Startup KwikKart nabs first prize at LAUNCH Demo Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAUNCH Demo Day is now available to stream via YouTube.

MBA team wins 2021 UT Austin Real Estate Competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haas startups receive top honors at LAUNCH Demo Day

MINWO Founder Melanie Akwule, EWMBA 19, took third place at LAUNCH Demo Day.

Three Berkeley Haas startups netted top honors at LAUNCH Demo Day, UC’s accelerator and competition for early-stage startups. The event was held online May 2. 

MINWO, an online hub connecting Black entrepreneurs with angel investors and resources tied for third place; Clever.FM, a podcast app that allows users to discover and listen to podcasts and make in-app purchases, won Best Pitch; and EdVisorly, a program that helps community college students transfer to four-year universities, won Audience Choice.

MINWO and EdVisorly netted $5,000 each and Clever.FM landed $2,500 in prize money. 

MINWO was founded by Melanie Akwule, EWMBA 19, EdVisorly was co-founded by Manny Smith, MBA 21, and Alyson Isaacs, BS 21, and Clever.FM was founded by Sean Li, EWMBA 20.

Portrait of Sean Li
Sean Li, EWMBA 20, founded podcast app, Clever.FM. He’s also the creator and co-producer of the OneHaas podcast.

Myntor, a test prep software that provides tutoring help and answers using conversational artificial intelligence, placed first and self-biodegradable plastic startup, Intropic Materials, took second, netting a total of $50,000. The winning team included Founder and CEO Nathan Poon, PhD 21 (mechanical engineering), and Product Director Michael Fogarasi, MBA 22.

“Working with Nate and Myntor has been an absolute highlight of my MBA experience,” said Fogarasi. “I came to Haas specifically to help build the next generation of educational technology products and I am so excited that these plans are becoming a reality.” 

Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program (BHEP) said this spring’s LAUNCH cohort was the most diverse since the accelerator’s inception, with eight of 10 UCs represented and 13 founders from underrepresented communities, five of whom identify as Black. The cohort also included seven women founders and two startups led by military veterans.

Portrait: Rhonda Shrader“All 21 teams that finished the program learned the necessary skills to take their ventures forward and will be supported by the strong bonds they formed with each other over the past three months,” Shrader said.

Ten UC teams pitched to VCs and angel investors on Demo Day, out of a crop of 21 teams that finished the three-month-long accelerator program that aims to transform promising startups into fundable companies. 

Startup teams that participate in LAUNCH go through a rigorous curriculum designed to help entrepreneurs refine and test their business model. During the program, teams get to test their product with customers, connect with industry experts, receive guidance from Haas mentors, and pitch to investors on Demo Day. 

LAUNCH, which is part of BHEP, has proven to be a boon for early-stage startups in the UC system. More than 150 LAUNCH alumni companies have raised over $200 million in funding. 

The competition featured talks from Ryan McDonough, co-founder of Accompany,  software that collects and develops profiles about C-suite executives, and Haas alums Richard Din, co-founder of food delivery service Caviar, and Brad Bao, founder of e-bike and scooter rental company, Lime. All three spoke about their entrepreneurial successes and challenges.

Launch Demo Day can be viewed on YouTube.

Berkeley Haas team wins Mental Healthcare Tech Challenge 

Portraits of MBA students. Two women, two men.
A team of Berkeley Haas MBA students place first at the John E. Martin Healthcare Tech Challenge. From left to right, top to bottom: Zhuoran (Zia) Li, Zixuan Chen, Eugene Kim, and Chen Su, all EWMBA 23.

An AI-powered app aimed to help construction workers experiencing anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts netted a first place win at the first inaugural John E. Martin Healthcare Tech Challenge. The competition was held online Nov. 16-20.

The winning team, Team CLiKS, included Eugene Kim, Zhuoran Li, Zixuan Chen, and Chen Su, all EWMBA 23. The team competed against 11 other teams from top U.S. business schools, including Wharton, Harvard, Columbia, MIT Sloan, and Kellogg for $10,000 in prize money.

Another Haas team placed second, earning $4,000 in prize money for pitching a chatbot that could collect health data, such as sleep patterns and appetite, and recommend tele-health therapy and wellness ambassadors stationed at construction worksites. 

Portraits of two women and two men
A second Berkeley Haas team placed second at the John E. Martin Healthcare Challenge. From left to right, top to bottom: Vishalli Loomba, MD/MS 23; Doug Pollack, MBA/MPH 20; Ben Delikat, and Sophie Schonfeld, both MBA/MPH 21.

