Students return to reimagined courses and major technology upgrades

A virtual classroom at Berkeley Haas
Lecturer Robert Strand, executive director of the Center for Responsible Business, demonstrates one of the four new Berkeley Haas virtual classrooms.

Berkeley Haas faculty spent the summer with a ticking clock and a lofty challenge: to pull apart their courses and rebuild them to give students as rich an experience as possible, during a maddeningly uncertain time.

“It’s an interesting challenge—how to take what’s different about this environment and improve teaching,” said Finance Prof. Terry Odean. “One of the big challenges for the fall semester is helping students feel like they are part of the class, part of the school, and part of a group of students.” 

It’s an interesting challenge—how to take what’s different about this environment and improve teaching. —Prof. Terry Odean

When students begin class this month, they’ll benefit from the hundreds of hours Odean and the rest of the Haas faculty have spent on redesigning their classes with a single goal in mind: creating a top-notch academic experience focused on maximizing student engagement. 

Working to match, and potentially improve upon, some aspects of the engagement level of a live, physical classroom online is no easy feat. It has involved hours of brainstorming, planning, workshop training, and major investments in a host of new technologies to reinvent instruction. It’s been all hands on deck: Dean Ann Harrison said she’s proud of the work the faculty, graduate student instructors, and the Haas Digital and Exec Ed Digital teams have done over spring and summer. “After watching last spring when our faculty and staff moved within 36 hours to online teaching when the coronavirus broke out, I believe there’s little that we can’t do virtually going forward,” Harrison said. “Their hard work has opened up so many other opportunities for the future of teaching at Haas.”

A different experience

“We’re very excited to debut what we’ve learned and implemented,” added Prof. Catherine Wolfram, associate dean for academic affairs & chair of the faculty, who is overseeing the transition with Prof. Jennifer Chatman, associate dean for learning strategies, and Jay Stowsky, senior assistant dean for instruction. “I think this will be many cuts above what students saw in the spring, and they’ll be pleasantly surprised,” Wolfram said.

While Berkeley’s fall semester officially begins on Aug. 24, students in the evening and weekend MBA program started their first classes last week. Andrew Celin, MBA 22, said he enjoyed his first class taught by Assoc. Prof. Jose Guajardo from one of the classrooms at Chou Hall upgraded for virtual teaching.

“The difference in learning experience was immediately evident, and I think it put everyone into the mindset that we were truly in class and not on a webinar call,” he said. “The camera was following Prof. Guajardo around the room as he moved and used different whiteboards. Having the option to simultaneously view a slide and see the professor at the whiteboard added tremendously to understanding and keeping students engaged after a full day’s work.”

Here are details of some of the innovations:

  • Launching virtual classrooms: The school has improved existing classrooms and invested in four new state-of-the-art “virtual classrooms” in conjunction with UC Berkeley Executive Education. Two of the classrooms will be used for executive education programs, and two by the MBA programs for core classes. The setup includes multiple cameras installed at various angles, allowing students to choose their view of the instructor; a digital whiteboard which instructors can use in person and students can write on remotely; and a curved wall of high-resolution monitors and directional speakers where the instructor can see and hear up to 84 students at once. Mike Rielly, CEO of Berkeley Executive Ed, said these virtual classrooms were designed to simulate a live classroom environment as closely as possible. Senior Lecturer Homa Bahrami of the Management of Organizations Group said the setup works well for her because she can easily use a whiteboard and move around while she teaches. “It creates intimacy,” she said. “I can walk up to students and engage with them.” In addition to the four new virtual classrooms, faculty can also host Zoom classes from Chou Hall classrooms that have undergone technical upgrades for virtual teaching. Instructors have access to automated cameras, high-speed internet, and all the traditional aspects of a classroom, and they can see students on newly installed large monitors. 
  • Creating small student groups to engage with professors: To increase engagement, small groups of students will have the opportunity to meet weekly with a faculty member for a one-hour check-in. Half the ladder faculty have already signed on to participate in this new Faculty-Student Engagement Series (FSES), which invites students to discuss anything from current events to the faculty member’s research to how students are coping with shelter-in-place, Chatman said. “The goal, in lieu of the fact that there won’t be in-person interactions between students and faculty, is to really get to know that faculty member,” Chatman said. Bill Pearce, the Haas chief marketing officer and a professional faculty member in the Marketing Group, scheduled more than 100 individual Zoom meetings with students between mid-March and May. Going forward, he said the Faculty-Student Engagement Series will be a valuable additional way to replace the time before or after class students often spent with faculty before the pandemic.
  • Investing in high-quality asynchronous content: Faculty have invested many hours in improving the production quality of the lectures they are recording (lighting, sound, and graphics), Chatman said. In the “flipped classroom” approach that is considered a best practice for online instruction, students are typically asked to watch lectures in advance and to be prepared to discuss the content, take quizzes, or move into breakout groups during class time. Odean, a veteran of online content creation, built a home studio, with special lighting and cameras, where he filmed the 50 videos he uses with his course. “It’s a lot of work, a shocking amount of work,” said Odean.
  • Applying learnings from workshops to online teaching: Over the summer, more than 120 faculty members, GSIs and staff took part in four different workshops offered by the Haas Digital team—ranging from beginner to advanced levels. Haas Digital Executive Director Sara Sieteski said her group’s goal was to help the faculty improve student engagement, no matter what their level of online expertise. Key to that success, she said, was getting them to think about a live session as if it were a radio program. “Every minute is scripted out,” she said. “Dead air kills a class just like dead air kills radio.” To that end, faculty members will be relying more than ever on their graduate student assistants (GSIs), who are key to making classes flow smoothly—reading student questions from the chat, making sure students are called on, and helping with online quizzes and polls.  
  • Zooming, with all the bells and whistles:  In Haas Digital workshops and at home, faculty have been learning how to use Zoom features more effectively to break up classroom time. “The one issue that I am concerned with going into the classes is what we are calling ‘Zoom fatigue,’ said Shruti Sethi, EWMBA 23, who starts classes Aug. 8. To combat fatigue, faculty will be adding more games and simulations, and more class time devoted to discussions rather than lectures, Chatman said. Veselina Dinova, a professional faculty member who teaches finance, said she’s using the breakout rooms more to allow students to get to know each other and discuss specific topics in a small group before opening up discussion with the whole class after the breakout session. She also uses breakout rooms for breaks that allow students to catch up personally. “The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” she said.  In addition, a new instructional designer, expected to join Haas Digital this month, will work with faculty to add more sophisticated data visualizations to MBA courses. The designer will use Jupyter notebooks, a web-based interactive platform created at UC Berkeley. Prof. Don Moore said he’s already reached out to Sieteski, asking about how he can work with the designer on simulations for his courses.
Assoc. Prof Panos Patatoukas teaching his Financial Information Analysis MBA class with two graduate student instructors in March
Assoc. Prof. Panos Patatoukas teaches his Financial Information Analysis class with help from two graduate student instructors in a Chou Hall classroom last March, just after the campus shut down to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The classrooms in Chou Hall, which opened in 2017, have been upgraded to improve virtual teaching. (Photo: Jessica Christian / San Francisco Chronicle / Polaris)

While the Haas School has made significant investments in new technology and training, virtual teaching at Haas isn’t new. Prof. Cameron Anderson pioneered an online version of his popular course Power & Politics in 2012. Since then, he has worked continuously to improve the online version—the latest version, created with Haas Digital, is now the most in-demand elective in the EWMBA program—and has shared his best practices with other faculty members. 

Anderson uses online discussion forums, which make up almost a third of the course. “It forces students to think through these issues really deeply in a way that doesn’t happen as often in my in-person class,” he said. “Because of that deeper, critical thinking, I still think my online students learn a bit more than my in-person students.”

It forces students to think through these issues really deeply in a way that doesn’t happen as often in my in-person class. —Prof. Cameron Anderson

There are also big benefits for students who are more reticent in traditional settings, he says. “In a normal classroom, 20% to 30% of the students do almost all the talking,” he said. “In the online class, everyone is chiming in, and I try hard to respond to as many as I can.”  

Even so, online teaching can never fully replace the in-person experience, which many students—and faculty—crave, Anderson said. The goal is to return to a hybrid approach that blends online lectures with small-group, in-person discussions as soon as state and local authorities approve. 

In the meantime,  Haas is “maximizing and taking advantage of things that we can do as a small school,” Wolfram said.

