The Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA Program ranked #7 and the Evening & Weekend MBA Program ranked #2 among part-time programs again in the US News & World Report, released today. The Berkeley MBA for Executives ranked #8 among executive MBA Programs.
In the top 10 specialty rankings, Haas placed:
The full-time MBA rankings are based on data provided by participating U.S. schools and on polls of business school deans and directors of accredited MBA programs, as well as surveys of corporate recruiters and company contacts. The score is calculated from placement success and starting salary (35%), student selectivity (25%), a peer poll (25%), and the average of the last three years of recruiter polls (15%).
Part-time MBA rankings are based on data from participating schools and on polls of business school deans and directors of accredited part-time programs. The score is calculated from the peer polls (50%), student selectivity (27.5%), work experience (10%), and percent of MBA students who are enrolled part-time (12.5.).
The specialty and the executive MBA rankings are based entirely on polls of business school deans and directors of accredited MBA programs.
The EWMBA ranked #2 for the third year in a row. The Full-time MBA ranked #7 for 13 of the last 14 years. The Berkeley MBA for Executives ranked #7 for the last two years.
View the full report here. (log-in may be required).
A team of MBA students and alumni is organizing a new social impact challenge designed to give students a crash course in corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the tech industry.
The first annual Social Impact in Tech Design Challenge, co-hosted by the Haas Tech club and Net Impact club, will be held virtually April 1.
Students interested in signing up for the three-hour challenge will receive an introduction to the history, theory, and practice of corporate social responsibility in tech, network with professionals in the field, and design a CSR program for one of the tech companies participating in the challenge.
Challenge organizers include Joseph Zhang, Shotaro Ishizuka, Nicole Austin-Thomas, all MBA 21; Neha Dutta, Melody Liao, Stu Fram, all MBA 22; Scott Blons, EWMBA 23; and Adam Rosenzweig, EMBA 19, a Haas lecturer teaching Introduction to the Case Method and Red Teaming in both the EMBA and Full-time MBA programs.
The challenge came about after club leaders from the Tech and Net Impact clubs–Michelle Poon, Priscilla Luu, and Joseph Zhang, all MBA 21–met with Adam Rosenzweig who spoke about his social impact work at Okta during a Haas career night.
After meeting for several weeks, the group decided to organize a social impact challenge that would focus on the intersection of tech and corporate social responsibility–two of Haas’ strengths.
“Every company is becoming a tech company,” said Rosenzweig. “And Haas students go on to lead companies that aspire to make the world a better place.”
Participants will explore the relationship between businesses and their communities and the ways in which business leaders can create positive social impact that’s aligned with their company’s core strategy.
Joseph Zhang said he hopes students will learn that CSR is a vital and growing career field and that it must be “ingrained within the DNA of an organization if the organization truly wants to be successful.”
Zhang, who previously worked for educational nonprofit iMentor, said the most meaningful corporate partners he worked with weren’t just “check-writers or one-time volunteers, but the companies that pulled resources from across the organization to impact their communities.”
Rosenzweig, a senior manager for product impact at Okta, will facilitate the event and serve as a guest judge. Other judges for the challenge include Cory Boatwright, EMBA 21, head of military and veteran programs at LinkedIn; Lisa Boyd, director of social impact at Lyft; Christina Louie Dyer, head of social impact at Lob; Nora Silver and Cristy Johnston Límon from the Center for Social Sector Leadership at Haas.
If the challenge is a success, Rosenzweig said he hopes it will demonstrate demand to pilot a credit-bearing elective course, adding to the broad list of course offerings dedicated to social impact and sustainability.
About 30 students have registered for the event, which is nearly at capacity, but current students can still register for the Social Impact in Tech Design Challenge here.
Haas Voices is a new first-person series that highlights the lived experiences of members of the Berkeley Haas community. Our first perspective is by “double Bear” Luis Alejandro Liang, BS 12, EWMBA 23, who is among the approximately 644,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients granted special immigration status because they were brought to the U.S. as children. Liang’s path to Berkeley was challenging—he’s been accepted three times. He shares his story below.
Many times over these past four years, I’ve woken up in fear. Fear of deportation. Fear about what was going to happen to our community. Fear that ICE could knock on my door and take me away.
I grew up in Sinaloa on the Pacific coast of Mexico. I’m half Chinese, half Mexican. I grew up multicultural—going to Catholic church on Sundays but celebrating Chinese New Year. I started helping my family in their Chinese restaurant when I was six years old. I was surrounded by entrepreneurs.
When I was 14, my mom moved me and my three little sisters to Orange County because she wanted to provide us with better chances. I entered high school as a sophomore without knowing any English. It was a culture shock, but I wanted to honor my mom’s sacrifices by excelling academically. I was put back in algebra, even though I was taking calculus when we left Mexico. As a senior, I got into a couple of UCs, but my first scholarship was taken away because I didn’t have a social security number.
So I decided to go to Fullerton College. In high school, I had been really shy because I was new, so I didn’t know anything about things like AP classes or honor society. When I got to community college, I decided to get involved. I joined the Puente Program, which is mostly for Latino students to help get us into four-year colleges. I was really active, working long days because I was also a tutor. The Puente Program gave us a tour of all the UCs. That was the first time that I actually went to visit the campuses.
When I visited Berkeley I fell in love. I remember the Campanile, Sather Gate and thought of all the famous people who went there, including Mexican presidents.
I knew that I wanted to study business. I also knew that I was gay by that time too, and that San Francisco was LGBTQ friendly. I knew I could be myself at Berkeley.
My dream came true when I got accepted to Haas as a junior and received the prestigious Regents’ and Chancellors’ Scholarship, given to the top 2% of students. But when I went to the financial aid office, they again took away my scholarship because I still didn’t have a social security number. I was crying, and the woman who broke the news to me was crying too.
