Startup Roundup: Better beards, smarter healthcare, virtual water cooler chats

The startup roundup series spotlights students and recent alumni who are starting a new business or enterprise.

Newmen founders
John Melizanis, BS 20, founded men’s grooming product company Newmen with Joseph Lorenzo, a University of Tampa graduate, and Jake Lourenco, BA 20 (political science).

Newmen

Founders: John Melizanis, BS 20, Joseph Lorenzo, a University of Tampa graduate, and Jake Lourenco, BA 20 (political science)

What does Newmen do (in 20 words or less)?

We’re a men’s grooming brand that helps hard-working men look good, feel good, and smell good.

How did you come up with the idea?

Joseph, my co-founder and best friend since fourth grade, had the biggest beard and didn’t like the grooming options that were out there. With that in mind, we both said, ‘Let’s make something happen.’ It’s the second company we’ve started together.

Joseph Lorenzo grooms his beard.
Newmen co-founder Joseph Lorenzo straightens his beard with a Newman beard brush.

What problem does Newmen solve?

There’s an under-served demographic when it comes to men’s grooming needs. The men who come to our site are often buying products for the first time. We’re building a community around this group, offering products like scented beard oils, a beard straightener, and a protective heat spray for beards.

You participated in the UC LAUNCH accelerator with a different startup. What did you learn that you apply now?

LAUNCH taught us how to test products quickly. We did a lot of research on our Newmen oils, which are made by a small mom and pop shop in Detroit. We wanted to figure out what scents men liked and what’s good for the skin, so we looked at what a lot of women’s skin-care companies were selling.

We tested our products on hundreds of men super quickly, asking them how their faces felt after using our products for a week. We’re super close to our customers and we have early evangelists, people whom we text and email all the time. These people aren’t necessarily spending the most time on our website, but have been crucial in the development of Newmen. They might spend $40, but they’re giving us feedback all the time, telling their friends what they just bought and why.

Has anyone from Haas helped you with your startup?

Of course! Assoc. Prof. Panos Patatoukas has been super helpful. I met Panos before I came to Cal and he was extremely supportive throughout my undergraduate years. I’d be working on something and I’d ask him, ‘What do you think?’ He was a great sounding board and a supportive mentor. Additionally, Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program, has been the best, along with Aaron McDaniel, a professional faculty member at Haas, and Darren Cooke, a LAUNCH advisor.

I met Panos before I came to Cal and he was extremely supportive throughout my undergraduate years. I’d be working on something and I’d ask him, ‘What do you think?’ He was a great sounding board and a supportive mentor.

Newmen beard oils
Newmen beard oils come in different scents that the company tested with customers.

What are your goals for the next six to 12 months?

We’re selling only on our website right now. We’ve been making a profit so we haven’t thought about raising money yet. I don’t think much about the competition, I focus on what we’re selling. We’re thinking about new products and planning to sell a line of skincare, body wash, and shampoo in the future. As we continue to grow, we’re looking to sell into different channels, including regional and national retailers and barbershops around the country. We’re constantly focused on building relationships that can help us put our products in our customers’ hands wherever they might be in their grooming journey.

A lot of guys are telling us that they’re so proud of their beards now. They’re talking about their morning routines. It’s crazy to think we’re helping people with that!

Aila Health

Founder: Rory Stanton, EWMBA 20

Rory Stanton
Rory Stanton

What does your startup do (in 20 words or less)?  

Aila Health is a data-driven, remote-care platform for patients with chronic illness.

How did you come up with the idea?

My cousin has what you would call an invisible illness, meaning she looks healthy on the outside, but is actually managing multiple chronic conditions. After watching her bounce between specialists for years before getting a diagnosis and seeing the lack of communication between her different doctors, I thought there had to be a better way for doctors to deliver personalized care to patients with chronic illness.

What problem does Aila solve?

There are nearly 50 million Americans living with chronic autoimmune conditions today. That’s more than diabetes and cancer combined. Despite the fact that these conditions cost the health system billions each year, they are not well understood or managed. We aim to change that.

There are nearly 50 million Americans living with chronic autoimmune conditions today. That’s more than diabetes and cancer combined.

Aila Health's remote app
Aila’s app lets a patient’s care team track symptoms in real-time to help deliver the right care.

How doe Aila work and how do teams use it?

Aila Health is a chronic care management platform that offers personalized remote care at scale. It enables  patients with chronic illness to sync all of their health information in one place and quantify disease progression over time. It similarly gives their healthcare providers a holistic view of a patient’s health so they can track symptoms in real-time and deliver the right care with the right provider at the right time.

What’s been the biggest challenge for you as a founder so far?

There are so many inefficiencies in the U.S. healthcare system that Aila’s solution can help with. One of the biggest challenges for us was determining which problem to solve first. During our customer interviews, we learned that the COVID-19 pandemic had drastically shifted priorities for healthcare organizations. There is a need for new technical infrastructure to deliver value-based care and personalized remote care at scale.

Has anyone from Haas helped you on your startup journey?

Haas gave me a great community of classmates and mentors who have helped us along our journey. Rhonda Shrader (executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program), in particular, has been an amazing mentor and advocate for me. From cheerleading during some difficult transition periods to supporting our team’s application for the National Science Foundation’s I-CORPS Program, I really appreciate having her in my corner. Dan Cloutier, EWMBA 21, was also a wonderful health industry mentor for our I-CORPS team.

What are your goals for the next six months?

We are kicking off our first couple of pilots now. We want to execute these really well and validate our solution with an improved provider experience and patient outcome. In the next six months, we aim to bring more health systems onto the platform and raise an initial round of financing.

Seren 

Founder: Olayinka Omolere, MBA 21

Seren founder Olayinka Omolere
Seren founder Olayinka Omolere

What does your startup do (in 20 words or less)?

Seren creates serendipity online by nudging people into instant and personalized water cooler calls—using AI to preserve relationships and collaboration.

How did you come up with the idea?

When COVID hit in March, I started looking for opportunities in the chaos. I looked for areas undergoing massive change and picked remote work because I had experienced it and understood its shortcomings.

As I spoke to my classmates about our challenges with remote schooling, I noticed a pattern. Without chance meetings in the Haas courtyard or around campus, my peers were finding it harder to stay connected. We were being told to “be intentional” but it felt like a ton of work, and our social interactions and circles were shrinking. I came to Haas for the culture, and I loved interacting with my friends and classmates, but I was beginning to feel isolated. Then I interned as a product manager at Cisco, where I saw first-hand how the problem of not having informal interactions could affect business. When informal connections are disrupted, employees find it harder to maintain a sense of belonging, and scientific research suggested this could impact culture and innovation.

What problem does Seren solve?

Seren solves the problem of staying in touch online by helping people to “bump into” other virtually, so that brief and informal conversations can happen.

Seren app screen shot.
Seren instantly matches people with teammates in Slack, based on availability and interests.

We are making water cooler chats better in some ways than in-person, even though we can’t quite replace face-to-face conversations…yet. With this technology, we can customize water cooler chats for individual preferences around how people like to engage, who they want to talk to, how long they want to talk, and what they want to talk about. We want to help people have better informal conversations over audio/video with colleagues, on any platform, whether that’s Slack, Teams, Zoom or the web.

With this technology, we can customize water cooler chats for individual preferences around how people like to engage, who they want to talk to, how long they want to talk, and what they want to talk about.

What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

My biggest challenge has been finding software engineering and machine learning talent to join our team. We have used BearX, Handshake, and LinkedIn and are really keen to find more people who are excited about impactful startups.

So far, I have been working with an amazing team of Berkeley undergrads and alumni—Leonor Alcaraz-Guzman, Helen Xu, and Patrick Zhu. In my Product Management class, I am on a diverse team with grad students from the School of Information, Fung Institute, and Haas, and we are learning so much.

Has anyone from Haas helped you with your startup?

I’ve had lots of help from faculty and staff. Early on, I took the NSF Bay Area I-CORPS course, which helped me learn how to do customer discovery. Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program, has been consistent in pointing us towards potential partners, competitions, mentors, and opportunities.

Vince Law, a professional faculty member, has reviewed more than one version of our early prototypes, and given critical feedback. In Jeff Eyet’s class on design thinking, he shared great advice on trying to understand users’ emotions and motivations for using our solution. Greg La Blanc, another professional faculty member, helped me think strategically about whether to even pursue this idea or space of remote work.

What are your goals for the next six months?