 

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.

B-BAY alumnae win top honors at COVID-19 competition in Jamaica

Two alumnae of the Berkeley Business Academy for Youth (B-BAY) took a top honor at a competition held this month in Jamaica that challenged students to come up with innovative ways to deal with the COVID-19 crisis there.

Aaliyah McKenzie (left) and Akielia Willburgh posted to Instagram about their DIA success.
Aaliyah McKenzie (left) and Akielia Willburgh posted to Instagram about their DIA Ideathon success in Jamaica.

More than 100 students participated in the DIA Ideathon, including two teams of former B-BAY students. The competition, organized by DIA Jamaica, is an initiative created by The Trust for the Americas, an affiliate of the Organization of American States.  DIA Jamaica’s goal is to empower a new generation of Jamaican entrepreneurs and innovators.

Akielia Willburgh and Aaliyah McKenzie, who are both from Jamaica, are recent alumnae of B-BAY, a college preparatory business program at Berkeley Haas for middle and high school students. The pair won first place in the “education and access to information” category, pitching Borderles$, an educational website that will connect Jamaican teachers to jobs teaching non-English-speaking students worldwide.

Willburgh said she hopes that Borderles$ will be used to help English teachers who have been laid off by the Ministry of Education to stay  employed; to assist struggling citizens in meeting their utility bills, and to serve as an advertising tool for Jamaica as the island’s largest revenue source, tourism, has declined.

A second team that competed in the competition also included B-BAY alumnae Safia Mendez and Kashana Davis.

B-BAY Director Olive Davis assisted both teams. Davis said Mendez had told her about the competition earlier this year—and she was inspired to text her former students from Jamaica to gauge their interest in forming teams.

After she heard back from four interested former students, she invited them to meet on WhatsApp to discuss the competition topics: education and access to information, healtheconomic relief and crime and security.

“I worked with them throughout the process as a facilitator, keeping them on task, ” Davis said.

Willburgh said she tapped what she learned in her B-BAY program to form the team’s pitch, skills including “critical thinking, aspects of entrepreneurship, Design Thinking, and presentation skills/elevator pitch.”

The winners in each category were announced April 5.

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.

A Berkeley Haas startup’s quick pivot to deliver hand sanitizer to the needy

A Dispatch Goods container kit
A Dispatch Goods container kit

Word was getting out last year about Berkeley Haas startup Dispatch Goods.

The startup had landed its first two corporate clients and had 15 deals in the pipeline. They’d signed a partnership with Yelp! and debuted a mobile app and subscription service with membership tiers. By November, the Wall Street Journal had featured Dispatch’s business model— providing reusable stainless steel containers that companies use for restaurant takeout or pickup— in a news article.

But then coronavirus hit. Nearly overnight, business evaporated as restaurant owners shut down and corporate workers started working from home. For CEO Lindsey Hoell and her team it was “a gut punch for the anti-single use movement.”

“COVID was a huge disruption,” said Hoell, EWMBA 21. “We thought to ourselves: What do we have to offer now and how can we help?”

Dispatch Goods & Project Clean team includes (left to right) Lindsey Hoell, EWMBA 21, CEO; Jessica Heiges, UC Berkeley PhD student in environmental science, sustainability leader; Andrew Foster, tech and design director; Peter Altaffer, user experience designer; and Adam Boostrom, EWMBA 21, CFO (front).
Dispatch Goods & Project Clean team includes (l-r) Lindsey Hoell, EWMBA 21, CEO; Jessica Heiges, UC Berkeley PhD student in environmental science, sustainability leader; Andrew Foster, tech and design director; Peter Altaffer, user experience designer; and Adam Boostrom, EWMBA 21, CFO (front).

A quick pivot

Hoell had heard that hand sanitizer was quickly hard to come by after COVID-19 hit. One of the Dispatch team members knew that Tim Obert, CEO of Seven Stills distillery in San Francisco, had a plan to use some of the company’s alcohol to make hand sanitizer. The company connects donors to those in need on its website.

Andrew Foster of Dispatch Goods & Project Clean holds recycled bottles filled with Seven Stills hand sanitizer.
Andrew Foster of Dispatch Goods & Project Clean holds recycled bottles filled with Seven Stills hand sanitizer.