They again took away my scholarship because I still didn’t have a social security number. I was crying, and the woman who broke the news to me was crying too.
I remember seeing the César E. Chávez Student Center in front of me and I just went in and I started walking around. I thought, “If this is César Chávez’s building, there’s going to be a Latino person here who can help me.” I ended up meeting Lupe Gallegos-Diaz, director of the Chicano Department at Berkeley. Lupe became a support for me when I returned to community college more determined to achieve my dreams.
I became more politically active, creating the Fullerton College Dream Team to support undocumented students. In 2010, I got into Berkeley Haas for the 2nd time, having raised $70,000 to cover my tuition.
When I graduated, I was a first-generation Berkeley Haas grad deemed ineligible to work in the U.S. I felt lost, but by then I knew I wasn’t alone. My life took a turn when President Obama passed DACA in 2012, extending opportunities previously unavailable to those of us brought to the U.S. as children. A door of possibilities opened up and led me to a job at Salesforce, helping non-profit organizations leverage technology to amplify their impact.
My life took a turn when President Obama passed DACA in 2012.
Being the first DACA employee at Salesforce motivated me to use my voice in a space where underrepresented groups lack a sense of inclusion. I worked with the chief equality officer on a podcast about diversity and inclusion, served on the leadership board of multiple employee resource groups, and came out of the shadows by sharing my story on a video called “Proudly Me.”
In 2013, another dream came true when I traveled to the White House and met President Obama after I received the LGBT DREAMers Courage Award, which honors individuals who have shown courage and perseverance in the face of injustice.
Still focused on social impact at my current job at Twilio, I decided it was time to go back to school for an MBA. I applied to the Berkeley Haas Evening and Weekend MBA program and got into my dream university for the third time, starting last fall. My focus is to become a chief social impact officer and a social leader at a company. In my classes, surrounded by fellow Type As, I’m learning things that I put into practice at my job. I love the community and I can’t wait to get back to campus.
Growing up, I thought that life would change the day I could finally get my residency—that something would change inside of me and that things were going to be better. But as the years passed, thinking that way made me believe that I was incomplete and something was missing. But being paperless doesn’t make us powerless. We have purpose and an eagerness to give back, by creating communities, by finding the power in helping people. I now find so much joy in helping other “Dreamers” get into school and finding their dream jobs.
But being paperless doesn’t make us powerless. We have purpose and an eagerness to give back, by creating communities, by finding the power in helping people.
There are 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., not by choice, but because we needed to survive. I hope to highlight the narrative of joy, love, and pride that comes from living a life dedicated to serving our families’ and communities’ dreams.”
Luis Liang, an account manager in social impact at communications company Twilio, is passionate about advocating for human rights and supporting Latinx, LGBTQ, and undocumented immigrant communities. Liang has served as a board member for the Association of Latino Professionals for America, The Greenlining Institute Alumni Association, and on several corporate Employee Resources Groups.
Berkeley Haas this week launched a new certificate that will equip MBA students to become sustainability leaders.
The Michaels Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Business is named in honor of the parents of Charlie Michaels, BS 78. Michaels, with his wife, Doris, gave $1 million to support the new certificate program, noting his parents’ commitment to the importance of values and business ethics.
Dean Ann Harrison called the new certificate an important addition for Haas. “We need to make sustainability an integral part of doing business,” Harrison said. “Future business leaders will need to design new models and financial structures, policies, and industry solutions to address the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges. The Michaels Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Business will train our students to evaluate operational, financial, and strategic decisions using a sustainability lens.”
We need to make sustainability an integral part of doing business. —Dean Ann Harrison.
The certificate, approved for rollout in the current spring semester, evolved from initiatives launched across campus by faculty and students who are passionate about both sustainability and social impact, said Michele de Nevers, executive director of sustainability programs at Haas.
“This new certificate addresses a pressing need to empower new leaders with the capacity to lead the economic and social transition to a climate resilient, low-carbon, and equitable future,” de Nevers said.
To earn the certificate, students are required to complete at least nine graduate-level units of approved courses drawn from electives in the existing MBA curriculum. Students must first take two foundational courses—Energy and Environmental Markets and Business and Sustainable Supply Chain—that introduce sustainability concepts critical to energy and the environment, natural resources, and supply chains.
They will then choose an in-depth course to dive deeper in a particular area, such as impact investing, entrepreneurship, clean tech, energy infrastructure, or food systems. The certification culminates with a final project that will focus on developing strategic and sustainable business solutions or bringing clean technology to market.
About 15 to 20 students are expected to complete the certificate within the first year, said Pete Johnson, assistant dean of the full-time MBA program and admissions.
De Nevers said the certificate will equip graduates to bring a sustainability perspective to their work across all types of organizations.
“We hope that they will see opportunities to create value across industry roles, whether it’s through increasing energy efficiency, eliminating waste in supply chains, or pursuing new business opportunities in clean technology,” she said.
For more information about the certificate click here.
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.
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.
A sensor that can detect any type of gas leak and a chemical process that makes plastics biodegradable earned top prizes at the 11th annual Cleantech to Market Symposium. The event was held online for the first time on Dec. 4.
Cleantech to Market (C2M) is a 15-week accelerator course that invites graduate students, industry leaders, and researchers to come together to pitch cleantech innovations from existing startups, government sponsored programs, and incubators.
Seven student teams–including 39 MBA and UC Berkeley graduate students from law, engineering, and chemistry–pitched promising innovations aimed at addressing everything from climate change to pollution.
In her opening remarks, Dean Harrison called C2M “one of those stellar and uniquely Haas experiential programs that would be hard to imagine at any other university” given the school’s locale within the UC Berkeley campus and proximity to Silicon Valley.