Our top goal is to get a strong sense of whether our product is exceptional at solving the challenge of creating serendipity for our users or not. We will need to launch and get lots of user feedback to answer that question. When you think about it, these are unique times with millions of people stuck at home, so if they want this, we should be able to quickly determine whether we can satisfy that need, and build a business out of it.

Another key goal is to clearly show a path to defeating our competition. I joke with my teammates that every week someone else has launched a new product to solve the same problem. Currently, we segment our competition in these categories: bots offering instant water cooler calls, standalone virtual office applications, and platforms that match people for conversations based on interests. We understand the competition and have a distinct path toward differentiating ourselves.

 

 

Q&A with Eric Askins, new head of FTMBA admissions

Eric Askins
Eric Askins is the new executive director of admissions for the Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA Program.

As a former banker, business school fundraiser, and veteran admissions expert, Eric Askins’ varied career helped shape him as a nimble and creative team builder. He was recently named executive director of admissions for the Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA program.

We talked to Askins recently about his New York roots, his varied career path in education, and his goals as new admissions director.

Tell us a little about your background and where you grew up?

I’m originally from New York and grew up with two sisters in an incredibly diverse neighborhood in Queens. I’ve always been incredibly proud of how my mother brought us up.  An immigrant from the Dominican Republic, my mother cleaned houses and took care of other people’s kids to ensure we had what we needed. I know she was excited to see me accepted into the Bronx High School of Science, a specialized public school. I went to Hunter College, a school in the CUNY system, where I worked during the day and studied political science and sociology in the evenings. I learned to appreciate the way a community can support people through school, as I wasn’t the only first-generation Latinx college student working their way through at night.

What are a few of your first goals as admissions chief?

The primary role of any admissions head is to support the team of admissions professionals who work tirelessly to engage with the amazing applicants to our program. That will continue to be my number one priority. Externally, I’m focused on maintaining the academic standards of our program and broadening our outreach strategy.

Specifically, we will focus some of our efforts on increasing the percentage of women applicants to our program. Berkeley Haas was among the first business schools to cross the 40% women threshold. My goal is to consistently hold that figure. In order to move towards closing the gender divide, we are working to better highlight our programs like Women in Leadership and the work of our Gender Equity Initiative and our programs that develop leaders equipped to manage diverse and inclusive work environments. We also need to think about how we are reaching out to all women: women of color, international students, women from different academic backgrounds, and students with non-binary identities.

Berkeley Haas was among the first business schools to cross the 40% women threshold. My goal is to consistently hold that figure.

What was your first job after graduating from college?

I started my professional career in banking, in a process-oriented role at Sterling National Bank, shifting into commercial loan workout, and then to small business lending. I worked with small business owners, individuals whose entire lives were tied to the businesses. These were often immigrants, first-generation business owners opening restaurants, franchises, and dry cleaners.

I began my admissions career in 2010 at Fordham University in New York as an assistant director of admissions for the law school. In that role, I traveled the country and developed a deep interest in the pathways to graduate-level education. After a number of years, I decided to broaden my experience and take on a new challenge with Fordham Business School’s fundraising arm. I worked closely with the school’s alumni to help chart avenues for growth for the school. Among our successes was a partnership with the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center here in the Bay Area. I was amazed at the impact business school alumni could make on the community. I think it’s safe to say that that experience planted the seed that would eventually bring me to Haas.

Can you talk about how you diversified your experiences by working at The New School in New York, which has a design school, liberal arts college, and a performing arts college?

I was director of strategic initiatives and planning, managing net tuition revenue for an institution that was constantly looking for ways to shift, be nimble, and be dynamic. The New School was a collection of various different types of colleges and it’s connective tissue was cultural not structural. The New School provided a number of very unique challenges that engaged me intellectually. I worked directly with the college’s deans, doing scholarship modeling, developing enrollment strategies, building our strategic partnerships globally. But in this role I was no longer participating in the candidate’s journey, something that I enjoyed and have returned to at Haas.

What brought you to the West Coast?

I’ve been lucky enough to be with my partner for nearly 20 years. In that short amount of time we’ve had a number of different adventures, not the least of which has been our two children. Though we’ve both traveled significantly for work, neither of us had ever lived outside of New York City. So when she was offered an amazing professional opportunity here in the Bay Area it felt like the perfect time to start a new adventure.

I’ve always been aware of Berkeley and its reputation as a culture-forward institution. When we moved here we rented a house within walking distance of campus. I knew I wanted to work at one of the graduate schools and I loved the idea of the Haas MBA. It’s the least narrow degree providing the most opportunity to make a change. Through the Defining Leadership Principles, I had a very clear understanding of the school’s values and they closely reflect my own personal values.

Every person matriculating through Haas is going to make an impact, whether it’s in impact investing, tech, transportation, sustainability, or consulting. This is where I want to be, participating in some small part on that journey.

Every person matriculating through Haas is going to make an impact.

What’s your favorite DLP?

I most closely align with Confidence without Attitude. It prompts me to reflect not only on what I can contribute, but also calls on me to recognize where I need to grow. When I practice this DLP, I’m an active listener and I engage meaningfully with my partners and peers, so that I can learn from them and build with them.  I’m excited to see what we build together in the coming years.

 

Full-time MBA class kicks off fall semester

Students from FTMBA Class of 2022
Students from the Class of 2022. (From left to right: Chris Quaidoo, Kevin Hu, Torrey Mayes, and Jon Thompson.)

The Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA class came together for a virtual orientation Monday, participating in networking sessions, meeting study team members, as well as joining academic and diversity, equity and inclusion workshops designed to prepare them for a successful two years at Haas.

With 331 students, the largest-ever FTMBA Class of 2022 attended the Week Zero orientation held from Aug. 17 to 21.

In her welcome, Dean Harrison commended students for attending business school at this unprecedented time of uncertainty. “This couldn’t be a better time to go to business school, especially at a place like Berkeley, as this school has always been at the forefront of massive changes and movement,” she said. “This crazy time also requires you to be leaders yourselves. One of the most difficult things to learn is how to live with this uncertainty.”

The incoming MBA class is comprised of 39% women, an increase of two percentage points compared to last year. Underrepresented minorities represent 17% of the class, up from 14%. International students make up 21% and hail from 37 countries. Students have an average of five years work experience and majored in economics, engineering, business commerce, and the social sciences.

Surprise guests

Each day of orientation features a surprise guest speaker. So far, that’s included rapper Ace “Call Me Ace” Patterson, MBA 16, and Aubrey Blanche, director of equitable design and impact at Culture Amp.  

Patterson shared his story of humble beginnings in Bridgeport, Conn., getting accepted to Columbia University, and later to Haas. “My family wasn’t poor, we were just broke,” said Patterson. “So what I lacked in resources, I had to gain in creativity and ingenuity.” Patterson also talked about experiencing so-called “imposter syndrome” as one of the youngest students in his FTMBA program, but eventually he convinced himself that he belonged.

Blanche led Tuesday’s discussion on shifting focus away from terms like “diversity and inclusion” and instead embracing “equity and belonging” to activate allies and build equity in the world. “By focusing on equity and belonging, we can actually get to the goals—diversity and equality—that I think we probably all share.”

Students said they’ve enjoyed the week so far. 

“It’s been super exciting to meet all of my classmates for the first time,” said Torrey Mayes, a former manager of financial planning and analysis for Palm Casino Resort. Mayes said his favorite part of orientation has been the networking sessions. “We’ve had the opportunity to meet every single person in our class since everyone is online.” 

Week Zero Co-Chair Dominic Masuda, MBA 21, agreed. “I’m amazed and thrilled to see how creative and flexible the new class has been with engaging and meeting each other,” he said.  “I think we’ve proven that virtual events can be incredibly engaging when structured and built thoughtfully.”

Many students said they’re getting an MBA to build their business acumen, develop leadership and entrepreneurial skills, or transition to a completely new field.

Christine Yee, a student in the new MBA/Master of Engineering (MBA/MEng) program, said she wants to learn how to “democratize technology” to help entrepreneurs with little to no financial means access the digital economy. Yee, who co-founded Paysa, a startup that allows people in rural India make mobile payments using fingerprint authentication, said she is looking forward to taking courses that will take her skills to the next level.

Staying connected

Students from the Class of 2022 created Haas-themed Instagram filters to spread school pride.

Members of the Class of 2022 have gone above and beyond to connect with each other.

Each day culminates with a trivia game night or Zoom happy hour organized by second-year students.

Amanda Wonnell, a former project manager at Shell, said her classmates have created Slack channels based on interests and organized Zoom happy hours. She added that classmate Chris Quaidoo has organized virtual coffee chats, randomly pairing two students for weekly chats.

