that we complement each other perfectly. On paper, we have pretty much no overlap and very different backgrounds, but our drive, vision, and values are pretty much the same.

Where did the idea for Lastbit come from? 

Prashanth decided to start Lastbit when he was studying for his Master’s in Computer Science at ETH Zurich. While in Switzerland, he faced a lot of challenges moving money from India to pay his tuition and eventually decided to use Bitcoin.

Despite its potential, Prashanth realized that Bitcoin was still very far from delivering on its promise of being a new viable monetary system. Transactions were too slow and expensive, and using Bitcoin for real-world transactions was close to impossible. He decided to leave his Master’s program to start Lastbit with the mission to take Bitcoin mainstream, leveraging the Lightning Network, a technology that makes sending as little as a dollar instantly across the globe economically viable.

Why did the idea appeal to you personally?

Growing up in Mexico I saw how broken financial services are and I’ve been trying to find a way to solve this. When I met Prashanth, I immediately understood what cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin could mean for financial services. I’ve worked close to banks for around seven years and had never seen something nearly as exciting. I believe cryptocurrencies are the only credible promise to drive a paradigm shift in financial services.

What’s the Lightning Network and why is it so important?

The Lightning Network is a communication protocol built on top of Bitcoin that allows money to be sent between two parties instantly for very low fees without requiring a middleman to settle the transaction. The Lightning Network as a technology is meaningful for financial services because it’s arguably the fastest and most cost-effective way to settle transactions in the history of digital payments.

The Lightning Network as a technology is meaningful for financial services because it’s arguably the fastest and most cost-effective way to settle transactions in the history of digital payments.

Disrupting cross-border payment settlements with the Lightning Network could mean that sending and receiving money across the globe to anyone, anywhere, could be as simple and fast as paying your friends for lunch using Venmo or CashApp.

International payment settlements have seen no meaningful disruption in almost 50 years. Today, most global payments are still settled using the guidelines set by SWIFT, a protocol developed in the 1970s that isn’t up to par with the requirements of an economy that’s become more digital and global. SWIFT transactions can take five days or more and can cost $50 or more to settle, whereas Lightning transactions are instant and cost less than a penny each.

Getting into Y Combinator is exciting for any startup. What was the virtual experience like?

Quite frankly, one of the best experiences of my life. Honestly, I was a little skeptical about this batch being remote and I questioned how much value it would have for us. But for me, as a first-time founder, it was very transformative. It provided both unparalleled knowledge and access to one of the deepest networks in Silicon Valley.

Y Combinator marked a before and after for us. We just had our demo day (an event held twice a year when startups present to investors) and it’s been crazy. The interest we got is overwhelming. It feels like a dream come true.

What’s been the biggest challenge for Lastbit so far? 

The biggest challenge has to be regulation. Cryptocurrencies have operated outside of the scope of traditional financial regulation for most of their history. Nevertheless, regulation has started to emerge globally.

We take regulation very seriously and are always looking to be one step ahead of what’s strictly required from us. Nevertheless, there is no real guarantee that regulation in the future will be favorable for businesses like ours. For example, some countries, including India, are attempting to ban cryptocurrencies.

All taken into consideration, I believe that regulation is a good thing and for us and being proactive about it can be a competitive advantage as it was for Coinbase.

What are your goals for the next six months? 

Right now we are super focused on Europe, working on enabling cheaper and faster euro-to-euro merchant payments and remittances between Europe and Africa. Our goal for the next 12 to 18 months is to grow the business enough to raise a Series A round, which may require expanding our focus to other geographies, such as the USA.

The long term vision is to build a platform that connects all the major international payment corridors so that businesses across the globe can build payment solutions using our infrastructure. Think about Stripe, but for cross-border payments.

 

Berkeley MBA and Law mentors help Cal student athletes map their futures

When MBA student Sandeep Shah met Cal wide receiver Monroe Young, they talked about football first, one of Shah’s passions, and then moved on to Young’s future career plans.

Monroe Young Cal football
Wide receiver Monroe Young works with mentor Sandeep Shah, MBA 22. Photo: Al Sermeno, KLC fotos

“He’s exploring the idea of turning professional,” said Shah, MBA 22, who earned a bachelor’s degree in sports management at the University of Texas at Austin, and worked with the football team there.

Whether or not Young makes it to the NFL, Shah is helping him map out everything from resume drafting to professional network building through a new mentoring program that matches MBA and law students with 20 Cal football players, one Cal women’s rower, and one Cal baseball player.