Team members included Sophie Schonfeld, Ben Delikat, both MBA/MPH 21; Doug Pollack, MBA/MPH 20; and Vishalli Loomba, MD/MS 23. 

The competition was organized by the Berkeley Haas Healthcare Association and the Berkeley Haas Tech Club, and sponsored by Google. 

For the competition, students were asked to come up with an innovative solution to address mental health issues in the construction industry, which reports some of the highest rates of depression and suicide.

Team CLiKS pitched a mental health app that addressed three critical factors: prevention, assessment, and intervention. Through this app, construction workers would have access to music, podcasts, mental health specialists, peer volunteers, and a community-based forum to seek emotional support. The app would also collect daily mental health data from users through notifications, wellness checks, and diary entries.

The team credited its success to interviewing and surveying more than 90 construction workers, powerful storytelling, and a personal commitment to helping construction workers with mental health issues–an issue that hits close to home for Chen, Kim, and Li. 

Chen, a civil engineer who’s worked in the construction industry, said one of her co-workers committed suicide. “The amount of work, the physical stress, and the financial instability that comes with the job pushes people to the edge.”

Kim, an Army veteran, said several soldiers he served with had committed suicide and Li, a music rehabilitation therapist, treats patients with severe mental health illnesses. 

Su said the cause was important to him and he wanted to leverage his AI and computer engineering skills to help.

The team also credited its success to their construction industry mentor Matt Schulte; Rebecca Portnoy, a professional faculty member who teaches an organizational culture course called Leading People; and James Sallee, an associate economics professor at UC Berkeley. 

“As a first-year Evening and Weekend MBA student without previous business knowledge, I was thankful to have taken a class with Prof. Sallee to guide my thinking and to tackle this mental health challenge from a health and business perspective,” Li said.

Haas to host first John E. Martin Mental Healthcare Tech Challenge

Michael Martin
Michael Martin

For Michael Martin, MBA 09, teaming up with Berkeley Haas to launch the 2020 John E. Martin Mental Healthcare Tech Challenge was deeply personal. The challenge is named for his father, a Vietnam veteran who in his later years counseled veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was Martin’s father’s commitment to improving the quality of and access to mental healthcare that drove the theme of this year’s inaugural competition, which invites 12 teams from top MBA programs to find ways to use data to better support construction workers facing anxiety, addiction, depression, and suicide. The challenge kicks off on Nov. 11, Veterans Day.

“It’s an auspicious date considering that my dad was a veteran,” said Martin, a portfolio manager in Google’s Energy & Infrastructure division. In 2014, Martin established the John E. Martin Memorial Fellowship to honor the memory of his father who succumbed to injuries resulting from a car accident in 2013.

Earlier this year, Martin decided to further his commitment to the cause his father was most passionate about.

Corinne Marquardt
Corinne Marquardt

Martin connected with the Haas Healthcare Association, whose members then reached out to the Tech Club. “Michael wanted to set up a case competition linked to mental health and the Tech Club has experience with running cross-MBA competitions through our annual Tech Challenge,” said Corrine Marquardt, MBA/MPH 21. “A team effort between the two clubs seemed like an ideal way to blend healthcare industry knowledge with the operational know-how of running a competition like this.”

In planning the event, which is sponsored by Google, Marquardt worked with fellow Tech Club leaders Brad Deal, Mary Yao, and Dunja Panic, all MBA 21, as well as Haas Healthcare Association leaders Elena Gambon, MBA/MPH 21 and Will Herling, MBA/MPH 21.

The idea for a mental health case competition focusing on the construction industry sprang from Martin’s many job-related visits to data center construction sites. “I was going to more rural locations in middle America and I had the opportunity to establish a rapport with a lot of these folks,” he said.

He noted that the construction industry, one of the largest sectors in the U.S., suffers disproportionately high rates of depression and suicide. He further noted that many mental disorders are going untreated, which can have serious consequences. “When people bring these problems to work and they’re handling heavy machinery on a job site there’s a greater chance of injury and death.”

In addition to the challenge, a speaker series consisting of three sessions will be held on Mental Health in the Construction Industry, YouTube in Mental Health, and Google in Healthcare. Google’s leadership team earmarked $30,000 for the competition, and Martin contributed an additional $20,000.

The case competition field includes teams from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, MIT’s Sloan School of Management, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Harvard Business School, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, Columbia Business School, Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, and Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

Final awards will be presented on November 20th.

Haas team wins regional National Student Advertising Competition

ImagiCal team
imagiCal’s Executive Leadership Team

A plan to help marketers design and place creative, data-driven ads that could deliver a high return on investment (ROI) landed an undergraduate team a first place district win at the National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC). 