As for Mayes, he’s thankful to be living with three classmates with whom he can experience the FTMBA program and weather the pandemic.

Mayes said he’s been doing a mix of online and physically-distanced gatherings with classmates. On Monday night, he and five other students set up a TV outside and watched cohort members battle each other in Family Feud. “The Gold cohort won, but we were a close second,” said Mayes, a member of the Oski cohort.

The fall semester officially begins Aug. 24.

Nine new professors join Berkeley Haas faculty

This fall, Berkeley Haas welcomes a diverse and international group of nine new professors, including a record five women. The new faculty members include one full professor, two associate professors, and six new assistant professors, who are from Italy, Argentina, France, China, Canada, and California.

In addition to the new professors, seven new lecturers have joined the professional faculty to teach classes in various programs.

Professor Francesco Trebbi, Business & Public Policy

Berkeley Haas Prof. Francesco Trebbi
Prof. Francesco Trebbi

As a child in Italy, Francesco Trebbi played basketball on a kids’ team with Kobe Bryant, whose father was a star in the city’s basketball team at the time. An athletic career did not prove as promising as his ventures in economics have been, however. “Our team lost even with Kobe on our side, so you can just imagine how bad of a basketball player I must be!” said Trebbi.

Instead, Trebbi attended Italy’s prestigious Bocconi University, earning a degree in political economy, before going on to receive his MA and PhD in economics from Harvard University.

Before joining Berkeley, he was the Canada Research Chair and professor of economics at the University of British Columbia Vancouver School of Economics, and an assistant professor of economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.  

Trebbi’s academic research focuses on political economy and applied economics. He has studied the design of political institutions, elections, political behavior, campaign finance, lobbying, and financial regulation. He has also worked on the political economy of development, ethnic politics, and conflict. His primary teaching interests are in political economy, applied economics, and applied econometrics. Currently, he is working on new empirical approaches to the study of behavior of government officials, voters, and special interest groups. He also maintains an active research program on the political economy of non-democratic and low-income countries.

Trebbi also has an artistic streak. “I have only one modest talent outside of economics: I paint. Non-figuratively. Many economists I know have been inflicted with one canvas or two, which I think they keep in their homes and offices out of affection,” he said.

Associate Professor Matilde Bombardini, Business & Public Policy

Assoc. Prof. Matilde Bombardini
Assoc. Prof. Matilde Bombardini

Though Matilde Bombardini grew up in Imola, a city in Northern Italy, UC Berkeley has long had a special place in her life and career. It’s where she came as an undergraduate student on an exchange program in 1998-99. 

“I took a graduate course in the Economics Department that opened the door for me to pursue a PhD at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Professor David Romer was one of my letter writers for PhD admission,” she said. Bombardini earned her PhD from MIT in 2005. 

Before coming to Berkeley, she was an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver School of Economics.

Bombardini is conducting ongoing research on the role of corporate charity as a channel for influencing regulation, and as a tool for political influence in general. She is also researching the role of politicians’ information in congressional voting on China’s Normal Trade Relationship with the U.S. 

In her free time, Bombardini likes to ski, sail, hike, and enjoy the outdoors. “I am eager to explore the Tahoe area ski slopes, and the good weather in the Bay Area will make it easier to go back to sailing.” She is a beginner electric guitar player and likes all rock music. 

Associate Professor Ricardo Perez-Truglia, Economic Analysis and Policy

Assoc. Prof. Ricardo Perez-Truglia
Assoc. Prof. Ricardo Perez-Truglia

Ricardo Perez-Truglia grew up in the Ciudadela neighborhood near Buenos Aires, Argentina, moving to the U.S. for a PhD in economics from Harvard University. He joins Berkeley Haas from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, where he was an assistant professor of economics for four years. 

As a behavioral economist, one of Perez-Truglia’s main research interests is how social image and social comparisons shape economic behavior: What do others think of you? Are you rich? Smart? Hard-working? The desire to shape these opinions is a powerful driver of human behavior, he said.

His research often involves collaborating with private and public institutions, sometimes using large datasets to study the effects of policies, or conducting large-scale field experiments with their clients or employees. He studies a range of topics such as transparency, tax collection, and macroeconomic expectations. “My research is intended to inform firms and policy makers in the developed and developing world, leading to practical applications,” he said.

Perez-Truglia says he would be happy to talk to students about economics and social science research as well as two more personal topics: “I’m familiar with the challenges associated with being an immigrant and a first-generation college graduate, so I’m happy to discuss them with any of the Berkeley students who are facing the same or similar challenges.” 

He’s also happy to talk about Latin America—and his favorite sport, fútbol or soccer. “I’d love to play soccer with the students if they want. I am a huge soccer fan—my favorite teams are River Plate (from Argentina), FC Barcelona (Spain) and obviously, I care the most about the Argentine national team.” 

Assistant Professor Sydnee Caldwell, Economic Analysis & Policy

Asst. Prof. Sydnee Caldwell
Asst. Prof. Sydnee Caldwell

Sydnee Caldwell, who grew up in Fallbrook, Calif., is coming “home” to Cal. She graduated from UC Berkeley with a double bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics and economics in 2008, before earning her PhD in economics from MIT in 2019. She joins Berkeley Haas after serving a year as a post-doctoral researcher at Microsoft Research New England. 

Caldwell’s research focuses on topics of labor and personnel economics, and she is currently interested in how firms find and recruit new employees. She has also conducted research on the gender-wage gap, recently examining how it plays out in the gig economy. In a paper forthcoming in American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, she looks at the differences between taxis and ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber from the driver’s perspective.

She says students should feel free to come to her with any questions they have about economics or data science, regardless of whether they are in her data and decisions class. “I am always interested in how companies and people use data to make decisions,” she says.

She’s also looking forward to hiking and skiing and spending more time outside now that she’s back in the Bay Area.

Assistant Professor Solène Delecourt, Management of Organizations

Asst. Prof. Solene Delecourt
Asst. Prof. Solene Delecourt

Solène Delecourt hails from Lille, a city at the northern tip of France. She earned her PhD in organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Delecourt’s research centers on inequality in business performance. She is passionate about using rigorous social scientific theories and methods to delve deeply into this phenomenon, particularly among entrepreneurs in emerging economies. Her research agenda focuses on what drives variation in profits across firms, and how to reduce inequality in business performance among entrepreneurs in different market settings—including India, Uganda, and the U.S. In the three papers that made up her dissertation, Delecourt used field experiments to understand how business characteristics, client search behavior, and peer-to-peer advice among entrepreneurs affect business success.

Delecourt wants students to feel free to come to her for discussions. “I would love to hear about their projects, especially as they relate to issues of gender inequality,” she said.

In her free time, she enjoys swimming and is excited for the numerous outdoor pools on campus. She also loves good bread and pastries and cannot wait to try out Fournée Bakery. 

Assistant Professor Douglas Guilbeault, Management of Organizations

Asst. Prof. Douglas Guilbeault
Asst. Prof. Douglas Guilbeault

Douglas Guilbeault is from Tecumseh, a small town in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. He received his PhD in 2020 from the Annenberg School for Communication at University of Pennsylvania.

Guilbeault studies how people build shared concepts as they communicate in daily life, specifically within social networks and organizations. “Big problems on my list to tackle are: bias reduction in crowdsourcing, cross-cultural concept translation, equitable content moderation over social media, and enhancing scientific discovery,” he said. 

Guilbeault is developing a computational theory of how categories emerge, grow, and evolve in social systems, as well as how categories shape social systems themselves.

Guilbeault looks forward to meeting his new colleagues. “I am most excited by the dynamic network of colleagues that I will get to exchange ideas with and learn from,” he said. “The Management of Organizations group at Haas is absolutely distinct in its integration of both macro and micro perspectives on organizations, and my work explores this interface.”

When he’s not conducting research or teaching, Guilbeault makes music and writes software that produces digital art. He also loves running, biking, hiking, and seeing live music.

Assistant Professor Xi Wu, Accounting

Asst. Prof. Xi Wu
Asst. Prof. Xi Wu

Xi Wu is originally from Beijing, China. She received her PhD in accounting from New York University’s Stern School of Business after studying mathematics and economics as an undergrad at Cornell University.

Wu’s research focuses on the intersection of securities regulation, corporate governance, and valuation. Her current research studies how regulations affect firms, how managers and creditors use information to address agency issues, and how to use newly-available data to value firms and cryptocurrencies. Her recent work shows that more heavily regulated companies fare significantly better during extreme economic downturns—including the coronavirus pandemic.