The program launched this month, a joint effort between the Haas Sports Business Club and the Cameron Institute, which serves as the Cal Athletics department for student-athlete development.

“An opportunity to create more interest”

Ben Adler, JD/MBA 21, who initiated the mentoring program as vice president of marketing for the Haas Sports Business Club, said his interest in mentoring athletes grew after he worked with Gabby Costamagna, BA 21, a member of the Cal women’s rowing team who was considering going to law school.

Ben adler
Ben Adler, MBA/JD 21, initiated the mentoring program as vice president of marketing for the Haas Sports Business Club.

He also teamed with the Cal Athletics Department on a consulting project, part of which centered on the lack of graduate student engagement with Cal Athletics.

“Berkeley has thousands of graduate students who have allegiances to their undergraduate teams,” said Adler, who is partial to his own alma mater, University of Michigan. “We’re not as identified with Cal, so there was an opportunity to create more interest among grad students.”

One way of doing that, he thought, was connecting grad students directly to the athletes through a mentoring program. So through the Sports Business Club, Adler reached out to the Cameron Institute.

Bineti Vitta, the Cameron Institute’s director of career development, said they were immediately interested because mentoring aligns with the Institute’s career development pillar.

Piloting the program with student-athletes made sense, she added, as a common mindset among high-profile teams is centered around going pro. Yet in 2020, only 1.6% of NCAA football players were drafted to go professional. If players don’t go pro, they are often challenged with finding an identity outside of sports. “They love their sport and can’t even imagine there’s something that they could love equally,” Vitta said.

They love their sport and can’t even imagine there’s something that they could love equally, – the Cameron Institute’s Bineti Vitta.

Exploring and refining a career path

Kendall Stuscavage, MBA/MPH 22,
Kendall Stuscavage, MBA/MPH 22,  a Cal undergraduate cross-country runner, mentors Josh Drayden.

During five hour-long sessions with mentors, athletes explore various career paths based on their interests, begin to build resumes, and discuss ways to frame their experiences as leaders.

Kendall Stuscavage, MBA/MPH 22, who ran Division 1 cross-country for Cal as an undergraduate, is mentoring Cal cornerback Josh Drayden. Drayden’s top choice is the NFL, but the two have discussed alternate plans—including work in sports management or coaching, or maybe entrepreneurship. “I am helping him to explore and refine that path,” she said.

Josh Drayden cal football
Cornerback Josh Drayden called the mentoring program “a great tool for student athletes.” Photo: Al Sermeno, KLC fotos

Drayden called the mentoring program “a great tool for the student athletes here.” “I look forward to working with Kendall more,” he said.

Stuscavage said that the mentoring program is rewarding personally, and also provided an opportunity for her to stay involved with the Cal sports community. “I grew up in the Bay Area and was a Cal Bears fan since I could say the words, “Go Bears,” she said. “As a lifelong athlete, sports are my passion.”

When Adler graduates this spring, he’ll hand off the mentoring program to Stuscavage and Shah. He said he hopes they will expand the pilot to other Cal sports programs, and recruit graduate students from beyond the business and law schools as mentors to expand the career scope of mentorship.

“We would love to expand the mentorship program and the relationship between Haas and other professional schools on campus,” Shah said. “We have high hopes beyond this to create something that is sustainable.”

 

US News ranks all three Berkeley MBA Programs in top 10 

Student walking in front of Haas sign
Photo: Noah Berger

The Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA Program ranked #7 and the Evening & Weekend MBA Program ranked #2 among part-time programs again in the US News & World Report, released today. The Berkeley MBA for Executives ranked #8 among executive MBA Programs.

In the top 10 specialty rankings, Haas placed:

#8 in Business Analytics

#4 in Entrepreneurship

#8 in Executive MBA

#7 in Finance

#9 in International (tied with Saint Louis University–Chaifetz)

#4 in Nonprofit

#3 in Real Estate

The full-time MBA rankings are based on data provided by participating U.S. schools and on polls of business school deans and directors of accredited MBA programs, as well as surveys of corporate recruiters and company contacts. The score is calculated from placement success and starting salary (35%), student selectivity (25%), a peer poll (25%), and the average of the last three years of recruiter polls (15%).

Part-time MBA rankings are based on data from participating schools and on polls of business school deans and directors of accredited part-time programs. The score is calculated from  the peer polls (50%), student selectivity (27.5%), work experience (10%), and percent of MBA students who are enrolled part-time (12.5.).

The specialty and the executive MBA rankings are based entirely on polls of business school deans and directors of accredited MBA programs.