Hoell chatted with Obert and decided to launch a zero waste co-op to provide some of the hand sanitizer in recycled containers. Now, the team is collecting plastic bottles from donors, cleaning the bottles in their commercial dishwasher at their warehouse space in Daly City, and delivering them in the company’s van to Bay Area organizations, including retirement communities and homeless shelters.

Hoell, who is relying on donations to run the co-op, said they’re trying to keep costs down by batching pickups in neighborhoods in San Francisco, South San Francisco, Daly City, Berkeley, and Oakland. (Bottle donors can sign up on their website) She’s not sure if the model is financially sustainable, as the transportation costs are high, but the startup is willing to try to make it work.

“All of us got into this company because of the impact we want to have,” Hoell said. “We didn’t know how we could make money but we knew we could make an impact.”

All of us got into this company because of the impact we want to have.

Sticking to the mission

Pizza pan
Square Guys pizza is delivered in a zero-waste metal pan. Photo: Square Guys

Meanwhile, Dispatch Goods’ founding mission hasn’t been lost.

Adam Boostrom, an evening and weekend MBA student, is working to adapt the business model while Dispatch participates in Berkeley’s SkyDeck accelerator program. During Skydeck’s online sessions, he worked alongside the Dispatch team to develop a pilot which would continue zero waste delivery for businesses. The first plan is to work with Square Pie Guys to deliver pizza on Tuesdays and Thursdays to employees’ homes in a reusable, covered metal alloy pan.

If the pilot works, the startup will approach other companies that want to provide takeout food to their employees who are working at home.

The startup’s goal has always been to change the food delivery model and eliminate the waste—and this is a new approach.

“The mission is still the same: we pick up containers, clean them, and return them to food providers,” said Boostrom. “What’s different is the primary customer.”

 

A cardiac surgeon asked for help during the COVID-19 crisis. His classmates stepped up.

As the coronavirus spread in California last month, Kapil Sharma, EMBA 20 and director of cardiac surgery at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento, worried that keeping critical medical supplies in stock would be nearly impossible.

“Last week, it was blood shortages, which seems to have stabilized now that elective surgeries have stopped,” Sharma, EMBA 20, wrote on March 22 on the his Executive MBA class Slack channel. “If your company has access to any sort of protection like masks or hazmat suits, many facilities are at critical lows.”

EMBA student Kapil Sharma in the operating room
Cardiac surgeon Kapil Sharma (right) performing heart surgery at Mercy General in Sacramento.

What would be ideal, he wrote, would be a website where companies could post what they’re able to donate, and hospitals could list their needs. What happened next surprised everyone.

Within two days, 20 of the 67 executive MBA students in the 2020 class came together to try to hammer out a solution to connect donors with people and organizations in need. Those discussions, over several weeks, led to the founding of nonprofit startup One Link.

‘That need (to solve a problem) helped us to put something together and form the team,” said Naresh Vemparala, a program director at Partnership HealthPlan of California, who is now leading the project management team for nonprofit One Link. “We said: why don’t we do it? Why don’t we bring these two sides together?

That need (to solve a problem) helped us to put something together and form the team. We said: why don’t we do it? Why don’t we bring these two sides together? —Naresh Vemparala

Naresh Vemparala, EMBA 20
Naresh Vemparala leads the One Link team.

The EMBA startup has three short-term goals: to build a marketplace platform for desktop and mobile devices that connects donors and recipients—and scales beyond the current crisis; to connect to corporate responsibility units within companies; and to build effective social media campaigns to create awareness of supply and demand problems in real time.

“The glue that brings us together”

One Link’s founding came at a difficult time for this EMBA 20 class. The students had been looking forward to their third term, which included an immersion week, a program staple that was postponed after the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“It was a shock to the system for our class,” said Margaret Park, a senior art director at Sephora, who is leading marketing and branding for One Link. “Suddenly we couldn’t leave the house, suddenly we had a forced break from school. Juggling everything before was such an incredible struggle, but then we had an unexpected seven-week hiatus.”

Photo of Margaret Park, EMBA 20
Margaret Park, EMBA 20, is handling marketing for One Link.

During that break, it was inspiring how quickly everyone came together, said Marisa Hewitt, director of business operations at BioMarin, who is charged with business development for the startup.