The competition, which was supposed to be held at San Jose State University, took place via Zoom on April 24-25. It’s the team’s first major win since 2016.

Team members: The 29-member team, called imagiCal, included UC Berkeley undergraduate students from multiple disciplines, including business, economics, computer science, sociology, and architecture. This year’s team was led by imagiCal’s President, Maya Iyer, BS 21 (economics). Presenters included: Shelley Cai, BA 21 (sociology); Cicily Deng, BS 22; Nikhil George, CS 22 (computer science); and Brendan Shih, BS 23.

Berkeley Haas-sponsored imagiCal team.
A screenshot of imagiCal’s leadership team and NSAC presenters. From left to right: Jago Pang, Tyler Wu, Frances Cheng, Maya Iyer, Vicky Lin, Amber Chen, Michelle Gong, Melody Ding, Kelly Pan, Cicily Deng, Brendan Shih, Shelley Cai, and Jordan Loeffler.

The field: About 2,000 undergraduate students from 200 schools around the country competed in district-level competitions before advancing to the final round. Haas competed against teams from San Jose State University, University of Nevada, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and University of San Francisco

The challenge: The team was tasked with developing a business and marketing strategy to promote the Adobe Experience Cloud–a digital platform to manage online marketing–among advertising media buyers. 

The plan: The team’s campaign slogan was “Data-backed, Story-driven,” showcasing the ways that marketers could create a curated ad experience using data-informed messaging.

Secret sauce: “Our secret sauce lies in our diversity,” said Tyler Wu, BS 22. “We pride ourselves on having a diverse community of students, which allows us to consider multiple points of view, learn from each others’ strengths and weaknesses, and think creatively.

Wu also credited the team’s success to student designers who were able to see the practicality of certain ad executions and data scientists who crunched the numbers to see the potential impact of these executions. 

The Haas factor: “Our Haas faculty advisor, Judy Hopelain, was very helpful in guiding us through this difficult case,” said Wu.  “With her expertise in business-to-business (B2B) marketing, we were able to gain a stronger understanding of how to market B2B products and approach our campaign strategy.”

Diane Rames, a NSAC advisor, also helped the imagiCal team with their B2B marketing and guided them through the competition.

NSAC is a college advertising competition with 16 districts and over 150 teams nationwide. Each year, students are challenged to create a multi-million dollar advertising campaign for a corporate sponsor.

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.

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.

 

Two MFE students honored at Moody’s competition

Two Berkeley MFE students holding awards
Berkeley MFE students received awards for helping to design new financial tools while interning at Moody’s Analytics. From left to right: Yashoraj Tyagi and Akshay Gupta.

A new technology to help companies assess climate change risk and a financial tool to help insurance companies invest in the best portfolios netted first-place wins for two Berkeley Master of Financial Engineering students participating in a competition at Moody’s Analytics. 

Yashoraj Tyagi and Akshay Gupta, both MFE 20, each took home $500 and received awards for helping to design new financial tools while interning at Moody’s Analytics this past winter.

“It’s rare for an intern to win, especially when you’re competing against actual Moody employees,” said Tyagi. “It feels good to win.”

Using Natural Language Processing (NLP), an artificial intelligence that helps computers and people communicate with each other, Tyagi helped design a new technology that aggregates information about a company, including annual filings, news articles, and climate disclosures, and evaluates a company’s risk to climate change. Investors could use the evaluation to determine whether a company is a safe or risky investment bet.

Gupta helped design a financial tool that assesses the risk level and expected returns of investment portfolios by analyzing millions of data points, including GDP, stock performance, and current events. This new tool would help insurance companies optimize their financial investments, especially when faced with economic challenges such as low interest rates and increased demands for improved credit modeling.

 

Haas Team Wins First Place in West Coast Citadel Datathon

Four students holding a check.
Berkeley Master of Engineering students win the West Coast Citadel Datathon. (From left to right: Weipeng Shao, Ying Jin, Yili Wang, and Raymond Ji.)

Deciding on the best place to build a new bike-sharing station in New York City based on ridership data landed a team of Berkeley Master of Financial Engineering students first place in the Citadel West Coast Datathon. The competition was held at the San Francisco Marriott Hotel on January 25. 

Team members: Raymond Ji, MFE 20, Yili Wang, MFE 20, and Weipeng Shao, MFE 20,  working with Ying Jin, PhD 24 (statistics), of Stanford University.

The Field: Twenty-three teams from top U.S. universities on the West Coast, including Caltech, Stanford, UCLA, University of Southern California, and the University of Washington, competed for $20,000 in prize money and the chance to move on to the Citadel National Data Championship in April.