Since she is currently studying the valuation of cryptocurrencies and the market of initial coin offerings (ICOs), Wu says that being close to both the San Francisco Bay Area and the Silicon Valley is of huge value to her, and she is excited about the potential of connecting fintech research to the practical world. 

Wu enjoys hiking and skiing in her free time.

Assistant Professor Luyi Yang, Operations & Information Technology Management

Asst. Prof. Luyi YangLuyi Yang, a native of Shanghai, China, joins Haas from Johns Hopkins University, where he was an assistant professor at the Carey Business School for the past three years. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago Booth School of Management in 2017. 

Yang’s work is focused on developing  new theories for understanding emerging business models and policy initiatives in service operations. On the business front, he has studied innovative mechanisms for managing queues—which are often a key feature of service systems—such as line-sitting, mobile ordering, and referral priority programs. On the policy front, he has studied the welfare implications of expanding patient choice in elective surgeries, as well as the pricing and environmental implications of the right-to-repair legislation, which gives consumers the ability to repair and modify their own consumer electronic devices.

Yang is excited to experience the innovative culture of Haas. He said students should come talk to him about their startup ideas and new business models. “Over the years I have engaged many startups in my research and teaching. If you have an innovative idea to start a new business, we should talk!” Yang said. In his free time, he likes travelling and hiking.


Assistant Professor Biwen Zhang, Accounting

Asst. Prof. Biwen Zhang
Asst. Prof. Biwen Zhang

Biwen Zhang is from Nanchang, the capital and largest city of Jiangxi Province, China. She completed her PhD in accounting in 2020 from Simon Business School at the University of Rochester.

Her main research interests are in the areas of financial intermediaries and corporate governance. Specifically, her current research revolves around the economic implications of conflicts of interest faced by capital market participants.

In her free time, Zhang likes to play table tennis and badminton.

New Professional Faculty

New lecturers this fall include Ahmed Badruzzaman, Deborah Krackeler, Don Hanna, and Sachita Saxena, who will each teach a course in the Undergraduate Program; James Zuberi, who will teach a course in the Executive MBA Program; and Temina Madon, who will teach in the Full-time MBA Program. Sasha Radovich will join in the spring to teach a class in the Undergraduate Program.

FTMBA Program ranked #5 for Latin American students

Cronk Gate on Haas campusThe Latin American Magazine ÁmericaEconomía ranked Berkeley Haas #5 among global full-time MBA programs and #3 among U.S. peers. Haas ranked #6 globally and #3 among US schools in 2019.

The ÁmericaEconomía ranking focuses on the best business schools for Latin American students, based on data provided by participating business schools and a reader survey. Its weighting goes as follows: 22.5% multicultural experience and diversity, 15% networking for Latin American students, 25% school activities in Latin America, and 27.5% selectivity, and 10% innovation.

The full report, published June 12, is available in Spanish here

 

Akonkwa Mubagwa, MBA 21: Bringing Light to Africa & Haas Community

Here@Haas is a student-run podcast that tells the stories of current MBA students.

Portrait: Akonkwa Mubagwa
Portrait: Akonkwa Mubagwa

Here@Haas podcast host, Paulina Lee, speaks with Akonkwa Mubagwa an engineer, entrepreneur, musician, and student of life. Akonkwa was raised in Zimbabwe, the U.S., and Belgium, and has studied and lived in Paris and Switzerland before becoming a full-time MBA student. He is a two-time entrepreneur with a passion for the advancement of technology in Africa. Together with Wing Tse, he founded Winko Solar which aims to provide affordable solar energy and internet connectivity to rural villages in West Africa and the DR Congo. Akonkwa is Jacobs Fellow, a Maxwell Fellow, and a Belgian American Exchange Foundation Fellow.

 

 

Student speaker Joe Sutkowski, MBA 20, on graduating in Zoom time

Joe Sutkowski with Dawn Bickett is on the left and Cici Saekow
Joe Sutkowski with Dawn Bickett (left) and Cici Saekow. Photo: Benny Johnson

This grad photo just might best sum up the quirky humor of Joe Sutkowski, who was chosen as graduation speaker for the 2020 Full-time MBA class.

On this graduation celebration day, we asked Sutkowski a few questions about where he’s heading post-Haas and what he loved best about his MBA program.

What’s the hardest part about graduating online and do you like Zoom?

Not being able to hug all of my classmates, especially those who are going abroad.

I love Zoom. Students have gotten SO creative with their Zoom backgrounds. Shoutout to my classmate who photoshopped themselves as Elon (Musk’s) baby! My plan is to drink champagne and furiously text puns to friends. Also, the students have made graduation week amazing with Family Feud, Ted Talks, and Olympics, all of course done in Haas style. They have made this experience nothing short of beautiful.

Joe Sutkowski with his family
Joe with his family during a visit.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time at Haas?

So many come to mind here: Fieri Fest, hiding inside a cooler at Haas Boats, Drageoke, tug-of-war, Haasemite, getting Thank Yous from my students from my teaching/advising appointments, having my mom and sister come visit, probably all the soccer shenanigans, and many more.

Your favorite professor or class?

Power and Politics. It’s an expert blend of cases, in-class discussions, lectures, and role-play scenarios served with a side of humor and authority by Haas’ own Cam Anderson. It challenged me to think hard about who I could become.

Joe Sutkowski with his study team
Joe with his study team at Haas.

Where are you heading after graduation?

Google. I would love to travel a little bit before, but obviously that is super limited. I will most likely stay in California. The San Diego beaches may pull me down south though.

“The courage of Haasies:” Full-time MBA grads celebrated as leaders

The Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA Class of 2020 has shown “real grit and resilience” with leaders who embody the Defining Leadership Principles, Dean Ann Harrison said today in a video made for grads.

“I want to thank you for staying engaged and for your positive spirit,” Harrison said. “Many of you went above and beyond. From student startups that quickly pivoted to provide much-needed supplies for COVID-19 to classmates who kept you sane with yoga and mindfulness classes or entertainment, baking, and movie tips.”

Joe Sutkowski, MBA 20
Student speaker Joe Sutkowski (middle, with Dawn Bickett (left) and Cici Saekow) praised “the courage of Haasies” over the past few months.

Student speaker Joe Sutkowski praised the”courage of Haasies”  in his speech. (Read an interview with Sutkowski here)

“Over the past months of shelter in place I’ve witnessed an online community emerge that’s every bit as vibrant as the community I fell in love with many months ago,” he said. “I’ve seen the courage of Haasies donating their time to the less fortunate…I’ve seen resilience in our professors and our faculty. I’ve heard humor through Zoom and Slack channels.”

Individual Haas alumni then took turns congratulating the class, offering advice, and wished them well.

Berkeley Haas mural congrats grads
A beautiful mural, designed by Berkeley Haas grads, including Alex D’Agostino.

Full-time MBA award winners

Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching: Kimberly MacPherson, who taught three courses this academic year. Unlocking Digital Innovation in Healthcare, Commercializing Biotech and Pharma, and Healthcare in the 21st Century.

GSI award: PhD student Livia Alfonsi, who was the GSI for Aaron Bodoh-Creed’s Microeconomics class.

Adam Burgess, MBA 20, was also named the best GSI in the EWMBA program.

Academic Achievement Award: Brian Shain, the MBA student with the highest GPA.

Defining Leadership Principles (DLP) award winners:

Question the Status Quo: Evan Wright

Confidence without Attitude: Celeste Fa’ai’uaso 

Students Always: Nina Ho

Beyond Yourself: Benny Johnson

Berkeley Leaders: Molly Zeins & Ezgi Karaagac

Maryam Rezapoor on Berkeley campus
Maryam Rezapoor, MBA 20

Also celebrating this month were 11 Berkeley Haas PhD students who are slated to graduate this year. Nine of the PhD grads are heading to jobs in academia and two landed positions in industry both in the U.S. and abroad. Read more here.

Augustine Santillan, MBA 21: Paving the path for others to follow

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we’re featuring profiles and interviews with members of our Haas community.

Augustine Santillan, MBA/MEng 21, and his parents.
Augustine Santillan, MBA/MEng 21, and his parents in Monterey, CA.

Augustine Santillan, MBA/MEng 21, lived in the Midwest for most of his life. Though he identified as Filipino American growing up, Santillan hadn’t fully explored all of the richness and nuances of his Filipino heritage until he was an undergraduate at Northwestern. At Haas, he hopes to initiate more conversations about diversity and inclusion and encourage more Asian American students to enroll at Haas.