“In how many organizations can you go from an idea to a team with so many different skills in just a few days?” she said. “Our classmates are all people who care about what we’re learning in business school and want to do something with it. That’s the glue that brings us together.”

A simple design

The 10-person leadership team for the startup now meets on Zoom every Monday night to discuss its progress. Members spend hours every week working on One Link for free—in addition to their jobs and school work.

The project quickly became a second full-time job for Sumit Patankar, director of supply chain strategy at Applied Materials, who is leading the One Link development team with his wife, software engineer Shalaka Borker, head of data engineering at Roofstock.

Patankar hired a team of developers in India, who have asked that the platform be released in India to help during crisis times. The marketplace design will be simple, he said. Initially, it will provide ways to donate 10 to 15 types of items, providing the option to match people and organizations that are geographically close to each other so drop offs are simple.

To simplify logistics, One Link is working on partnerships and possible discounts with Amazon, FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service, and UPS.

Photo of Sumit Patankar
Sumit Patankar, EMBA 20, leads development for One Link, working with an offshore team.

They are also building a way to gauge the level of need posted by an organization so donors can prioritize. That need level—critical, moderate, or low—will be based on information an organization provides. They plan to offer donors the option of giving only to a nonprofit organization, or to an organization that’s within 10 miles of their location.

Team member Jessica Patterson, CFO of the Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada, is finalizing the process of incorporating One Link as a nonprofit, hopefully by early May. The company plans to launch soon after clearing the legal hurdles.

Keeping One Link going after the pandemic

The goal is to keep One Link going long after the COVID-19 crisis is under control, and to make the platform available internationally to help during hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, or future disease outbreaks. The group plans to raise money to expand the startup’s platform.

“We want it to be an EMBA 20 legacy—to feel that we’ve done something of value to society,” Vemparala said.  “We will be impacted one way or another due to COVID-19 and if we look back, the one thing that will be in mind is what have we done and how did we react to it?”

Emma Hayes Daftary, executive director of the EMBA program, said the 2020 class is living out the Haas Defining Leadership Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself in real time.

“It doesn’t surprise me that they’ve found a way to go beyond themselves in this challenging time,” she said. “They have rallied in a way that will make a real difference.”

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.

 

From virtual birthday parties to yoga, Haasies stay connected as life shifts online

Lauren Graminis practices yoga
Lauren Grimanis (left) practices yoga with a student during her time in Ghana.

When Lauren Grimanis ran a rural education organization in a remote community in Ghana with no running water or electricity, she turned to yoga and meditation to handle the stresses of daily life.

“While I had community around me, I still felt socially isolated,” said Grimanis, MBA 20, who founded the nonprofit Akaa Project in 2008. “I had to climb a hill into a tomato farm behind my house to get cell service so it was difficult to connect with friends and family.”

Grimanis had no idea that what she’d learned about the value of mindfulness in Africa might prove a handy tool for both helping herself and her tight-knit MBA class cope with the isolation and frustrations of social distancing under the COVID-19 outbreak. As head of the Haas Mindfulness Club, Grimanis not only exercises online with her MBA friends; she’s also put together a Google doc listing everything from free meditation apps to CorePower Yoga classes and shared the doc with both FTMBA classes.

“Last week people were feeling really frustrated and anxious, both understandable feelings. I wanted to help, so we jumped into action,” she said. “We really want to get people to think more positively and use mindfulness in their new daily routines.”

Cheering each other up

Chris Lee's birthday party on zoom chat
Chris Lee celebrated his 30th birthday with classmates online. Photo: Chris Lee.

Under COVID-19 restrictions, student life has continued online. Joey Parker, MBA 21, organized a toast on Zoom at 9 pm on St. Patrick’s Day for all MBA students. Chris Lee, MBA 20, celebrated his recent 30th birthday online, surrounded by about 50 of his MBA friends. The new reality won’t replace the in-person courtyard lunches, cohort parties, or Tahoe weekends, students say, but they’re working hard to use tech to keep their communities together and stay focused on their work.

The same rings true for evening and weekend students. Terrell Baptiste, EWMBA 20, said his classmates are phoning each other and tapping into the class’ WhatsApp chat group to keep in touch. About 40 classmates are using the app to cheer each other up or initiate discussions about the pros and cons of a shelter-in-place order and whether a stimulus package would help stabilize the U.S. economy. 

