Student Startup Roundup: Farmcation, Byte

This is part of an occasional series of articles spotlighting students and recent alumni who are working with Berkeley-Haas to start a new business or social enterprise.

Farmcation
Co-founders: Grace Lesser and Caitlyn Toombs, MBA 16s

Grace Lesser and her husband gave “localvore” a whole new meaning when they set out a year ago to plan their wedding. They spent the summer before their August nuptials raising 65 chickens, along with beets, carrots, salad greens, kale, tomatoes, potatoes, and herbs that they served to 240 guests on their big day.

“We poured our blood, sweat and tears into turning over an acre of land,” says Lesser, who cultivated her wedding feast on the non-working farm she grew up on in western Massachusetts. “It was amazing.”

The appreciation Lesser gained for the hard work and low margins that define small farming today also planted the idea for Lesser’s new company, Farmcation.

Formed late last year with her friend and classmate Caitlyn Toombs, Farmcation helps small farmers connect with urbanites eager to experience firsthand where and how the food they put on their tables is grown.

Photo by Kim Heath

Farmcation works with small farmers to host on-site events, including guided tours and prepared meals. The company’s first event, held in April, drew 30 people to Terra Firma Farm in Winters, Ca. “We want to help bring people closer to their source of food, to be more conscious consumers, and to create a better sense of community through food,” says Toombs.

Lesser and Toombs are, in many ways, a perfect pairing. Both are self-described foodies (Toombs, a New Jersey native, keeps a detailed spreadsheet of her top Bay Area meals) who worked in international development before starting at Haas in 2014.

Lesser, who in addition to her MBA is set to earn a master’s degree in public health in December, is interning this summer at Denver-based WhiteWave Foods, which distributes Earthbound Farms, Horizon Organic, and Land O’Lakes products. She lived in Rwanda for four years before coming to Haas, where she designed public health and agriculture programs to improve population health, particularly focused on nutrition.

At Haas, Lesser and Toombs bonded over their social impact backgrounds. But it wasn’t until they took Jorge Calderon’s Impact Startup Disco, a one-unit weekend course on entrepreneurship, that they devised a business plan. Farmcation officially launched in December, after Lesser and Toombs won a $5,000 grant from the Dean’s Startup Seed Fund.

During the spring, Lesser and Toombs did extensive customer research and outreach to local farmers. Lesser relied on a UC Berkeley public health course on food entrepreneurship and innovation, “Eat. Think. Design,” and a team of interdisciplinary students, to further develop the company’s business model.

Now, Lesser and Toombs are fine-tuning Farmcation’s business model while planning a second event at a Northern California farm.

“There is so much about this business that was nurtured during our time at Haas — through courses and so many support structures,” says Toombs, who is set to join Google in August. “We think Farmcation has a lot of potential.”

 

Byte
Co-Founder: Megan Mokri
Evening & Weekend MBA, 16

The typical office vending machine is turning into a culinary adventure of a much healthier and savory sort, thanks to Megan Mokri’s company, Byte.

What Byte offers that most other vending machine suppliers don’t? Fresh salads instead of Cheez-Its. Breakfast burritos instead of Pop-Tarts. Blue Bottle coffee instead of Coca-Cola. Byte is the fresh food solution for the 99 percent of offices that have no fresh food on-site.

“It’s like having a little Whole Foods in your office,” says Mokri.

Just one year old, Byte already counts among its customers Chevron, Bain & Company, Autodesk, Virgin America, and cosmetics retailer Sephora.

 

Mokri and her husband and co-founder, Lee Mokri, got the idea for Byte while running a meal delivery service in Marin County called 180Eats, which launched a year after Mokri enrolled at Haas in 2013.  It was during their search for a way to offer around-the-clock meal deliveries that they discovered the latest in smart refrigeration technology.

They ran a pilot program using technology that relies on a modified Android computer tablet with a credit card reader. Wireless (RFID) technology detects what items are taken out of the refrigerator and then automatically charges the card that was swiped.

It didn’t take long for the duo to realize that they had a potential “billion-dollar business” in the making, says Megan Mokri. Earlier this year they sold the assets of 180Eats and closed on a non-cash deal for the smart refrigeration technology developed by a company called Pantry. Mokri’s Evening & Weekend classmate Ben Purvis joined the team as vice president of operations. Today, Byte is backed by $750,000 in angel funding and has about 20 full-time employees.