Tell me about your background and where you grew up?

I’m Filipino-American. I was born in Guam, but my parents are from Metro Manila, the capital of the Philippines. My family and I moved to the U.S. when I was two months old. My mom is a neurologist and my father is an IT specialist and so we moved wherever the jobs were. I like to say that I’m from the Midwest because I lived in Cleveland, Green Bay, and later the suburbs of Chicago when I was a college student.  As I was growing up in the Midwest, though, I did have some trouble defining myself and my heritage. There weren’t a lot of people who looked like me and so I had to go on this journey of defining my own cultural identity on my own. 

So how did you go about defining your cultural identity?

I think it was difficult for me to relate to my culture because I really didn’t feel like I could own it. I didn’t feel authentic at all, especially since I didn’t speak Tagalog. But that changed when I went to college. When I was a student at Northwestern, I joined a Filipino student group that was open to everyone, not just Filipinos and Filipino Americans. As a group, we reflected and talked about our identities, participated in race-focused workshops, performed traditional dances, and wrote skits about our cultural experiences. All of these experiences have helped me define my relationship to my culture, given me more of a nuanced appreciation for my cultural context, and an even stronger sense of pride and gratitude for my family.  

Growing up, what were some of the ways you connected and explored your heritage?

I explored and celebrated my heritage through food and family gatherings. We’d cook some of our favorite dishes like pork Nilaga, a stew made with pork neckbones, and chicken adobo, chicken cooked in soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic. My family and I would also go on road trips to visit our extended family in Chicago, especially during the holidays. Karaoke is also a huge part of my heritage. My family and I love to sing.  I’ll always remember hearing my parents and their friends sing songs from the Beatles and ABBA in the basement of my uncle’s house. I’m personally a big fan of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” It’s a great duet for karaoke. 

Augustine Santillan, MBA/MEng 21 and two classmates.
Augustine Santillan, MBA/MEng 21, enjoying a distanced hike with friends to celebrate the end of the semester.

Why did you decide to go to business school and did your heritage play a role in your decision?

I think my upbringing and my love for travel were factors that led me to take on consulting, especially for airlines and hotels. I learned early on that change is the only constant and that there’s always going to be new challenges to tackle. So going to business school and looking at new career paths that address global issues through social impact work is another challenge for me–one that excites me. Soon, I’ll be working at Tesla where I’ll have the chance to combine my passion for transportation with sustainability and clean energy. I’ll be working on strategy for their charging infrastructure, which I’m excited about.

Another reason I wanted to go to business school was because I was excited about creating more representation. Sometimes I feel like people don’t think that they belong in these spaces [business school]. Oftentimes, you hear about Asian Americans being overrepresented on college campuses, especially at Berkeley, and that we don’t need to invest as much energy in recruiting them to come to business school. There’s so much richness and color under this bucket of Asian Americans and I’ve been pushing the community at Haas to think about that diversity. It’s not just Chinese and Korean Americans that are part of the community at Haas, but also Pakistani Americans and Filipino Americans, to name a couple. That being said, I want to be here to pave the path for other Asian Americans and show them that they belong here and that they can be successful.

Alex Severin, MBA 20, honored for design thinking research

Two years ago, Alex Severin, MBA 20, worked on a team that had been called on to build an innovation lab for a professional services firm operating in aviation and commercial energy markets.

With no corporate manual outlining an approach for building it, Severin, a management consultant, worked around the clock to help found Spark Labs. The lab, which now has 15 employees, helps clients tackle the “hairiest, cross-disciplinary challenges,” while teaching their employees and leaders about the “innovation mindset,”—which for many is hard to define, he said.

“Innovation is the most overused word in the English language,” he said. “You have all these large organizations saying, ‘This is the time we need to start investing in innovation,’ but nothing ever comes of it except giving Wall Street this impression that they’re investing. It amounts to little more than innovation theater.”

Photo of Alex Severin
Alex Severin was drawn to study design thinking after founding an innovation lab as a consultant.

That experience hooked Severin on innovation, leading him to Haas, where he’s studying design thinking—a human-centered process for creative problem solving. Getting to the bottom of how to get the design thinking process right in companies is his mission and the subject of his new research, which will be presented at a Design Management Institute’s Academic Design Management Conference August 3-7.

Haas was an early pioneer in integrating design thinking into the MBA curriculum, with a course called Design as a Strategic Business Issue debuting in 1993. Teaching Professor Sara Beckman launched the Problem Framing, Problem Solving (PFPS) course in Fall 2010, a core course that evolved into Fundamentals of Design Thinking, organized by Professional Faculty members Clark Kellogg and Dave Rochlin through the Institute for Creativity and Design Practice. The class gives students an appreciation for how to frame and solve problems, leveraging tools and methods from design and systems thinking.

To go deeper into innovation, Severin launched an independent study last year with another Haas design thinking expert, lecturer Vivek Rao, exploring how large organizations use both design-based innovation activities and labs. For the project, Severin conducted interviews, mostly by video, with 19 high-level innovation executives from 14 companies in sectors including energy, education, healthcare, consumer electronics, and professional services.

A commitment to deep, critical thinking

The study resulted in a research paper, which Severin wrote with Rao.

“I think it’s remarkable that a full-time MBA candidate like Alex is producing publishable research,” Rao said, noting that research is usually the domain of PhD students. “The rigorous curriculum and extracurricular demands at Haas often leave little time for scholarly research. That Alex was able to do this is evidence of his commitment to deep, critical thinking.”

That Alex was able to do this is evidence of his commitment to deep, critical thinking.

The innovation community is small, which helped Severin convince leaders of the importance and broad applicability of his research. “Once people knew that they would get a copy of this report, they were more than happy to speak candidly,” he said. “People were willing to talk in a way I haven’t experienced in other research projects. They understand that this is a very hard thing to do right, so that creates a willingness to chat.”

The deep interviews led to five best design thinking practices:

Set the right expectations through strategic pilot projects immediately following launch. “Quick wins help get people on board,” Severin said. Make sure that the pilot outcome is easy for everyone at the company to understand so you can say, “Hey, we piloted this and look at the change,’” he said.

Establish a shared set of metrics with the business units to build buy-in and quickly create trust.

Seek deep company experience in innovation team leaders; seek external perspectives in all other roles. Every successful innovation team had a person in charge with deep company experience, he said. “Trust is so important,” he said. “If you come in as a hotshot off the street there’s no trust that exists from the start.”

Don’t fall in love with your framework. The most successful design and innovation teams sell tangible outcomes, not branded frameworks. “The sad truth is that few really care about the intricacies of your framework,” he says. “All they care about is what it means for them, and what the expected outcomes are. Speak their language, don’t expect them to learn yours.”

Stand up separate centralized and embedded teams with distinct missions to fulfill the mandate of corporate innovation teams. “The most effective application of a centralized team is an ‘A Team’ attached to the meatiest, most complex opportunities,” Severin said. Conversely, embedding a few people within the organization’s different business units promotes more precise work, better relationships, and a straighter path to successful democratization of innovation, he said.

 

 

Startup Diaries: SuperPetFoods places second at LAUNCH, BumpR retools

Note: Berkeley Haas News followed two of this year’s 25 teams participating in LAUNCH, an accelerator for UC startup founders that has helped create more than 200 companies since 2015. At last Friday’s Demo Day finals, 10 UC teams remotely pitched VCs and angel investors, competing for $70,000 in funding. Startup SuperPetFoods made the finals; BumpR did not.

Superpetfoods team slide
Mar introducing her team members at Demo Day.

María (Mar) del Mar Londoño, MBA 21 and CEO of SuperPetFoods, headed into last week’s LAUNCH Demo Day finals determined. After failing to place in the top three at last month’s Hult Prize Global Regional Competition in Bogotá and the 2020 Rabobank-MIT Food and Agribusiness Innovation Prize finals, she’d buffed up the startup’s presentation, polished answers to potential questions, and emerged ready to win.

Her team’s efforts paid off, as SuperPetFoods took second place (and was voted audience choice) at LAUNCH Demo Day May 1, netting $20,000 to move into the summer phase of developing her eco-friendly dehydrated pet food, made from black soldier fly larvae. Digiventures, a Berkeley Haas MBA led team that built a platform enabling Latin American customers to be evaluated for credit, took the top prize.