“We’ve long recognized that when you bring minds together from across campus, you make magic,” she said.
C2M alum Stephanie Greene, MBA 12, a clean energy director at the Rocky Mountain Institute, and Janea Scott, vice chair of the California Energy Commision, also gave keynotes and spoke to the importance of developing and introducing cleantech innovations to battle climate change.
“Our students never cease to amaze me,” said Brian Steel, director of the C2M program. “In spite of the remote environment that we’re in, our students rose to the occasion and delivered top-notch presentations.”
Here are 2020’s C2M winning teams:
Fullmoon Sensors, a high-performing gas detector that can identify any type of gas leak, earned the first inaugural Hasler Cleantech to Market Award, named after former Berkeley Haas dean William Hasler. Team members included Steven Brisley, Kair Dusenov, Zuren Hsueh, Jeff Sharp, all MBA 21; and Gabe Lewis, EMBA 21.
Radical Plastics, a chemical process that makes plastics biodegradable, earned the People’s Choice Award. Team members included Harshita Mira Venkatesh, Greg Turk, Alex Russomagno, all MBA 21; Lance Barnard, EWMBA 21; Branden Leonhardt, PhD 22 (chemical engineering); and Chris Jackson, PhD 21 (chemistry).
The Berkeley Haas community thanks our student veterans for their contributions to the greater campus and, more importantly, to their country.
“As we are experiencing a year unlike any other, it is even more important to recognize what we are grateful for and to express our gratitude to those who have served and continue to serve on our behalf,” said Dean Ann Harrison.
This Veterans Day, we asked four student veterans what dealing with times of uncertainty has taught them. Students interviewed include:
- Manuel (Alex) Lopez, EMBA 20, former U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant (E-5)
- Samrawit (Sami) Tamyalew, FTMBA 22, former U.S. Army Field Artillery Officer/Operations Manager
- Nick Clark, EWMBA 22, former U.S. Navy Submarine Officer
- Keagan Akles, BS 20, former U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant
Check out what they had to say:
Applying to graduate schools in the U.S. from her home in Shanghai, China, was a challenging process for Evening & Weekend MBA student Danqing Zhou.
From taking specialized tests to translating academic transcripts into English to getting access to certain MBA websites behind China’s firewall, Zhou, EWMBA 23, found the entire admissions process confusing and overwhelming.
While Zhou overcame the challenges and got into Haas, her experience led her to create Beecoming, an online tool that aggregates admissions information from the top 16 U.S. business schools for Chinese students.
Chinese students are the largest segment of international students studying in the U.S., with 369,548 Chinese students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities in the 2018-19 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education.
Beecoming’s tool collects data from official university websites and includes application deadlines, average GMAT scores, contact information for school ambassadors, class profiles, links to sample essays, and course offerings.
Zhou, who works as a solutions architect at software company SAP, said she hopes to create transparency around the admissions process and empower more students to study in the U.S.
“Studying abroad changed my life,” said Zhou, who studied in Australia during the summer before her high school senior year and as a graduate student at the University of Arkansas. “I was exposed to different cultures, opinions, and critical thinking courses—something that I had never experienced before in China.”
The tool is “a lifesaver”
Though Beecoming is in its early stages, Zhou says there are hundreds of students among her WeChat network who are eager to use it. For now, 30 people are testing the tool and she plans to officially launch Beecoming in spring 2021.
Jimmy Lin, a prospective MBA student and beta user for Beecoming, called the tool “a lifesaver” that’s helped him stay on top of deadlines and application requirements for six MBA programs.
“I don’t need to check each school’s website anymore,” said Lin. “Beecoming’s dashboard has everything listed in one place.”
“I don’t need to check each school’s website anymore,” said Lin. “Beecoming’s dashboard has everything listed in one place.”
Since enrolling at Haas, Zhou has wasted no time tapping the school’s resources. She’s taking advantage of mentoring hours offered by the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program and applying lessons learned from her Leading People class taught by Rebecca Portnoy, a professional faculty member. She’s also registered for Berkeley Law’s FORM+FUND, a series of law workshops for entrepreneurs.
In July Zhou was accepted to Amazon’s AWS EdStart Accelerator for Members, which will provide the opportunity to network with other edtech entrepreneurs.
In the upcoming months, Zhou said she plans to look for seed funding and build relationships with universities that will pay to be featured on her platform.
In the meantime, she’ll continue to self-fund the tool that’s already helping students among her network.
“I’m putting all my money into this,” said Zhou, who’s invested about $10,000 so far in the project. “Helping people get into their dream school is way more important than money.”
The startup roundup series spotlights students and recent alumni who are starting a new business or enterprise.
Founders: John Melizanis, BS 20, Joseph Lorenzo, a University of Tampa graduate, and Jake Lourenco, BA 20 (political science)
What does Newmen do (in 20 words or less)?
We’re a men’s grooming brand that helps hard-working men look good, feel good, and smell good.
How did you come up with the idea?
Joseph, my co-founder and best friend since fourth grade, had the biggest beard and didn’t like the grooming options that were out there. With that in mind, we both said, ‘Let’s make something happen.’ It’s the second company we’ve started together.
What problem does Newmen solve?
There’s an under-served demographic when it comes to men’s grooming needs. The men who come to our site are often buying products for the first time. We’re building a community around this group, offering products like scented beard oils, a beard straightener, and a protective heat spray for beards.
You participated in the UC LAUNCH accelerator with a different startup. What did you learn that you apply now?
LAUNCH taught us how to test products quickly. We did a lot of research on our Newmen oils, which are made by a small mom and pop shop in Detroit. We wanted to figure out what scents men liked and what’s good for the skin, so we looked at what a lot of women’s skin-care companies were selling.