Mokri, who is also mom to two-year-old daughter Isla, says the Evening & Weekend MBA program was perfect for her. “I could have my cake and eat it, too, in terms of still being in the industry without losing two years to go to school,” she says.

During her program, Mokri was awarded two fellowships, the Hansoo Lee Fellowship and the Turner Award, which helped her juggle tuition and startup costs. She also credits an entrepreneurship class taught by Chris Puscasiu and the Food Venture Lab, a course first offered last fall that is taught by William Rosenzweig, for helping her to learn by doing.

“Having the resources of Haas when you inevitably hit hard times, not just professors but also fellow students who are starting their own businesses, was incredible,” says Mokri. “It’s an amazing program.”

Read more about Farmcation.

Read more about Byte.

Startup Roundup: The Vet Set, TrueCare24, BrightDay

By Gabby Luu & Kim Girard

This is part of a series of articles spotlighting students and recent alumni who are starting a new business or social enterprise.

The Vet Set
Co-Founder: Taylor Truitt, DVM, EMBA 14

When Taylor Truitt began the MBA for Executives Program in 2013, she’d already decided to take her life in a new direction. As the owner of a veterinary hospital in Marin, Calif., Dr. Truitt had contemplated acquiring another business, but she had some doubts.

“I started the program not knowing what I was going to do,” she says. “When you leave vet school you are trained to be a clinician, but you have no business background. There were things that I knew how to do but I wanted to learn more.”

The idea for her startup, however, didn’t come until later, when she broke her leg on a ski trip with classmates during the final days of her MBA program. Stuck in her apartment and relying on local delivery services, she contemplated business ideas.

What emerged was a concierge veterinary service for dog and cat owners. Truitt began analyzing the competitive landscape for mobile vets with her co-founder, Marin-based veterinarian Eva Radke.

Today, the Vet Set co-founders, can be found traveling by subway in Manhattan, pushing a strategically packed roller bag to the homes and offices of pet owners. Truitt and Radke offer everything from the treatment of ear infections and stomach troubles to rabies vaccinations and health certificates for dogs and cats, seven days a week.

Truitt credits Berkeley-Haas with providing the foundation for the company. Maura O’Neill’s class on New Venture Finance and Mark Rittenberg’s Leadership Communications course “both opened me up to what I should be doing,” she said. “Everything I learned at Haas has fit in somewhere.”

The co-founders decided to launch in New York City instead of the Bay Area for several reasons: First, New Yorkers are crazy about their pets, and they’re already accustomed to home delivery of many different services, Truitt says. Second, “most people in New York don’t have cars so getting dogs and cats to the vet really can propose a significant stress on the pet and the owner,” she said.

Truitt says her MBA gave her the confidence to sell her business, move to New York, and launch the company this past October.

“Cracking the market here is tough. It’s concentrated and busy,” says Truitt, who is now focusing on marketing Vet Set services and the company’s growth strategy. “But we’re doing it.”

 

TrueCare24
Co-founders: Leonid Popov, MBA 15, Bimohit Bawa, MBA 16

It was also an injured leg that started Leo Popov down a new path, after he spent six hours waiting in the emergency room with his wife and young daughter. Popov, who was used to doctors making house calls in his native Russia, couldn’t understand why he had to go to the ER for a non life-threatening problem. The inconvenience and cost were excessive, too: $1,500 for 15-minute visit with the doctor.
As he thought about the incident in the coming months and shared similar stories with friends, an idea came to him: why not provide patients with easy-to-use telemedicine and house calls? “People just go to the ER because they don’t have any other options available,” says Popov, MBA 15. “I knew that there was a better way.”

Popov ran with that idea and began developing a business plan and a product prototype in Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad course. While taking the class, he interviewed more than 100 people about the initial idea. One particular interview brought a key insight: that house calls could help decrease hospital re-admissions.

Popov also began building a team, partnering up with Bimohit Bawa, MBA 16, who became his his chief technology officer. By October 2015 he launched TrueCare24, with Bawa and Caesar Djavaherian, a doctor who ran a small practice providing house calls.