The Challenge and Team’s Plan: The team had to decide where to build a bike-sharing station in New York City based on current and future ridership, demographics, proximity of public transportation, and the popularity of ride-sharing alternatives. Using those data points, the team built a regression model that accurately predicted South Brooklyn as the best location for a bike-sharing station.

The Secret Sauce: “Our wide skill set as well as our extensive preparation set us apart from the other teams,” said Raymond Ji, MFE 20. “Our ability to dig well in depth into a topic question while still covering a broad range of aspects and techniques helped us win the competition.”

The Haas Factor: The students said Prof. Martin Lettau’s Empirical Method in Finance course and Prof. Laurent El Ghaoui’s Finance Data Science course provided useful knowledge for the competition.

 

MBA team wins “future of mobility” case competition

Students holding check
The first place team in the Future of Mobility Case Competition. Holding check, left-right: Andy Min, Johnny Lin, Rebecca West, and Yifeng Wang.


A team of MBA students working with a Berkeley architecture student placed first in the University of Michigan’s Future of Mobility Case Competition for designing a mobile network that would allow customers to access multiple modes of transportation on demand. The 3rd annual case competition was held in Ann Arbor on Nov. 8 and sponsored by Ford Mobility.

The Team: Johnny Lin, MBA 21, Rebecca West, MBA 21, Andy Min, MBA/MEng 21, and Yifeng Wang, MA (architecture) 21.

The Field: Eight teams were selected from a pool of 24 teams to compete for a $5,000 prize. Finalists included the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Notre Dame’s Mendoza School of Business, and the University of Texas’s McCombs School of Business. 

The Challenge: Create a new profitable business venture that focuses on customer experience and innovation within the current transportation ecosystem, which includes cars, buses, e-scooters and bikes.

The Team’s Plan: The Haas team designed a mobile network that customers could use to access different modes of transportation at any time using the FordPass App. By re-purposing the car share program, vehicles would not only serve as short-term rentals, but also as a pick-up and drop-off location for Ford’s SPIN scooters. Trunk space would act as a storage and charging station for scooters. This transportation network would allow Ford to meet customer needs for multiple transit modes.

What set them apart: Drawing from all of their experiences, both professional and educational, the Haas team presented a unique proposal. Lin contributed to the development and structure of the presentation; Wang, with his environmental and service design background, worked on the customer experience; Min, drawing on his Marine Corps experience and MBA courses, identified technical specifications for the project; and West, using her economic development background, identified stakeholders and community growth opportunities.

“Our team stood out because of our diverse perspectives that led us to a very creative solution and presentation,” said Rebecca West, MBA 21. “We approached the initial prompt from four very distinct backgrounds, and through Andy’s leadership, were able to weave them all together. Johnny and Yifeng then drove the development of the presentation forward.” 

“I was so impressed by all three of my teammates,” said Johnny Lin, MBA 21. “We each lead from and collectively integrated our different experiences.  Our solution focused on the user experience, civic responsibility, engineering, and profitable business, and it was really thanks to every member of the team that we were able to deliver a winning proposal.”

The Berkeley factor: “The course Reimagining Mobility taught by Prof. Purin Phanichphant (taught through the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation) helped us gain empathy with users and put people in the center of our design,” said Yifeng Wang, MA 21.

The most memorable experience from the competition: Andy Min, MBA/MEng 21, said the brainstorming session was the most memorable experience. “We all had differing approaches and ideas, but we were able to come up with a solution that melded those thoughts together,” Min said. 

MBA team wins first place at National Real Estate Challenge

Eight people holding plaques and check.
MBA team wins first place in National Real Estate Challenge held at the University of Texas at Austin on Nov. 21. From left to right: David Eisenman, Maribel Garcia Ochoa, Jon Lam, Abby Franklin, Lecturer Bill Falik, Matt Tortorello, Andrew Sublett and Eric Valchuis.


Haas took first place in the 17th annual
National Real Estate Challenge for the second year in a row, taking home a $10,000 prize. Teams from the nation’s top-ranked business schools competed at the University of Texas at Austin on Nov. 21.

The Team: David Eisenman, MBA 20, Andrew Sublett, MBA 20, Matt Tortorello, MBA 20, Eric Valchuis, MCP 20 (city planning), Maribel Garcia Ochoa, JD 21, and Jon Lam, MBA 21 & MRED+D 20 (real estate development and design).

The Field: Finalists included Haas, Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and UPenn’s Wharton School. 

The Challenge: Playing the role of a real estate investment firm, the Haas team had to decide if it should buy 1,000 mixed-income housing units in Lakewood, a fictional city modeled after New York. The firm would receive a tax abatement from the city if it converted a portion of the units into affordable housing.