We tested our products on hundreds of men super quickly, asking them how their faces felt after using our products for a week. We’re super close to our customers and we have early evangelists, people whom we text and email all the time. These people aren’t necessarily spending the most time on our website, but have been crucial in the development of Newmen. They might spend $40, but they’re giving us feedback all the time, telling their friends what they just bought and why.
Has anyone from Haas helped you with your startup?
Of course! Assoc. Prof. Panos Patatoukas has been super helpful. I met Panos before I came to Cal and he was extremely supportive throughout my undergraduate years. I’d be working on something and I’d ask him, ‘What do you think?’ He was a great sounding board and a supportive mentor. Additionally, Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program, has been the best, along with Aaron McDaniel, a professional faculty member at Haas, and Darren Cooke, a LAUNCH advisor.
I met Panos before I came to Cal and he was extremely supportive throughout my undergraduate years. I’d be working on something and I’d ask him, ‘What do you think?’ He was a great sounding board and a supportive mentor.
What are your goals for the next six to 12 months?
We’re selling only on our website right now. We’ve been making a profit so we haven’t thought about raising money yet. I don’t think much about the competition, I focus on what we’re selling. We’re thinking about new products and planning to sell a line of skincare, body wash, and shampoo in the future. As we continue to grow, we’re looking to sell into different channels, including regional and national retailers and barbershops around the country. We’re constantly focused on building relationships that can help us put our products in our customers’ hands wherever they might be in their grooming journey.
A lot of guys are telling us that they’re so proud of their beards now. They’re talking about their morning routines. It’s crazy to think we’re helping people with that!
Founder: Rory Stanton, EWMBA 20
What does your startup do (in 20 words or less)?
Aila Health is a data-driven, remote-care platform for patients with chronic illness.
How did you come up with the idea?
My cousin has what you would call an invisible illness, meaning she looks healthy on the outside, but is actually managing multiple chronic conditions. After watching her bounce between specialists for years before getting a diagnosis and seeing the lack of communication between her different doctors, I thought there had to be a better way for doctors to deliver personalized care to patients with chronic illness.
What problem does Aila solve?
There are nearly 50 million Americans living with chronic autoimmune conditions today. That’s more than diabetes and cancer combined. Despite the fact that these conditions cost the health system billions each year, they are not well understood or managed. We aim to change that.
There are nearly 50 million Americans living with chronic autoimmune conditions today. That’s more than diabetes and cancer combined.
How doe Aila work and how do teams use it?
Aila Health is a chronic care management platform that offers personalized remote care at scale. It enables patients with chronic illness to sync all of their health information in one place and quantify disease progression over time. It similarly gives their healthcare providers a holistic view of a patient’s health so they can track symptoms in real-time and deliver the right care with the right provider at the right time.
What’s been the biggest challenge for you as a founder so far?
There are so many inefficiencies in the U.S. healthcare system that Aila’s solution can help with. One of the biggest challenges for us was determining which problem to solve first. During our customer interviews, we learned that the COVID-19 pandemic had drastically shifted priorities for healthcare organizations. There is a need for new technical infrastructure to deliver value-based care and personalized remote care at scale.
Has anyone from Haas helped you on your startup journey?
Haas gave me a great community of classmates and mentors who have helped us along our journey. Rhonda Shrader (executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program), in particular, has been an amazing mentor and advocate for me. From cheerleading during some difficult transition periods to supporting our team’s application for the National Science Foundation’s I-CORPS Program, I really appreciate having her in my corner. Dan Cloutier, EWMBA 21, was also a wonderful health industry mentor for our I-CORPS team.
What are your goals for the next six months?
We are kicking off our first couple of pilots now. We want to execute these really well and validate our solution with an improved provider experience and patient outcome. In the next six months, we aim to bring more health systems onto the platform and raise an initial round of financing.
Founder: Olayinka Omolere, MBA 21
What does your startup do (in 20 words or less)?
Seren creates serendipity online by nudging people into instant and personalized water cooler calls—using AI to preserve relationships and collaboration.
How did you come up with the idea?
When COVID hit in March, I started looking for opportunities in the chaos. I looked for areas undergoing massive change and picked remote work because I had experienced it and understood its shortcomings.
As I spoke to my classmates about our challenges with remote schooling, I noticed a pattern. Without chance meetings in the Haas courtyard or around campus, my peers were finding it harder to stay connected. We were being told to “be intentional” but it felt like a ton of work, and our social interactions and circles were shrinking. I came to Haas for the culture, and I loved interacting with my friends and classmates, but I was beginning to feel isolated. Then I interned as a product manager at Cisco, where I saw first-hand how the problem of not having informal interactions could affect business. When informal connections are disrupted, employees find it harder to maintain a sense of belonging, and scientific research suggested this could impact culture and innovation.
What problem does Seren solve?
Seren solves the problem of staying in touch online by helping people to “bump into” other virtually, so that brief and informal conversations can happen.
We are making water cooler chats better in some ways than in-person, even though we can’t quite replace face-to-face conversations…yet. With this technology, we can customize water cooler chats for individual preferences around how people like to engage, who they want to talk to, how long they want to talk, and what they want to talk about. We want to help people have better informal conversations over audio/video with colleagues, on any platform, whether that’s Slack, Teams, Zoom or the web.
With this technology, we can customize water cooler chats for individual preferences around how people like to engage, who they want to talk to, how long they want to talk, and what they want to talk about.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
My biggest challenge has been finding software engineering and machine learning talent to join our team. We have used BearX, Handshake, and LinkedIn and are really keen to find more people who are excited about impactful startups.
So far, I have been working with an amazing team of Berkeley undergrads and alumni—Leonor Alcaraz-Guzman, Helen Xu, and Patrick Zhu. In my Product Management class, I am on a diverse team with grad students from the School of Information, Fung Institute, and Haas, and we are learning so much.