The EWMBA ranked #2 for the third year in a row. The Full-time MBA ranked #7 for 13 of the last 14 years. The Berkeley MBA for Executives ranked #7 for the last two years.

View the full report here. (log-in may be required).

Student-led StEP fills critical gap for campus startups

The co-founders of StEP
L-R: StEP program co-founders Santiago Freyria, Francesco Dipierro, and Santiago Pezzoni.

When Santiago Pezzoni isn’t in his Berkeley Haas MBA classes, he’s running his fintech startup, Digiventures

And when he’s not running Digiventures, he’s helping other UC Berkeley students start their own companies as co-founder and program manager of StEP (Student Entrepreneurship Program), a 10-week campus-wide incubator that has so far assisted 120 startups. 

 “There are so many people on campus—PhDs, postdocs, engineers—who have fantastic ideas and technologies, but you ask them ‘how will you make that a business?’ and they say, ‘I’m not sure,’” said Pezzoni, MBA 21, who co-founded StEP with Santiago Freyria and Francesco Dipierro, both MBA 20. “We’re figuring out how to get them involved and help them take their fantastic ideas into the world.”

Launched in 2019, StEP is a cross-collaboration among Berkeley student clubs, faculty, entrepreneurship organizations, and VCs. It aims to fill a gap the founders discovered in the campus startup ecosystem.  

“Our research found that while more than 80% of Haas students we interviewed took entrepreneurship classes or had startup ideas, less than 5% were able to access accelerators or pre-seed funding,” Pezzoni said.

“Our research found that while more than 80% of Haas students we interviewed took entrepreneurship classes or had startup ideas, less than 5% were able to access accelerators or pre-seed funding.” — Santiago Pezzoni.

Berkeley students, faculty or alumni can apply to StEP as teams or individuals, and opt to be matched with others. All of the teams meet on Zoom weekly, using skills they learn in StEP to take their ideas forward. They also meet separately each week with mentors to review goals and achievements. At the end of the program, teams pitch their startup plans to investors.

StEP applicants choose one of two paths, depending on whether they are looking for help with an idea or want to be matched with others who already have an idea. The program’s founders reach across programs and schools to find people with the right skill sets needed by the new teams. Later, the founders work to connect the teams with investors who can provide early-stage capital.

“You only do it if you really love this”

So far, 120 startups have completed the StEP program, and 30% of them still exist. About a quarter of participants are from Haas, including Dispatch Goods, founded by Lindsey Hoell, who was last year’s StEP showcase winner and is now growing her company at UC Berkeley SkyDeck, a partnership among Haas, Berkeley Engineering, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research.  

Pezzoni, who won the LAUNCH program last year with Digiventures, said StEP helps students to clarify whether the startup life is for them. “Being an entrepreneur is not a sexy life,” he said. “It’s tough, and you only do it if you really love this. You have to decide why you want to be a founder.”

“Being an entrepreneur is not a sexy life,” he said. “It’s tough, and you only do it if you really love this. You have to decide why you want to be a founder.”

StEP’s founders say they work about 20 hours a week apiece on the program, chatting often with startup stakeholders across campus including Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program (BHEP), Caroline Winnett, executive director of Berkeley SkyDeck, and former Haas Dean Rich Lyons, now UC Berkeley’s Chief Innovation and Entrepreneurship Officer, who supported StEP from its inception.

Moving through the startup ecosystem

The typical trajectory for new startup teams is to start with a program like StEP and continue with a Berkeley program like NSF I-Corps , CITRIS Foundry, Form+Fund, and then, with that experience under their belts, apply to the LAUNCH incubator program. María del Mar Londoño, MBA 21, founder of SuperPetfoods, won the StEP finals two years ago and continued on to the LAUNCH finals. StEP co-founder Freyria also went through LAUNCH as a co-founder of Callisto Spirits, a botanical rum maker that raised $650,000.

Bernardo Magnani, MBA 21, who is part of the StEP leadership team, left a consulting career to co-found Lastbit, and was accepted to the prestigious Y Combinator startup accelerator program. Magnani just raised $2 million for the company, which allows customers to make instant low-cost global Bitcoin payments. 

“I’m such a fan of StEP,” Shrader said. “Sometimes the hardest part of entrepreneurship is just finding a teammate or asking a bunch of questions with people who are all learning together. StEP is just a beautiful resource for the campus—designed and delivered by students.”

The passion to keep building the program unites the StEP team, Dipierro said. 

“We’re working to build something that will continue, that can be sustainable at UC Berkeley for the next 10 years,” he said. 

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