Missing from Demo Day, however, was BumpR, an undergraduate team aiming to produce an inexpensive Internet of Things (IoT) device that drivers mount on their cars to easily collect data over geographic areas. The startup, founded by Armaan Goel, Aishwarya (Ash) Mahesh, Shreya Shekhar, all M.E.T. 23 students, and Justin Quan, BS 23 (Electrical Engineering & Computer Science), didn’t make it to the finals, mainly because the team pivoted right before the semifinals and ran out of time to do the necessary customer interviews to vet their new idea.

BumpR will continue to work on the idea at UC Berkeley’s SkyDeck this fall, as a SkyDeck Hot Desk team. Rhonda Shrader, the executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program (BHEP), which sponsors LAUNCH, also helped the team apply for a $25,000 VentureWell grant to prototype and test their product. “The lessons we learned along the way under the guidance of all the LAUNCH faculty will stick with us whether it’s with this product idea or another,” Ash said.

“The lessons we learned along the way under the guidance of all the LAUNCH faculty will stick with us whether it’s with this product idea or another.”

Mar presenting at LAUNCH Demo Day
Mar makes the case that dogs love SuperPetFoods’ product at LAUNCH Demo Day.

We spoke to Mar, who founded the company with Thais Esteves, MBA 21, and Gina Myers, MS 20 (bioengineering), about LAUNCH and what’s next for SuperPetFoods.

What was the biggest challenge participating in LAUNCH during the coronavirus crisis?

There were many challenges. The first was managing the emotional stress that coronavirus brought to this— worrying about your family and evaluating your priorities. As a team leader my biggest challenge was being able to give my team the space they needed while seeing this project as something that could make them feel excited about the future. That’s a difficult balance. You want to give them their space but you also want people to be engaged.

Another challenge was the operational part. Literally, we had to start cooking the food in Washington state, where Gina is staying in her family’s cabin. All the people we contacted to do pet food trials are in Berkeley or the Bay Area.

So Gina is cooking the food you plan to send out for trials this summer?

Gina preparing the food
Gina preparing the food that’s made with the high-protein black soldier fly. Her dog Qora is chief taster.

Yes. Dogs are lucky to have a trained chef from the Culinary Institute of America cooking for them. At this point, Gina has everything she needs to start cooking: a recipe that offers complete nutrition that was formulated with a board-certified pet nutritionist, and the required machinery: a dehydrator and a bag sealer. Our target for the summer is to give 100 free samples to friends, family, and people who have shown interest through Facebook ads.

Depending on feedback we get from people, we’ll be able to go on to a bigger scale and go to local pet food stores. We are at a stage where we are literally testing how people feel about a pet food that is highly disruptive. It’s not only that it’s made of insects. It’s also dehydrated, so people need to add water, stir and serve. This format is more nutritious and tasty for dogs, so we have the hypothesis that pet parents will like it and prefer it to kibble. But that’s for us to test.

You plan is to eventually produce the food in your native Colombia. What’s the timeline this summer?

Producing in Colombia will give us a cost advantage and that is a crucial element of our operational model. However, we are focusing our efforts on two fronts this summer: testing product market fit and building the brand identity.  First, we need to collect feedback on our product. All of our work so far was gathering consumer insights and understanding their sentiment around feeding their pets insects. Now we will get their feedback with an actual product. Second, we need to develop the brand identity and translate that into a website, package, and logo. We already conducted an A/B test that proved that  the sustainability angle has more appeal than the nutritional one. Next step is to define which tone to convey around sustainability. We need to identify which is more effective: the loving, caring, tree-hugger kind of tone, or the more vigorous approach targeting changemakers who are empowered to make a change in the world.

What was most valuable about the LAUNCH experience?

Belonging to a cohort of collaborative teams. The collective brainstorming when you present progress and roadblocks, and having the other teams there. They help you think  and you can identify elements from listening to them that might be useful for you—like what platform you’re using to set up your website. It’s a good place to get help. The second thing is you see how the teams are progressing and that allows you to have accountability for what you are doing.

 

Full-time MBA team wins 2020 Tech Challenge

An MBA student team’s roadmap for how a tech CEO should best lead employees during the challenges of the next year won first prize at the Berkeley Haas Spring 2020 Tech Challenge.

Members of the winning team included Maryam Rezapoor, MBA 20, and Asif Mohammad, Cynthia Sobral, and Vera Xiao, all MBA 21. The Haas team, one of 25 teams representing 10 universities, won $5,000.

Photos of the winning Haas team in 2020 tech challenge
Clockwise from top left: Maryam Rezapoor, Vera Xiao, Cynthia Sobral, and Asif Mohammad.

The Technology Club at Haas has held the tech-focused MBA case competition at the school since 2011. The challenge, which moved online between March 30-April 3, brings together MBA students from top programs around the country, providing an opportunity to solve real-world business challenges.

Teams this year were asked to write a three-page response to the question, “How should businesses or organizations think about resiliency, recovery, and hope in the face of unforeseen global crisis?” Teams could choose to write from the point of view of a CEO sharing thoughts with employees on how to brace for the next 12 months, or as a reporter working for a major news publisher “who will write an article read by millions.”

The Haas team opted to write from the perspective of a CEO, who emphasized the value of individual vulnerability and created a corporate culture of shared empathy to reassure employees during a major crisis.

We took the perspective of a CEO sharing his or her own story and brought that experience to a very personal level.

“We took the perspective of a CEO sharing his or her own story and brought that experience to a very personal level,” Mohammad said.

The team wanted to stress the notion of “experiencing grief both individually and collectively,” Sobral said. “We need to be honest about that. We need to consider how we find meaning in this crisis.”

The pitch also suggested encouraging employees to volunteer time to help a struggling small business and that the firm establish an impact investment fund and an accelerator to support startups. “We need to be preparing for the next crisis, so we sought to empower new companies for the future,” Rezapoor said.

Ultimately, the pitch encouraged employees to consider the bigger picture of helping a tech firm facilitate “more collaboration and innovation and to be able to think beyond themselves,” Xiao said.

After submitting their entries, teams participated in an April 3 round-table discussion with the judges—executives from cloud software company Nutanix, the competition sponsor, as well as Haas Lecturer Gregory La Blanc and Gauthier Vasseur, executive director of the Fisher Center for Business Analytics.

Even in the midst of a global crisis, participating in the Tech Challenge “gave me a sense of optimism,” Sobral said. “I shifted from thinking about the here and now to thinking about the future path for business and society.”

The eight teams in the event’s final round represented Haas, UC Berkeley’s School of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Dartmouth, Northwestern, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, and University of Washington. Mary Yao, Corrine Marquardt, Dunja Panic and Brad Deal, all MBA 21, organized this year’s competition.

Berkeley Haas launches MBA Summer Internship Stimulus Fund

Berkeley Haas has launched the MBA Summer Internship Stimulus Fund, which will provide $5,000 stipends to students.

photo of Abby Scott
Abby Scott

The stipends, which will help cover basic needs like rent and living expenses, will be awarded on a rolling basis to continuing MBA students who qualify. Full-time first-year MBA students, first and second year MBA/MPH students, and evening and weekend MBA students seeking internships may apply.

Students can apply once they’ve received a written job offer for a paid summer internship, so long as the salary offered is below market, said Abby Scott, Assistant Dean of Career Management & Corporate Partnerships.

“We know that some companies are experiencing significant financial constraints right now and supplementing student compensation through this stipend program will help impacted organizations access Berkeley MBA talent for the summer,” Scott said. “If a company cannot pay a typical summer salary, they can still hire a Berkeley MBA intern as long as they are contributing to student wages and meeting standards governed by employment law.”

All internships must be for MBA-level work and the internships must start by July 6 and run for at least six weeks.

Scott said she considers the fund “a stimulus package” that will benefit both students and employers.

“Ultimately we want all of our MBA students seeking internships to have a great experience and we believe this fund will help,” she said.

Click here for more information on the fund. The Haas Annual Fund for the Full-time MBA Program supports the Internship Stimulus Fund. To make a gift, click here.

Startup Roundup: Paz and Thrive Education

The startup roundup series spotlights students and recent alumni who are starting a new business or enterprise.

Two people sit at table with computers.
Paz co-founders Dennis Hauser (left) and Neal Sarin (right) recruit volunteers at UC Berkeley to scientifically test if their music reduces stress levels. Photo: Neal Sarin.

Paz
Co-founders: Dennis Hauser, MBA 20, Neal Sarin, University of Miami, BA 12
UC Berkeley undergraduate interns: Shomil Jain, full stack developer; Melanie Cooray, project manager; Sonal Kapoor, UX/UI Designer; Ryan Kwon, A&R/marketing intern

Long before the coronavirus outbreak, Neal Sarin and Dennis Hauser, MBA 20, saw a need to bring restorative music that helps people relax and rejuvenate to the masses.