Has anyone from Haas helped you with your startup?
I’ve had lots of help from faculty and staff. Early on, I took the NSF Bay Area I-CORPS course, which helped me learn how to do customer discovery. Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program, has been consistent in pointing us towards potential partners, competitions, mentors, and opportunities.
Vince Law, a professional faculty member, has reviewed more than one version of our early prototypes, and given critical feedback. In Jeff Eyet’s class on design thinking, he shared great advice on trying to understand users’ emotions and motivations for using our solution. Greg La Blanc, another professional faculty member, helped me think strategically about whether to even pursue this idea or space of remote work.
What are your goals for the next six months?
Our top goal is to get a strong sense of whether our product is exceptional at solving the challenge of creating serendipity for our users or not. We will need to launch and get lots of user feedback to answer that question. When you think about it, these are unique times with millions of people stuck at home, so if they want this, we should be able to quickly determine whether we can satisfy that need, and build a business out of it.
Another key goal is to clearly show a path to defeating our competition. I joke with my teammates that every week someone else has launched a new product to solve the same problem. Currently, we segment our competition in these categories: bots offering instant water cooler calls, standalone virtual office applications, and platforms that match people for conversations based on interests. We understand the competition and have a distinct path toward differentiating ourselves.
This fall, Berkeley Haas welcomes a diverse and international group of nine new professors, including a record five women. The new faculty members include one full professor, two associate professors, and six new assistant professors, who are from Italy, Argentina, France, China, Canada, and California.
In addition to the new professors, seven new lecturers have joined the professional faculty to teach classes in various programs.
Professor Francesco Trebbi, Business & Public Policy
As a child in Italy, Francesco Trebbi played basketball on a kids’ team with Kobe Bryant, whose father was a star in the city’s basketball team at the time. An athletic career did not prove as promising as his ventures in economics have been, however. “Our team lost even with Kobe on our side, so you can just imagine how bad of a basketball player I must be!” said Trebbi.
Instead, Trebbi attended Italy’s prestigious Bocconi University, earning a degree in political economy, before going on to receive his MA and PhD in economics from Harvard University.
Before joining Berkeley, he was the Canada Research Chair and professor of economics at the University of British Columbia Vancouver School of Economics, and an assistant professor of economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Trebbi’s academic research focuses on political economy and applied economics. He has studied the design of political institutions, elections, political behavior, campaign finance, lobbying, and financial regulation. He has also worked on the political economy of development, ethnic politics, and conflict. His primary teaching interests are in political economy, applied economics, and applied econometrics. Currently, he is working on new empirical approaches to the study of behavior of government officials, voters, and special interest groups. He also maintains an active research program on the political economy of non-democratic and low-income countries.
Trebbi also has an artistic streak. “I have only one modest talent outside of economics: I paint. Non-figuratively. Many economists I know have been inflicted with one canvas or two, which I think they keep in their homes and offices out of affection,” he said.
Associate Professor Matilde Bombardini, Business & Public Policy
Though Matilde Bombardini grew up in Imola, a city in Northern Italy, UC Berkeley has long had a special place in her life and career. It’s where she came as an undergraduate student on an exchange program in 1998-99.
“I took a graduate course in the Economics Department that opened the door for me to pursue a PhD at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Professor David Romer was one of my letter writers for PhD admission,” she said. Bombardini earned her PhD from MIT in 2005.
Before coming to Berkeley, she was an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver School of Economics.
Bombardini is conducting ongoing research on the role of corporate charity as a channel for influencing regulation, and as a tool for political influence in general. She is also researching the role of politicians’ information in congressional voting on China’s Normal Trade Relationship with the U.S.
In her free time, Bombardini likes to ski, sail, hike, and enjoy the outdoors. “I am eager to explore the Tahoe area ski slopes, and the good weather in the Bay Area will make it easier to go back to sailing.” She is a beginner electric guitar player and likes all rock music.
Associate Professor Ricardo Perez-Truglia, Economic Analysis and Policy
Ricardo Perez-Truglia grew up in the Ciudadela neighborhood near Buenos Aires, Argentina, moving to the U.S. for a PhD in economics from Harvard University. He joins Berkeley Haas from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, where he was an assistant professor of economics for four years.
As a behavioral economist, one of Perez-Truglia’s main research interests is how social image and social comparisons shape economic behavior: What do others think of you? Are you rich? Smart? Hard-working? The desire to shape these opinions is a powerful driver of human behavior, he said.
His research often involves collaborating with private and public institutions, sometimes using large datasets to study the effects of policies, or conducting large-scale field experiments with their clients or employees. He studies a range of topics such as transparency, tax collection, and macroeconomic expectations. “My research is intended to inform firms and policy makers in the developed and developing world, leading to practical applications,” he said.
Perez-Truglia says he would be happy to talk to students about economics and social science research as well as two more personal topics: “I’m familiar with the challenges associated with being an immigrant and a first-generation college graduate, so I’m happy to discuss them with any of the Berkeley students who are facing the same or similar challenges.”
He’s also happy to talk about Latin America—and his favorite sport, fútbol or soccer. “I’d love to play soccer with the students if they want. I am a huge soccer fan—my favorite teams are River Plate (from Argentina), FC Barcelona (Spain) and obviously, I care the most about the Argentine national team.”
Assistant Professor Sydnee Caldwell, Economic Analysis & Policy
Sydnee Caldwell, who grew up in Fallbrook, Calif., is coming “home” to Cal. She graduated from UC Berkeley with a double bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics and economics in 2008, before earning her PhD in economics from MIT in 2019. She joins Berkeley Haas after serving a year as a post-doctoral researcher at Microsoft Research New England.