The Team’s plan: The team weighed the pros and cons of investing in a housing portfolio that included market-rate and affordable housing units. After careful consideration, the team decided to invest in the Lakewood property.

The Haas Factor: The Haas team received coaching from Professor Nancy Wallace, Lecturer Bill Falik, Abigail Franklin, an investment banking and real estate student advisor, and Haas alumni.“Questioning the status quo and having confidence without attitude set us apart from the pack,” said Eric Valchuis, MCP 20. “We prepared for this challenge for months and delivered a story-centered presentation to the judges.”

The team also benefited from Berkeley’s unique Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Real Estate program, allowing us to take classes at Haas, the College of Environmental Design, and Berkeley Law, Valchuis said. “As a result, we demonstrated a cohesive understanding of the social, political, and financial impacts of our investment that may have been more difficult for other schools to match.”

Haas takes first place in Duke Energy Case Competition

MBA students hold check.
The Haas team places first in the Duke Energy Case Competition.  Third from left: Haas students Alan Southworth, Will Bowman, Rebecca West, and Simon Greenberg. Photo courtesy: Will Bowman.


A plan to transform a Nigerian energy company into a sustainable and profitable virtual utility company landed a full-time MBA team first place in Duke University’s
Energy in Emerging Markets Case Competition. The 7th annual case competition was held in North Carolina on Nov. 5.

The Team: Will Bowman, Alan Southworth, Rebecca West, and Simon Greenberg, all MBA 21. 

The Field: Nearly 40 MBA teams from Europe and North America competed for a $10,000 prize and the chance to meet recruiters from top U.S. energy companies. Finalists included teams from Haas, Yale SOM, University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.

The Challenge: Develop a strategy to help a Nigerian energy company find high-skilled workers for their solar energy project and devise a long-term plan to finance the project, all the while transforming the company into a sustainable virtual utility in the country. (A virtual utility is a company that generates electricity in one place and then sells it to someone in another place without owning or controlling the distribution wires.)

The Team’s Plan: The Haas team proposed a three-pronged strategy that included developing an apprenticeship program to find high-skilled laborers, selling health benefits by replacing diesel energy with solar, ultimately reducing pollution, and identifying target customersNigerians who lived in residential estate communities or “gated communities.”

“Our secret sauce was to think creatively about how to monetize benefits from solar and storage which are often left on the table right now,” said Simon Greenberg, MBA 21. “I think we won by taking those novel ideas and thinking not only about how to apply them in the market now, but also about how the company can use them as engines of growth in the future.”

What set them apart from the pack: “We brought more creative ideas and worked hard to test those ideas with those who are on the ground,” said Will Bowman, MBA 21. “We came up with a vision-driven proposal and provided concrete recommendations to make the Nigerian company a virtual utility.” The team spoke to Nigerian bankers, former officers of the Gates Foundation, freelance Nigerian electricians and other solar companies in Nigeria and Africa to assess if their proposal was plausible and profitable. 

Rebecca West, MBA 21, said it was the composition of the Haas team that also set them apart from the rest of the competition. “We had three of us dive deep on each of the three content areas, and then Will drove the overall strategy and managed the project and the process,” West said. “It was very helpful to have someone who looked at the bigger picture, and continually pushed each of us to make improvements on our sections and dive deeper. Additionally, Alan and Simon are incredibly talented and have a deep knowledge of the industry. They could think critically about some complex problems, in such a way that we could come up with a cogent and creative strategy!”

The Haas Factor: A BERC Energy workshop helped shape their ideas. They learned how to monetize benefits of natural resources and renewable energy. 

The most memorable experience from the competition: Alan Southworth, MBA 21,  recalled his teammate Will Bowman posing a question to the judges about whether they have ever been to Coastal Maine. “Everyone in the room was taken aback; the case was about solar panels in Nigeria,” said Southworth. “Will proceeded to give an impassioned speech about sometimes having to take an indirect route to get to the hardest to reach places. The metaphor landed and I think he even received a standing ovation from one of the members of another school’s team. I can’t say whether that answer was the reason we won, but it was absolutely the moment that generated the most buzz among the crowd for the rest of the evening.”

 

Haas holds on to Golden Shovel, besting Stanford in real estate competition

<em>The Golden Bear Real Estate team: (left to right) Bianca Doerschlag, M.Arch 19; Matt Tortorello, MBA 20; David Eisenman, MBA 20; Brynn McKiernan, MRED+D 19; and Matthew Anderson, EWMBA 19</em>
The Golden Bear Real Estate team: (left to right) Bianca Doerschlag, M.Arch 19; Matt Tortorello, MBA 20; David Eisenman, MBA 20; Brynn McKiernan, MRED+D 19; and Matthew Anderson, EWMBA 19

The Team: Golden Bear Real Estate: Bianca Doerschlag, M.Arch. 19; Matt Tortorello, MBA 20; David Eisenman, MBA 20; Brynn McKiernan, MRED+D 19; Matthew Anderson, EWMBA 19.