Before coming to Haas, Hauser was an investment banker who moved from New York to California to pursue his passion for music and entrepreneurship. Sarin, a University of Miami graduate, is a music executive and record producer who noticed the lack of industry interest in restorative music. 

The two friends, who met in high school, decided to work on their own solution, which led to the launch of Paz, a restorative music app aimed to relieve stress and provide meditative benefits for listeners.

Users can now download Paz on the Apple App Store and listen to an hour of mantra-inspired music for free, no sign-in necessary. Once the free-trial ends, users can sign up for a free or a $2.99 monthly subscription. 

“When we first started Paz, we thought college students would be our primary audience,” Hauser siad. “But I think in today’s current situation, it’s something that everyone could benefit from to take their mind off the challenges that we’re facing at the moment.”

I think in today’s current situation, it’s something that everyone could benefit from to take their mind off the challenges that we’re facing at the moment.

Portrait: Neal Sarin
Neal Sarin co-founded Paz, a restorative music app. Photo courtesy: Neal Sarin.

As the A&R director for JioSaavn, a South-Asian music streaming service, Sarin said he noticed that music executives weren’t investing as much energy and capital into the restorative music compared to mainstream markets like pop or hip-hop.

“We’ve been conditioned to view music as a means of entertainment, but music is also really healing and can provide a lot of comfort to people,” he said.

Scientifically proven benefits

What distinguishes the music on Paz from other ambient or restorative music is that it’s scientifically tested to have meditative benefits, Sarin said. 

Paz co-founders worked with Robert Knight, a UC Berkeley psychology and neuroscience professor, and commissioned a study with Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience to scientifically test their music’s ability to reduce stress. The study found that research participants experienced a significant decrease in reported stress levels, an increase in memory activation, and a decrease in attention processing after listening to 10 minutes of Paz music.

“A lot of apps and people can claim that their music is restorative or it has meditative benefits, but it was really important for us to ensure that our music really does,” Sarin said.

While Sarin oversees the music production and curation for the app, Hauser handles the finances. They are working with Grammy-award winning mixing engineers and independent composers to produce the music and a team of UC Berkeley undergrads to build and design the app.

Portrait of Dennis Hauser, MBA 20.
Dennis Hauser, MBA 20, co-founded Paz, a restorative music app. Photo courtesy: Dennis Hauser.

“Berkeley was a key resource in bringing [Paz] to life,” Hauser said. “It’s one of the few places in the world where you have support to build and create a business and find like-minded people who want to contribute and bring a vision to life.”

Sarin and Hauser have self-funded and will soon begin to raise funds to grow the business.

“We’re at a nascent stage in terms of the restorative music market,” said Sarin. “We want to grow Paz and be a dominant force as a restorative app.” 

 

 

Thrive Education co-founders.
(From left to right) Meryll Dindin, Jack Rolo, and Josh Curry co-founded Thrive Education, a telehealth startup that uses technology to improve evaluations for learning differences such as dyslexia, ADHD, and autism. Photo: Jack Rolo.

Thrive Education
Co-founders: Jack Rolo, CEO; Joshua Curry, COO;  Meryll Dindin, CTO

Growing up, Jack Rolo, MBA 20, excelled at some things, like math and chess. He later went on to study physics in college. However, other things came less naturally, particularly reading and spelling.

After graduating from college, he was properly assessed and diagnosed with dyslexia.

“In hindsight, it was pretty obvious,” said Rolo. “However, at the time, the diagnosis was a ‘light-bulb’ moment. It made me look back on my life through a completely different lens.”

Once at Haas, Rolo teamed up with his roommate Joshua Curry, MBA 20, and Meryll Dindin, MEng 19, and co-founded Thrive Education, a telehealth startup that uses technology to improve evaluations for learning differences such as dyslexia, ADHD, and autism. Rolo said Thrive Education is his attempt to create the product he wishes he had as a child. 

Increasing access to evaluations

In-person evaluations with psychologists are expensive and Thrive aims to cut costs, which run run as high as $10,000 with six-month waiting lists.  Thrive Education partners with licensed psychologists and offers remote evaluations at a fraction of the price and wait time.

Early diagnosis is the key to enabling people with learning differences to fulfill their potential.

“Early diagnosis is the key to enabling people with learning differences to fulfill their potential,” said Rolo. “We’re increasing access to evaluations for those who have been ignored by the school system or priced out by independent psychologists.”

Thrive Education determines whether a student has a learning difference in three steps: a two-hour online assessment with a licensed psychologist, an interview with a psychologist and feedback on next steps and learning strategies, and an official diagnosis. That diagnosis can be used to request an Individualized Education Program (IEP), 504 Plan, or other reasonable accommodations in school or the workplace.

Technology is also a key element to Thrive Education’s business. 

“We’re doing some really exciting stuff with data,” Curry said. “From increasing the accuracy and precision of diagnostics to better understanding learning interventions, our ambition is to revolutionize the scientific understanding of learning differences.”

So far, the team has secured venture pre-seed funding, in addition to grants from the Rudd Family Foundation Big Idea contest and EGAL’s Equity and Inclusion competition.

Rolo and Curry credit entrepreneurship lecturers Kurt Beyer and Steve Blank for Thrive’s early success. Beyer’s Entrepreneurship class and Blank’s Lean LaunchPad class helped build their business model, they said. 

“These courses enabled us to make crucial pivots early on, almost acting as a simulation before we settled on our product and business model,” Curry said.

Deepak Gupta, a managing partner at Blue Bear Ventures and a Haas career advisor, also provided advice throughout their journey, they said.

Though their startup is in its infancy, the team aims to change the education industry forever. Thrive Education plans to formally launch this summer. 

 

Haas Wins Oxford Private Equity Competition

Four students
From left to right, top to bottom: Swamit Mehta, Austin Nalen, Luis Reina, and Shawn Meyer.

The decision to buy a publicly listed clinical research company and take it private landed a team of MBA students first place in the inaugural Oxford Global Private Equity Challenge. The competition, which was supposed to be held at the University of Oxford Saïd Business School, took place remotely on March 26. 

Team members: Swamit Mehta, Shawn Meyer, Luis Reina, all MBA 20, Austin Nalen, MBA/MPH 21.

The field: Ten teams from the world’s top business schools competed for a grand prize of $5,000. Finalists included Haas, University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, London Business School, Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management, and INSEAD.

The challenge: Playing the role of a private equity firm, the team had to conduct market research and recommend a take-private buyout of a public company valued between one to four billion. 

The plan: The team decided to do a take-private buyout of Medpace, a clinical research organization focused on small to medium-sized pharmaceutical companies. The team built a detailed financial model of Medpace, spoke to healthcare professionals to understand the business and industry dynamics, and created an investment strategy to successfully convert Medpace into a private company.

Secret sauce: “The Haas community was our secret sauce,” said Swamit Mehta, MBA 20. “The CRO (clinical research organization) segment of the healthcare industry is incredibly complicated and opaque,” he said. “Fortunately, we were able to rely on our healthcare-focused classmates for our research.”

The Haas factor: “Huge thanks to Lecturer Steve Etter. Steve went above and beyond in terms of helping us draft our investment presentation and provoking us to think about the gaps in our investment thesis,” Mehta said.

 

LAUNCH Diaries: Startups navigate COVID-19 crisis

Note: Haas News is following two of this year’s teams participating in LAUNCH, an accelerator for University of California startup founders that has helped create more than 200 companies since 1999. The teams are gearing up for the Demo Day final on May 1, when they’ll pitch their ideas to VCs and angel investors and compete for $25,000 in funding. This year the teams face an extra challenge: launching a startup at a time when the world has been turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic.

If there’s one thing this year’s LAUNCH teams have had to learn overnight, it’s the value of flexibility.

Leading the LAUNCH teams through all of the ongoing uncertainty is Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program, who quickly shifted LAUNCH online, where the teams met on Zoom last Wednesday to share updates at the last webinar before the semifinals.

Dispatch Goods, for one, detailed its pivot from a reusable food container business for restaurants to a zero-waste co-op called Project Clean that fills recycled plastic bottles with hand sanitizer made by San Francisco-based distillery Seven Stills.