Caldwell’s research focuses on topics of labor and personnel economics, and she is currently interested in how firms find and recruit new employees. She has also conducted research on the gender-wage gap, recently examining how it plays out in the gig economy. In a paper forthcoming in American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, she looks at the differences between taxis and ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber from the driver’s perspective.
She says students should feel free to come to her with any questions they have about economics or data science, regardless of whether they are in her data and decisions class. “I am always interested in how companies and people use data to make decisions,” she says.
Assistant Professor Solène Delecourt, Management of Organizations
Solène Delecourt hails from Lille, a city at the northern tip of France. She earned her PhD in organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Delecourt’s research centers on inequality in business performance. She is passionate about using rigorous social scientific theories and methods to delve deeply into this phenomenon, particularly among entrepreneurs in emerging economies. Her research agenda focuses on what drives variation in profits across firms, and how to reduce inequality in business performance among entrepreneurs in different market settings—including India, Uganda, and the U.S. In the three papers that made up her dissertation, Delecourt used field experiments to understand how business characteristics, client search behavior, and peer-to-peer advice among entrepreneurs affect business success.
Delecourt wants students to feel free to come to her for discussions. “I would love to hear about their projects, especially as they relate to issues of gender inequality,” she said.
In her free time, she enjoys swimming and is excited for the numerous outdoor pools on campus. She also loves good bread and pastries and cannot wait to try out Fournée Bakery.
Assistant Professor Douglas Guilbeault, Management of Organizations
Douglas Guilbeault is from Tecumseh, a small town in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. He received his PhD in 2020 from the Annenberg School for Communication at University of Pennsylvania.
Guilbeault studies how people build shared concepts as they communicate in daily life, specifically within social networks and organizations. “Big problems on my list to tackle are: bias reduction in crowdsourcing, cross-cultural concept translation, equitable content moderation over social media, and enhancing scientific discovery,” he said.
Guilbeault is developing a computational theory of how categories emerge, grow, and evolve in social systems, as well as how categories shape social systems themselves.
Guilbeault looks forward to meeting his new colleagues. “I am most excited by the dynamic network of colleagues that I will get to exchange ideas with and learn from,” he said. “The Management of Organizations group at Haas is absolutely distinct in its integration of both macro and micro perspectives on organizations, and my work explores this interface.”
When he’s not conducting research or teaching, Guilbeault makes music and writes software that produces digital art. He also loves running, biking, hiking, and seeing live music.
Assistant Professor Xi Wu, Accounting
Xi Wu is originally from Beijing, China. She received her PhD in accounting from New York University’s Stern School of Business after studying mathematics and economics as an undergrad at Cornell University.
Wu’s research focuses on the intersection of securities regulation, corporate governance, and valuation. Her current research studies how regulations affect firms, how managers and creditors use information to address agency issues, and how to use newly-available data to value firms and cryptocurrencies. Her recent work shows that more heavily regulated companies fare significantly better during extreme economic downturns—including the coronavirus pandemic.
Since she is currently studying the valuation of cryptocurrencies and the market of initial coin offerings (ICOs), Wu says that being close to both the San Francisco Bay Area and the Silicon Valley is of huge value to her, and she is excited about the potential of connecting fintech research to the practical world.
Wu enjoys hiking and skiing in her free time.
Assistant Professor Luyi Yang, Operations & Information Technology Management
Luyi Yang, a native of Shanghai, China, joins Haas from Johns Hopkins University, where he was an assistant professor at the Carey Business School for the past three years. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago Booth School of Management in 2017.
Yang’s work is focused on developing new theories for understanding emerging business models and policy initiatives in service operations. On the business front, he has studied innovative mechanisms for managing queues—which are often a key feature of service systems—such as line-sitting, mobile ordering, and referral priority programs. On the policy front, he has studied the welfare implications of expanding patient choice in elective surgeries, as well as the pricing and environmental implications of the right-to-repair legislation, which gives consumers the ability to repair and modify their own consumer electronic devices.
Yang is excited to experience the innovative culture of Haas. He said students should come talk to him about their startup ideas and new business models. “Over the years I have engaged many startups in my research and teaching. If you have an innovative idea to start a new business, we should talk!” Yang said. In his free time, he likes travelling and hiking.
Assistant Professor Biwen Zhang, Accounting
Biwen Zhang is from Nanchang, the capital and largest city of Jiangxi Province, China. She completed her PhD in accounting in 2020 from Simon Business School at the University of Rochester.
Her main research interests are in the areas of financial intermediaries and corporate governance. Specifically, her current research revolves around the economic implications of conflicts of interest faced by capital market participants.
In her free time, Zhang likes to play table tennis and badminton.
New Professional Faculty
New lecturers this fall include Ahmed Badruzzaman, Deborah Krackeler, Don Hanna, and Sachita Saxena, who will each teach a course in the Undergraduate Program; James Zuberi, who will teach a course in the Executive MBA Program; and Temina Madon, who will teach in the Full-time MBA Program. Sasha Radovich will join in the spring to teach a class in the Undergraduate Program.
Here@Haas is a student-run podcast that tells the stories of current students.
Here@Haas Podcast host, Ray Guan, speaks with EWMBAA Co-President Anna Lee to talk about her path from Korea to Iowa to Los Angeles to Haas. Lee shares how she has been able to bond with her classmates through student leadership and class trips, and how that gave her confidence to successfully pivot into a business development role at Apple. Finally, Lee talks about the perks and drawbacks of being a commuter for the first half of her MBA journey.
The largest-ever Berkeley Haas Evening & Weekend MBA class came together for an unprecedented virtual orientation this month, as students met their cohort members online, explored their academic and career goals, hosted a talent show, and heard from Dean Ann Harrison.