Haas undergraduates, too, are finding ways to stay virtually connected.

Four women talk via Zoom, a video chat platform.
Shun Lei Sin, BS 20, (bottom right) chats with friends via Zoom.

Shun Lei Sin, BS 20, uses Zoom and has joined a Slack channel called SF Entourage, a private virtual community, where she can participate in cooking competitions, play games online or start a book club with friends. Zaheer Ebtikar, BS 20, uses Slack, Instagram, and Twitter to connect with friends while he finishes the semester at home. Neha Dubey, BS 21, sends Google hangout links to classmates, inviting them to virtual lunches. She’s also tapping into Berkeley’s Student Environmental Resource Center (SERC) to stay in touch with friends.

“One of my friends is the community engagement associate for SERC and she’s hosting virtual study sessions every Tuesday and organizing baking classes and Netflix parties. It’s just another way to have that human interaction,” Dubey said. 

Despite not being able to see her friends in person, Dubey said life under COVID-19 has brought her friends closer together.

“All of my friends have really bonded through this. We’re all making an effort to be a larger part of our everyday lives,” said Dubey. “It’s a lot less texting and a lot more calling.” 

Saying goodbye

Two Haas students work on school project.
Thais Esteves, MBA 21, (right) with classmate Maria del Mar Londono Jaramillo, returned home to Brazil for the summer after her FTMBA friends threw her an impromptu birthday party online. Photo: Jim Block

For some international students in countries where borders are shutting, the decision to stay on campus or go home, depending on border and visa situations, is difficult. Before Thais Esteves, MBA 21, returned home for the summer to Brazil this week her friends threw her one last impromptu party. The party, initiated by a handful of classmates who were playing an online board game together, started after they sent a few photos to WhatsApp with a link to the virtual celebration. A bunch more classmates joined in to celebrate Esteves’ birthday, and to say goodbye before she boarded the plane. They donned costumes, as they often do at MBA parties, including a polar bear, a viking hat, a unicorn, and a ship’s captain.

A sari, never worn

Ije wearing a sari in India.
Ije Durga, MBA 20, who lived in India prior to coming to Haas, planned to wear a special sari to commencement.

Many students are grappling with the possibility of  a virtual commencement. Ije Durga, MBA 20, said she understands why commencement can’t be held in-person, but is hurt that she won’t be able to say goodbye to her friends. Durga, who worked in India before coming to Haas, is also disappointed that she won’t be wearing a special sari she’d picked out for the ceremony and ordered from India.  “I was looking forward to putting that on and surprising everyone—an African woman in a sari,” she said. She said the friend who was going to bring it to her can’t even travel to the U.S. now. “The world has changed so much in just two weeks,” she added.

April staycation

Ana Alanis and classmates.
Ana Alanis (front, middle) spent the morning canceling a spring break trip to Colombia.

For many students, spring break meant canceling planned trips, and treks, and suddenly wondering what to do with all that time off. On Thursday, Ana Christina Alanis, MBA 21 and the class’ VP of social, was canceling a web of spring break flights to Colombia. She’d planned to visit Medellin and then scuba dive in Cartagena with a group of 12 students, including her roommate. She was looking forward to relaxing for nine days and a break from her job search. “Spring break starts tomorrow and I have absolutely nothing to do,” she said. The upside? She might teach an online cooking class to Haasies—and she might be able to reschedule her trip with her Colombian classmates, who couldn’t go with her this time. 

Get your Zumba on!

Six students do Zumba online.
Lipika Grover, MBA 20, hosted a virtual Zumba class for FTMBA students.

After in-person classes stopped, the FTMBA Association and Alex D’Agostino and Annie Powers, both MBA 20, got together and worked on a spreadsheet of classes that could be taught by students for students. Lipika Grover, MBA 20, is one of the first to go for it. She taught her first Zumba class ever on Zoom on Thursday morning. Grover, who had taken many Bollywood classes and loves to dance, was live teaching by 10 am from her home in Houston, where she returned to be with her family. 

“It will hopefully lift people’s moods and we’ll get some exercise—wherever we are,” said Grover. “Virtual is the best way to be together and to be strong now. We have to make the best of what we have and come together as a community.”  

 

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