Dispatch CEO Lindsey Hoell, MBA 21, said the team’s shift to provide free hand sanitizer to homeless shelters, nursing homes, and low-income communities, has proven “a big saving grace.” “This has given us a reason to keep moving after a horrible disruption to our business model,” she said. “Sometimes you just have to keep active, engaged, and on the mission, so you can weather the storm.”

SuperPetFoods and BumpR, teams Haas News has followed since the start of LAUNCH in March, shared their own COVID-19 challenges on the call as they continue on their startup journeys.

SuperPetFoods

Sticking to the plan: Since their last meeting, the team—María (Mar) del Mar Londoño, MBA 21, Thais Esteves, MBA 21, and Gina Myers, MS 20 (bioengineering), who is also a chef—finalized their recipe for dehydrated pet food. The food is made from black soldier flies (Hermetia Illucens) and Mar plans to produce it in Colombia, where her family has a farm in the coffee-growing region (and she’s surrounded by more than 15 dogs). The black soldier fly is capable of converting food waste into high-quality protein and fat with incredible efficiency, with an undetectable carbon footprint, she said.  Now, they are looking closely at how to cut the cost of production, which is high, and studying their potential profit margins by benchmarking against market competitors.

SuperPetFoods team
L-R: María (Mar) del Mar Londoño, MBA 21, Thais Esteves, MBA 21, and Gina Myers, MS 20 (bioengineering), with Gina’s dog, Qora, (before the COVID-19 crisis).

Eye-opening data: Mar, who represented the team on the webinar Wednesday, said COVID-19 dashed her plan to do many customer interviews in person. So she shifted online, surveying 300 people on Reddit. About 41% responded positively to the idea of using insects as pet food (73 percent were either positive or neutral). Mar also discovered that vegans are a possible niche market, as they were open to the idea of feeding insects to their pets.

Her initial fear that people would prefer dog food made in the U.S., sourced locally, instead of in Colombia, turned out to be unfounded, which was a relief. “I have the contacts there, the knowledge of how to run a business there and the manufacturing costs are way, way lower,” she said. From 11 interviews, the team discovered that they needed to do more to convince and educate pet owners of the safety and nutrition level of pet food made from insects.

Seed funding challenges: Mar applied for a grant from Arrow Capital, the student-run investment fund, but the fund recently announced it was shutting. “We’ll have to look for more alternatives,” she said. She’ll be soon competing as a finalist for the 2020 Rabobank-MIT Food and Agribusiness Innovation Prize, as well as in the LAUNCH final, which could net the startup $25,000. Mar asked Rhonda for advice about presenting the company to judges. She advised against a graphics-heavy presentation. “One trend I have hated over the past couple of years is “entrepreneur-tainment,” Rhonda said. “Images are not what LAUNCH is about.” Judges want to look under the hood, she said, so weave metrics into the company’s story and make sure to present a strong narrative.

BumpR

Challenges for BumpR: Responding to new campus COVID-19 rules, the undergraduate founders of BumpR —Armaan Goel, Aishwarya (Ash) Mahesh, Shreya Shekhar, all M.E.T. 23 (Management, Entrepreneurship & Technology); and Justin Quan, BS 23 (Electrical Engineering & Computer Science), — scrambled to move out of their dorms. Their move came at the same time as LAUNCHathon, a part of LAUNCH when participants across campus volunteer their skills to help other teams fulfill one item on their wish list. At the same time, the team decided to shift their business model. “Powered by instant ramen, we completed the move out from our dorms as well as our pivot,” Justin said.

Justin
BumpR’s Justin Quan explains the team’s pivot at last Wednesday’s Zoom webinar.

The pivot: BumpR started out building a cloud-based back end for targeted advertising displays. The team decided that an ad tech company wouldn’t work, so they abandoned the original mission and started building a Smart Cities plan to help governments collect data more efficiently. In recent days, Justin and Ash started reaching out to city and public safety officials to collect data. Justin interviewed officials in Saratoga and Los Gatos by phone, while Ash scheduled phone calls with city officials in L.A. county, where she lives. They found that cities often hire traffic engineers to collect data before building structures like parking garages and public transit stations, which is an expensive and tedious process, or they rely on published general traffic data, which isn’t always accurate nor specific to individual cities. Both saw a problem that team BumpR can solve.

Validating the idea: Justin, who had just finished a computer science midterm moments before, and Ash asked for feedback from their instructor Rhonda. Their new business model centers on producing an inexpensive Internet of Things (IoT) device, similar to a city-registered electronic carpool sticker, that rideshare drivers mount on their cars to easily collect data over geographic areas. Revenue would come from payments for access to

Team bumpR at work
L-R: Shreya Shekhar, Justin Quan, Armaan Goel, and Aishwarya (Ash) Mahesh at work on their LAUNCH plan before the COVID-19 crisis. Photo: Jim Block

datasets. The team said the devices could be used by planning departments, law enforcement, and fire departments.

Sharpening the focus: Rhonda asked team members to better define the key benefits to customers. Does BumpR help cities save money? Does it save time or improve quality of life? The team needs to figure out how much that savings would need to be to make the offering a priority for cities, she said. She also told them to not overlook the social part of their offering: the idea of making people look good to their bosses. “Test that with them. Ask them: how would this change your life if you had more accurate data that costs less? Think about that as you go out to do interviews,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update: Changes to late-round MBA application deadlines

Cronk Gate on Haas campus

Responding to the spread of the coronavirus and changes to GMAT and GRE testing, Berkeley Haas has updated the deadlines and procedures for late-round MBA applications.

The following is a list of information from the Haas admissions offices, created to guide applicants through the process of applying to our programs. The information will be updated as the situation evolves.

Full-time MBA

Application review continues for fall 2020, and we are on schedule to receive Round 3 applications. Admissions interviews have been transitioned to virtual formats.

We are opening a new extended deadline of May 4th, 2020 to assist candidates who have been delayed in completing their application due to their inability to take the GMAT/GRE or difficulty in obtaining letters of recommendation, etc.

Our Round 3 deadline will remain on April 2, 2020 with decisions released on May 7th.  Candidates submitting applications for the May 4th extended application deadline will receive decisions on June 4th, 2020.

Throughout this time, we are available to connect with you virtually:

Evening & Weekend MBA

Application review and processing continues on schedule for all application rounds. Round 2 applicants can still expect a decision on April 10. Round 3 applicants will receive their decisions as planned on June 5.

Round 4: A new application deadline of April 7th has been announced. Applicants are encouraged to complete and submit their application, and decisions will be sent on June 5. If you are unable to complete part of your application by the deadline due to COVID-19, please contact our admissions office at ewmbaadm@haas.berkeley.edu or call us at 510-642-0292.

Throughout this time, we are available to connect with you virtually:

  • Email: We will continue to monitor and promptly respond to all emails sent to ewmbaadm@haas.berkeley.edu.
  • Phone Consultations: We will continue offering phone consultations with our admissions team to discuss any aspect of the application process.
  • Recorded Webinars: Browse our library of recorded webinars to learn more about the application process and MBA experience.

Executive MBA

Application review and processing continues on schedule. Round 2 applicants can still expect a decision on March 26.

Throughout this time, we are available to connect with you virtually:

Accelerated Access

Accelerated Access, a new Berkeley Haas program, will give undergraduates the option of applying early for a spot in the full-time MBA program and deferring for two to five years to gain the required professional experience. The program is initially open only to UC Berkeley undergraduate and graduate students in their final year of study, with a plan to expand to students throughout the University of California system and then more broadly in the future.

Deadlines remain unchanged and are April 2 for Round 1 and June 11 for Round 2.

Standardized Tests: We acknowledge that many standardized test centers are closed. If you plan to apply in the first round and have completed all other application elements, you may still submit by April 2 and complete the exam at the earliest possible date in the future, but no later than May 21. You’re encouraged to register now while dates are still available. On the application, add a “0” as the score received. This will alert us to watch for your test scores to arrive. Also, please email us with your unofficial scores once you have completed the test. The unofficial score will be added to your application while we wait for your official score to arrive.

If you plan to apply in the second round, the timeline is unchanged and the standardized test must be completed on or before June 11.

Letters of Recommendation (LORs): The letters of recommendation provide valuable insight into your character and achievements and are an important part of our evaluation. Please encourage your recommenders to submit their LORs as close to the April 2 or June 11 deadline as possible. Although we will accept your application without the recommendations, a review of your candidacy will be delayed until both LORs have been received. It is your responsibility to follow-up with your recommender.

Throughout this time, we are available to connect with you virtually. We will continue to monitor and promptly respond to all emails sent to accelerate@haas.berkeley.edu.

 

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