Students in the EWMBA program, 318 strong compared to 279 last year, balance their coursework while working full time. During WE Launch, the program’s orientation held from July 13-26, students participated in workshops on case-study methods, inclusive leadership, leadership communications, partnering with the Career Management Group, and an intro to Teams@Haas, a curriculum designed to build stronger team outcomes.
Orientation culminated with Saturday’s welcome from Dean Ann Harrison and a talk by Alumni Speaker Greg Greeley, MBA 98 and outgoing President of Homes for Airbnb.
In her welcome, Harrison called the current economy “nothing like I’ve experienced in my lifetime,” but added that the pandemic is accelerating and digitally transforming the fields of education tech, fintech, and healthcare. “It presents an incredible opportunity for all of us,” she said. “That’s why I really believe that this is the best time to go to business school—and our applications reflected it. “I can’t imagine a better time to take on the challenges of this pandemic than at Berkeley, which has always been at the forefront of change.”
Greeley told students that they will emerge from the MBA program stronger on the other side of this. “Bond with each other, lean on each other,” said Greeley, who called out each of the four Haas Defining Leadership Principles, which articulate the Haas culture, and discussed how important culture has been throughout his career at Amazon and Airbnb, companies that “have disrupted and defined their industries.”
Students in the class of 2023 have a collective average of eight years work experience, and work at a total of 243 companies. The majority hail from industries including technology, finance, computer-related services, and consulting. About half the class works in roles in engineering, marketing/sales, consulting, and finance. Google is the class’ biggest employer, followed by Apple and Genentech, Intel, LinkedIn, EY, and PG&E.
The class is comprised of 36% women, a record high. It’s also quite international. Almost a third of the students were born outside of the U.S., and speak 20 different languages.
“There is such an enormous amount of diversity and knowledge and creativity in this group of people,” said Jamie Breen, assistant dean of the MBA Programs for Working Professionals at Haas. “Take it, embrace it, enjoy it. Take advantage of everything.”
“Orientation was a taste of what’s in store for us,” said Tiffany Shumate, executive director for Hack the Hood in Oakland, Ca., which works to increase access to living-wage technology jobs for early career workers. “I’m already a proud Blue Cohort (students are split into four cohorts: Blue, Gold, Oski, and Axe) member. I’m excited to start classes.”
Why an MBA, why Haas?
Many EWMBA students are seeking the skill set required to change roles at their company or be better managers. Divya Pillai, a software engineer at Google, holds a master’s degree in engineering from MIT.
She said an MBA will give her business skills, and that she’s looking forward to studying microeconomics and leadership. “I thought I was happy as a software engineer but I realized that what we needed was more product direction, and bringing stakeholders together,” she said. “I thought I needed an MBA to contribute there.
Diversity at Haas was critical to Adam Ward, a native of the UK who works as a senior manager in partner product marketing at MuleSoft. Ward said he attended the Berkeley Haas Diversity Symposium, an event held last October, and became convinced that Haas was the right school for him.
“It was amazing to see the work they are putting into equality,” said Ward, who recently pivoted from account development into marketing at his company. “That was really important to me.”
The social link
In addition to academics, social life moved online for the EWMBA class, too, with happy hours for the entire class, a happy hour for Black and Latinx students, as well as an LGBTQ mixer.
In recent weeks, an EWMBA 2023 Slack channel brought the class together with daily challenges posted by members, such as: post a photo of yourself wearing Berkeley gear, share a photo of a recent book you read during quarantine, or post a photo related to your pandemic hobby. “There was a really active poster, Dan Bernstein, who direct-messaged a bunch of people—and once he got people on board we were trying to get 100% participation,” Pillai said. “The whole process just made everyone feel they were part of something.”
So did a talent show, which brought out the class musicians, singers, and dancers. Pillai, who played the ukulele while singing Lady Gaga’s “Shallow,” with tongue-in-cheek lyrics adapted for the COVID-19 pandemic, took first place.
Second place was a tie between Jack Woodruff (singing/guitar) and Joni Chan (Chopin on piano).
The 2020 evening & weekend MBA grads are leaders who embody the Defining Leadership Principles, Berkeley Haas Dean Ann Harrison told the class in a celebratory sendoff video.
“We need leaders like you,” Dean Harrison said. “Now more than ever, we need leaders with a passion to be students always, who question the status quo and act with confidence without attitude, and leaders who think beyond themselves.”
Commencement speaker Laura Clayton McDonnell, MBA/JD 85, VP of ServiceNow Enterprise Sales-East Region, also congratulated grads.
“Your time at Haas has equipped you to be the kind of leader that we need in the world today,” she said.
Your time at Haas has equipped you to be the kind of leader that we need in the world today.
Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching: Professor James Wilcox and Dan Simpson, a member of the professional faculty. Wilcox taught Global Macroeconomics and Simpson taught Corporate Strategy.
Adam Burgess, MBA 20, received the GSI Award as an Evening & Weekend MBA program GSI.
Academic Achievement Award: Cody Cusic and Jordan Waiwaiole won, as students with the highest GPAs.
Berkeley Leader Award: Sean Li, creator of the OneHaas podcast.
Defining Leadership Award winners
Question the Status Quo: Bruce Hilman
Confidence without Attitude: Jordan Waiwaiole
Students Always: Janice Shon
Beyond Yourself: Shannon Eliot (profiled here)
It was the first day of a week-long backpacking trip to Patagonia last January, a trip where Shannon Eliot and eight of her classmates were finally going to test lessons learned in their Extreme Leadership class at Berkeley Haas.
Their goal was to reach Cordillera Arturo Prat, a mountain peak just outside Torres Del Paine National Park, but not long after leaving base camp, Eliot, EWMBA 20, slipped on a log and fell backwards into a muddy swamp, twisting her knee on the forest floor. “I thought I would have to be airlifted out of Chile,” she said as she lay on her back looking up at the Chilean sky. “I asked myself, ‘Why did I come?’”