TrueCare24 offers one main product: a telemedicine service for $15 a month. Available to all California residents, the service includes 24-hour video chats or phone consultations. A second service, house calls in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco provided by medical team members, is offered for a flat $99 for per month to telemedicine subscribers ($199 for non-subscribers).

The company, which has raised $40,000 in pre-seed funding, has partnered with teams of medical providers for both of its services. Partnerships are key to controlling the cost of customer acquisition and critical to TrueCare24’s growth, Popov says. The company also recently started accepting Medicare.

While other startups have launched telemedicine and house call service apps, Popov says the market is large enough to absorb multiple players.

“We believe we’re bringing something new and valuable to people in the community,” Popov says. “I’m pretty confident in doing this because I have the theory of starting a company down. And if I have any questions, I can easily shout out to my classmates or alums.”

 

BrightDay
Co-founders: David Firth-Eagland, EMBA 15 and Sharrifah Al-Salem, EMBA 15

David Firth-Eagland was popping a handful of vitamins in his mouth before settling in for a lecture last year. Curious, Sharrifah Al-Salem asked what he had in his hand.

Firth-Eagland explained that he had started taking a combination of antioxidants and vitamins after reading a few scientific studies on hangover causes and cures. Al-Salem was intrigued.

“I said, “Have you ever thought of making that into a company?’ “ says Al-Salem.

That discussion quickly led to the formation of BrightDay, which makes a formula intended to prevent the next-day fatigue and nausea commonly associated with a hangover. The capsules are a mix of amino acids, antioxidants, and a Vitamin B complex taken three at a time with a person’s first and third drinks.

Before he met Al-Salem, Firth-Eagland had considered forming a company to sell his formula, but knew he’d need help launching a startup. Al-Salem, who had a background in finance and tech business operations, quickly got on board.

The two began working on the startup idea in no fewer than five of their MBA for Executive classes. As a project for their Marketing Organization and Management class, they conducted a study of 250 people, and found that 60 percent were willing to try a hangover cure, presenting a big opportunity.

During an independent study with Berkeley-Haas Lecturer John Danner, they worked to better understand their next steps when pitching the company to potential investors or customers. They also looked at long-term budgeting, cash flow estimates, and customer adoption costs.

For now, the pair are bootstrapping the company, which launched in October, and promoting the product to friends, family, and classmates, reporting many repeat customers.

Firth-Eagland says BrightDay, which is sold on the company’s website and on Amazon, works by overstocking the liver with antioxidants and vitamins lost during alcohol metabolization to more efficiently process the toxins created when drinking (a hangover is much easier to prevent than to cure). He and Al-Salem partnered with two PhDs to fine-tune the formula.

“I don’t want people to think this is Dave’s magic snake oil,” Firth-Eagland says. “We worked closely with medical professional to refine it and to make sure that it worked. They really helped us to build it out.”

Social media and guerrilla marketing plans for BrightDay are in the works, but the co-founders are wary to give away specifics to maintain their competitive edge.

Al-Salem, who recently left her job at digital money transfer company Xoom after it was acquired by Paypal, says she will apply herself full time to BrightDay for the next few months to see where she can take it. Both co-founders believe the startup experience has been priceless, regardless of the outcome. “Even if this fails, every penny we’ve invested is worth it compared to what we’ve learned,” Al-Salem says.

Startup Roundup: Seniorly, Crayon Crunch, and Realiteer

This is part of an occasional series of articles spotlighting students and recent graduates who are working with Berkeley-Haas to start a new business or social enterprise.

Seniorly

Co-founders: Arthur Bretschneider and Sushanth Ramakrishna, EWMBA 16

When Berkeley-Haas Evening & Weekend MBA students Arthur Bretschneider and Sushanth Ramakrishna got to talking during their carpool from San Francisco two years ago, they were already applying the Haas defining principle Question the Status Quo.

Bretschneider, MBA 16, whose family had worked in the senior housing business, saw firsthand how hard it can be to find and evaluate senior facilities for aging loved ones. He and Ramakrishna, MBA 16 and a former lead engineer at Salesforce, took advantage of their commute to put their heads together and come up with a solution.

In January, the two formally launched Seniorly, a website that streamlines the search for senior communities.

“Senior housing is a highly fragmented industry with a lot of small- and medium-sized businesses that are not yet online,” Bretschneider said, adding that 70 percent of the businesses lack websites. “Families spend hours and hours searching for the right community—it’s a painful process.”