The Win: First Place in the NAIOP San Francisco Bay Area (SFBA) Real Estate Challenge, April 30. The friendly real estate competition between Berkeley and Stanford just celebrated its 30th year, with Haas taking home the coveted James W. Brecht Memorial Golden Shovel. The team’s $2,000 prize is donated to the nonprofit Challenge for Charity.

The Challenge: The City of San Jose challenged students to create a plan for an undeveloped 159-acre site located adjacent to Highway 237 and Zanker Road in North San Jose. The two teams spent 10 weeks researching a solution to the challenge and pitched a jury of six executives from the banking, real estate development, property management, and public utilities sectors.

The Pitch: The team proposed “Zanker Yards.” Since San Jose’s demand for office space is low, the team dedicated half of the development—3 million square feet—to industrial space for businesses like food distribution, manufacturing, water technology, (the development is site is located near a water treatment plant) and medical devices. The remaining half would be divided into 2.7 million square feet of office and retail space, a hotel, and 40 acres of open space.

The Clincher: Breaking with the U.S. tradition of sprawling, single-story industrial buildings, the Berkeley team proposed an architecturally innovative, multi-story design that drew inspiration from the world’s densest cities. The development would also accommodate nearly 15,000 employees in the initial phase and have flexible zoning that could eventually double that number.

The Haas Factor: The team credited Haas’ overall strength in real estate. Competition adviser Bill Falik—reprising his role from last year—and the faculty at the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics worked to validate and challenge the team’s assumptions. They also helped connect the team to developers, property managers, prospective tenants and financiers. Leveraging these networks, the team conducted more than 60 interviews to hone their ideas and complete due diligence. In addition, this year’s team received coaching and moral support from last year’s winners, which helped the team stay inspired, refine their process, and benchmark progress.

Berkeley team wins Kellogg Real Estate Competition

Winning Berkeley team at Kellogg real estate competitionKellogg Real Estate Conference and Venture Competition winners: (l-r) Stefan “Steve” Jeitler, LL.M 19; Kyle Raines MBA 21; Esmond Ai, MBA 20; Nithya Rathinam, MBA 21; Hind Katkhuda, MBA 20; and Julia McElhinney, MRED+D 19. Photo: Kellogg School of Management.

A team of six Berkeley students won the sixth annual Kellogg Real Estate Conference and Venture Competition for their plan to fill vacant ground-floor retail spaces in cities with package pick-up centers and e-commerce pop-up shops.

The competition, hosted April 10 at Northwestern University at the Kellogg School’s Guthrie Center for Real Estate Research, aims to encourage entrepreneurial real estate ventures.

Nine international semi-finalist teams were asked to create a scalable, profitable real estate business—complete with supporting financials and profit projections—that would transcend traditional real estate and help solve urban and social issues.

The Berkeley team included Esmond Ai, MBA 20, Kyle Raines, MBA 21, and Nithya Rathinam, MBA 21, all students in the Evening and Weekend MBA Program. They were joined by teammates Hind Katkhuda, FT-MBA 20; Julia McElhinney, MRED+D 19, who is earning a master’s degree in real estate development and design from Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design; and Stefan “Steve” Jeitler, LL.M 19, a master of laws candidate at Berkeley School of Law.

Raines said their proposed real estate venture, named Click + Mortar, would provide secure delivery options through package pick-up centers—and help businesses that sell mostly online to benefit from small, short-term brick-and-mortar presences in key urban centers.

“We see the social and economic challenges of empty Bay Area retail spaces every day,” McElhinney said. “So we wanted to create a viable and scalable business that would address this issue locally, drive profits, and offer opportunities to expand to other urban areas facing the same challenges.”

“An incredibly creative solution”

The team spent four months researching the concept, talking to developers, property managers, e-tailers like Sugarfina and Ministry of Supply, and package locker providers. The idea includes signing discounted, long-term master leases in large, vacant retail spaces; adding package lockers to part of the space; and filling the remaining area with small, short-term retail lots.

“Our students found an incredibly creative solution to an intractable problem,” said their faculty adviser, real estate Professor Nancy Wallace, co-chair of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics. “Their idea is so compelling that they’ve already found real property owners and clients who are willing to sign on if Click + Mortar launches.”