That question could have led her to abandon the trek. But as she would several times during her final year at Haas, Eliot blocked the pain from her mind and moved forward with the help of her Haas friends, including two of her close classmates, Terrell Baptiste, EWMBA 20, and Brian Bell, MBA 20. “They told me that I was stronger than I thought I was and that I could do it,” Eliot said.
They told me that I was stronger than I thought I was and that I could do it.
“A million tiny knives”
For her grit, determination, and her role as EWMBA Association’s VP of Philanthropy, Eliot, a senior communications manager for Blue Shield of California, will receive the Beyond Yourself award at graduation Friday. It’s one of four Defining Leadership Principles awards given to students who embody the spirit of Haas and have made a lasting impact on the community. Eliot is being honored for leading ethically and responsibly and putting larger interests above her own.
Just months before the Patagonia trek, Eliot was almost convinced the trip would not be possible. Three days after her birthday in August, Eliot awoke from an afternoon nap unable to stand with a feeling of “a million tiny knives stabbing me in the back,” she said.
Doctors diagnosed Eliot with rhabdomyolysis, a breakdown of muscle tissue that causes myoglobin, or muscle protein, to enter the bloodstream. This “freak accident,” she said, was a rare side effect of a prescribed medication she took.
For five months, Eliot, who is also a part-time Pilates instructor, tapped into her training to restore the muscles in her lower back. By December, Eliot had gained enough strength to walk on a treadmill with a 25-pound backpack — just enough weight to convince herself that she could make it to Patagonia.
An athlete’s recovery
Anyone who knows Eliot wouldn’t have been surprised to learn how determined she was to restore her physical health. From being an elite soccer player as a teen to racing for UC San Diego’s collegiate cycling team to teaching Pilates, Eliot has always been a lifelong athlete who has pushed her body to the max.
That fitness level and mental perseverance ultimately helped her to complete the Patagonia trek.
After her knee injury, Eliot got back on her feet and marched forward. For six days, she hiked on a sprained knee for 10 hours carrying a 52-pound backpack and camping atop of an icy mountain in high winds.
“Despite spraining her knee, Shannon was still able to keep a positive attitude and motivate our team to finish the trip,” Baptiste said. “She has a lot of grit.”
Eliot is working towards a role in management consulting following graduation. She’d also like to launch an online Pilates studio to help people remain physically fit in the age of the coronavirus.
“I’m so excited for the future and I have Haas—and especially my Haas family—to thank for it,” Eliot said. “Their unwavering support and endless encouragement are the secret sauce to my success.”
In early March, Peter Gallagher, EWMBA 22, was ushered into an emergency meeting headed by Prof. Jennifer Doudna, executive director of the Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI) and co-developer of the gene editing technology, CRISPR.
He and nearly 50 faculty, staff, students, and postdocs from the IGI were called upon to figure out how to repurpose their research labs to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
By the end of that meeting, Gallagher and the University Development and Alumni Relations fundraising team that supports the Institute had received marching orders to help raise $10 million to establish a pop-up coronavirus testing lab.
Raising that kind of capital can take months or even years to accomplish in normal times, Gallagher said. But surprisingly by the end of March, he and his colleagues had raised just over $10 million, enabling the Institute to build a diagnostic testing lab that can test 1,000 patient samples per day.
“It’s hard to overstate how hard that is to do in such a short amount of time,” Gallagher said. “In about three weeks’ time, the lab was up and running. It’s an incredible achievement.”
“I’ve never experienced anything like that,” he added. “But these are unprecedented times and people are responding in unprecedented ways.”
With the funding, IGI will be able to expand testing in the Bay Area, track the coronavirus, and support researchers focused on developing COVID-19 therapies, genome sequencing, and surveys to detect the prevalence of asymptomatic infections.
The coronavirus testing lab serves Berkeley students, first responders, homeless people, and people who are uninsured. Test samples come from local health agencies, including UC Berkeley’s Tang Center and Lifelong Medical Care.
Gallagher, an Oakland native and fifth-generation UC Berkeley student, has spent most of his career fundraising in the Northwest for social impact organizations, including his own, Seattle Catholic Worker, a Christian activist movement that focuses on serving the homeless and people living in poverty. So it’s no surprise that he was drawn to the Institute whose mission is to treat human diseases and end world hunger using genome engineering technologies like CRISPR.
“Peter has been instrumental in developing and maintaining our relationships with our donors, especially during the pandemic,” said Lucie Bardet, MBA 19, a project manager for the IGI. “His high emotional quotient and uncommon business intelligence has been a boon to the Institute.”
Bardet, who joined the Institute three months ago, has also been knee-deep in getting the lab up and running, she said. From supporting research teams tasked with handling diagnostic testing and vaccines to fundraising, Bardet, too, has been instrumental in helping the IGI quickly pivot to make the pop-up coronavirus testing lab become a reality.
Bardet said she’s enjoyed supporting COVID-19 relief efforts led by Jennifer Doudna. “For someone who has been working with startups and venture capitalists for the last few years, I’ve never seen a team respond this fast to a crisis.”
Gallagher and his coworkers will soon begin work on the second phase of fundraising for the pop-up COVID-19 lab, which he sees as a critical facility that will help slow the spread of the coronavirus and ultimately help people return to some semblance of normalcy, he said.
“While I can’t say that I’m leading this, I think we’ve all had to lead in different ways given the magnitude and scope of work,” said Gallagher. “The growth that I’ve had as a leader as a result of being at Haas has enabled me to respond more effectively to our work at this time.”
Berkeley Haas has launched the MBA Summer Internship Stimulus Fund, which will provide $5,000 stipends to students.
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.
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?”
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.