The team members are currently considering how best to bring this business idea to fruition. They have seed capital from the competition’s $25,000 cash prize and an additional $75,000 to apply toward co-working space and legal and accounting professional services. In addition, several investors who attended the event have already requested pitch decks.

Before the competition, Rathinam said she believed that real estate offered a limited range of traditional career paths. “With Click + Mortar, I now have an opportunity to start off on my own and build something that is very unique and that solves an important urban issue all at once,” she said.

This is the latest in a string of Haas real estate wins. This week, another Haas team won the NAIOP San Francisco Bay Area Real Estate Challenge, dubbed the “Golden Shovel” competition, for the second year in a row. In December, a Haas team took the top prize at the University of Texas McCombs’ National Real Estate Case Challenge.

Double victory for MBA teams at UCLA Energy Competition

(L-R:) Sid Mullick, Cici Saekow, Mark Sheiness, Kylie Sale, William Lynn (from Edison International/Southern California Edison), Bree Soares, Kate Tomlinson, Joyce Yao, Deborah Tan, and Nick Matcheck, all MBA 20.

The two teams: (L-R:) Sid Mullick, Cici Saekow, Mark Sheiness, Kylie Sale, William Lynn (from Edison International/Southern California Edison), Bree Soares, Kate Tomlinson, Joyce Yao, Deborah Tan, and Nick Matcheck, all MBA 20.

The Win: 1st and 2nd place at UCLA’s 6th Annual Challenges in Energy Case Competition Feb. 8-10.

The Field:  Seven teams competed from across the country in the case called, “Pedal to the medal: Southern California’s transportation roadmap timed with the 2028 Olympics.” Haas sent two teams—Team Metromile and Team Vinculara—that went to the finals this year, competing for $5,000 in cash prize money.

The Case:  Teams were challenged to answer the following question: With Southern California leading the transformation to electrify the transportation sector, where is the money to be made, and how can I get my company involved? Teams could position themselves anywhere in the electric transportation supply chain—as either a new company or an existing player in the market. The case needed to support the zero-emissions 2018 roadmap and the electrification of California’s transportation sector.

A little background: Los Angeles is hosting the summer 2028 Olympic games. As the city prepares, the LA Cleantech Incubator is partnering with local government and businesses, including Southern California Edison, to speed up the region’s move toward transportation electrification. The partnership’s members have agreed to go beyond California’s goals for emissions and pollution reduction before the games begin by targeting an additional 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gases and air pollution—by accelerating transportation electrification.

The pitch from Team Vinculara (first place): (Nick Matcheck, Bree Soares, Kate Tomlinson, Deb Tan, Joyce Yao) Vinculara proposed a blockchain-based platform that would provide a more efficient and effective allocation of the state-regulated Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) credits to electric vehicle fleet owners. The idea came from team member Kate Tomlinson, a business consultant for Blockchain at Berkeley, who is researching the use of blockchain in the energy industry. The problem they addressed? Electric vehicle owners are compensated for avoiding carbon emissions though the Clean Fuel Reward Program run by utilities, but the current tracking system is costly and inaccurate and does not incentivize enough behavior change. “Blockchain helps to reduce a lot of back-end inefficiencies,” Yao said. Vinculara’s blockchain platform, when used by electric vehicle owners, fleet managers, and regulators, would help reduce the cost and complexity of tracking and verifying credits and in doing so, open up the LCFS market to smaller players who are currently unable to get involved and claim their credits. “I think the market-opening part is the most interesting part of our proposal,” Tomlinson said.

The pitch from Team Metromile (second place): (Sid Mullick, Cici Saekow, Mark Sheiness, and Kylie Sale) The team proposed combining Metromile’s per-mile auto insurance program with a calculated cash advance to accelerate adoption of electric vehicles, while simultaneously transforming the company’s potential to become a preferred provider of auto insurance among electric vehicle owners. Traditional cash incentive programs rely on fuel savings, which take several years to recover. This proposal leverages per-mile calculated auto insurance, with a three-year insurance subscription to deliver immediate electric vehicle savings to potential customers up front, thereby converting on-the-fence customers into EV adopters.

On seeing double at the final: “All the teams worked really hard and we were honored to be chosen as finalists,” Saekow said. “When the judges announced that both first and second teams went to Haas, I felt especially proud to share the stage with my classmates.”

Undergrads tie for win at National Diversity Case Competition

 (L-R) Advisor Mary Balangit with undergraduate students Alec Li, Claudia Diaz, Kiara Taylor, and Frances James.
(L-R) Mary Balingit, undergraduate assistant director of admissions, advised the National Diversity Case Competition winners Alec Li, Claudia Diaz, Kiara Taylor, and Frances James. Photo: Jim Block

A plan to build an inclusive new small-format Target store in Oakland netted a Haas undergraduate team a first-place tie with the host school at The National Diversity Case Competition (NDCC). The 8th annual event was held at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business Jan. 18-19.

The Team: Team captain Claudia Diaz, BS 19, Kiara Taylor, Alec Li, and Frances James, all BS 20. The team’s advisor was Mary Balingit, assistant director of admissions & outreach for the undergraduate programs, and the undergraduate lead for inclusion & diversity. Faculty coaches were Haas Lecturers Steve Etter and Krystal Thomas, along with Erika Walker, assistant dean of the undergraduate program.

The Field: 168 undergraduates from 42 business schools around the country, competing for a total of $20,000 in prize money.

The Challenge: Choose a neighborhood and develop a strategy for the location, design, and merchandising of a new small-format Target store, as well as address ways to help the community integrate Target into their neighborhood. Target asked the students to consider community engagement, marketing, the supply chain, delivery options, finance & logistics, and diversity & inclusion.

The team’s plan: To build a small-format Target in downtown Oakland, called The Town’s Target, with a locally-owned café to be operated by a local food entrepreneur. The cafe would double as an incubator—a residency program that would allow that local entrepreneur to build clientele and develop an exit strategy to launch a business at the end of two years, at which time a new entrepreneur would take over the café. The café would include a mural painted by an Oakland artist collective, and a community space for local social justice organizations to meet. Electronic lockers in the store would house customer’s hot lunches or purchases and be accessible to people with disabilities and farmer’s market produce would be delivered daily, along with locally sourced products, like coffee, chocolate, and apparel.

Presenting their case at Indiana University
Frances James (speaking) and the undergrad team presenting at Indiana University’s Kelley School.

What made them winners: Storytelling, originality, and depth of content. Competition judge Zain Kaj, CFO of GE Global Supply Chain at GE Healthcare, said the team’s ideas were “creative and delivered with passion and a genuine sense of inclusion and celebrated what the weekend was all about.”

The competition provided the perfect platform for the team “to showcase how we’re living our culture out loud,” Walker said. “The Defining Leadership Principles were in full effect and I’m so proud of the team for its authentic approach and positive energy. It’s a well deserved win!”

James opened the team’s 15-minute presentation in a unique way—with spoken words.

Oakland
The land of culture, the home to change
The Brown Berets carried the torch for Chicano freedom
Black Liberation ignited
The voices of Malcolm X and Angela Davis heard loud and clear—they called for more
Oscar Grant killed, a flawed police force at fault
Black Lives Matter, they yelled, Black Lives Matter!
Tupac preached about changes, America needs change
Said forgive but don’t forget, always keep your head up
All of these voices came to form the Oakland we know
But it has become so much more…

A collage included in the undergrad students' presentation.
Alec Li’s collage included in the student’s presentation was an homage to Oakland’s rich history.

Li designed a stunning visual presentation, with collages representing Oakland’s rich history.  “We hit every emotion,” he said. “We made them laugh, and made them cry.” Taylor had great command and presence in the room, Balingit said.

The secret sauce: Diaz’s slow and steady delivery of her personal story of growing up in a low-income community in South Central Los Angeles—a food desert, she said, where your choices were either “McDonalds or Jack in the Box because there were no fresh strawberries or apples.” A Haas senior and a social justice warrior, Diaz served as team captain, and “the person who had to rally everyone together,” Taylor said.

The Haas Factor: Questioning the status quo. When the students read the case they boiled it down to one word: gentrification. Then they focused on Oakland, and how gentrification has impacted the city. That led them on a tour of Oakland with Balingit, where they drove past shuttered mom and pop stores and discussed the homeless problem and how lower income people were priced out. They decided that every aspect of their case must prioritize inclusion and the needs of the community. The approach was very “Berkeley,” Balingit said, referring to the focus on social justice.

Alec Li, Mary Balingit, Claudia Diaz, Frances James, and Kiara Taylor in Indiana.
Alec Li, Mary Balingit, Claudia Diaz, Frances James, and Kiara Taylor take a break in Indiana.

Most memorable experience from the competition: A standing ovation from the crowd. “We could not get out of that building when we were done,” Taylor said. “We were literally held back.”  At that moment, James said, “we knew we had made an impact.”

The students got to bring their whole authentic selves to the competition, Balingit said. “They brought such a fresh, innovative and risky approach but still won the hearts of everyone there,” she said. And another fun outcome: they all finish each other’s sentences now—and might just be friends for life.

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