Using Seniorly’s search filters, family members quickly narrow down options based on preferences. The website includes photos and videos of facilities—visited in person by a Seniorly staff member—as well as a Resource Center that provides an overview of options, links to the Department of Social Services Community Licensing Division, and connection to a staff gerontologist.

The website is free to users but charges a referral fee to housing providers.

Bretschneider reports that more than 10 percent of Bay Area non-medical senior housing facilities are now on the Seniorly website. The startup, now with seven staff members, has expanded its services to Sacramento, secured a round of angel financing, and is actively involved in its seed round.

Bretschneider and Ramakrishna found much at Haas to help them launch their company. Lecturer Clark Kellogg’s Problem Finding Problem Solving (PFPS) class was especially influential with refining the company’s messaging and positioning, according to Ramakrishna.

But the co-founders’ peers at Haas were perhaps their most valuable resource. “Berkeley-Haas is filled with smart people who are generous with their time and thoughts,” Ramakrishna says. “Our peers in the EWMBA program have helped us many times.”

—Karen Sorensen

Realiteer

Co-founder Shuo Zhang, EWMBA 16

Product testing: Realiteer Co-founder Fangwei Lee’s son tries out the company’s first game, GermBuster.

Virtual reality promises consumers mind-blowing visual experiences. Trouble is, it’s really expensive to invest in a headset and all the different controllers needed to create hyper-realistic experiences.

Shuo Zhang, EWMBA 16, and Fangwei Lee, a Carnegie Mellon graduate who formerly led a visual effects team at DreamWorks, wanted to change that—and bring virtual reality to the masses by building an inexpensive system. They’ve managed to do it with two humble materials: cardboard and recycled plastic.

The idea for Realiteer started when Lee’s little boy grew fascinated with bubble guns and Lee became fed up with cleaning them and replacing broken ones. So he set out to create a virtual reality bubble-blowing toy. His raw materials? A recycled diaper box and a mobile phone—running a virtual reality software he coded from the ground up.

When Lee shared his prototype with Zhang in early May, Zhang immediately realized its potential. The friends teamed up to develop and launch the company’s first product: RealTrigger.

RealTrigger is a hand-tracking device made from renewable plastic or cardboard that—when used with a mobile phone and the company’s RealViewer software—is transformed into a virtual reality system. Real Trigger, available on the company’s website, costs just $5. Customers can also buy both the RealTrigger and RealViewer Starter Kit for $10.

Here’s how it works: Users can mount a mobile device into the cardboard RealViewer and secure it to their face to play Realiteer’s first downloadable game, GermBuster VR. The goal is to shoot and kill germs with the virtual bubble gun. (Germbuster VR is free on both Android and iOS.)

Although it’s designed for kids, the game is fun for adults too, says Zhang.

Zhang, who leads funding efforts and builds the company’s partnerships while also helping with product design, said Haas provided him with the skills, confidence, and courage to quit his full-time job at Genentech to grow the start-up.

The risk has already started to pay off. Realiteer is now a portfolio company of the early-stage seed fund and accelerator program 500 Startups, founded by PayPal and Google alumni. The company won the “Best in Class” award at the 2015 Bay Area Maker Faire.

But Zhang says what’s been most gratifying is the positive reaction to their product. “When I see smiles from everyone who tries it, I know that we have something truly special,” he says.

More on Realiteer on YouTube.

Gabrielle Luu

Crayon Crunch

Co-founder and head of print operations: Kai Schmittat, BS 15
Co-founder and CEO: Tim Osterbuhr, BS 15

(Pictured with Co-founder Friederike Geiken, lead engineer and creative director)

When Kai Schmittat and Tim Osterburhr, BS 15, co-founded Crayon Crunch at Haas last year, both were intrigued by the idea of creating the most technologically advanced children’s books ever printed—but with a twist.

They imagined books that portrayed kids of all ethnicities, shapes, and sizes; kisa who used wheelchairs or wore prosthetics or thick eye glasses.

“We realized that the children who would benefit the most from our books are really these children who don’t have the opportunity to see themselves in a book, or see themselves as normal because the media focuses on the majority,” says Schmittat, the company’s head of print operations and the father of 2-year-old Levi, who was born during Schmittat’s first semester at Haas.

On the Crayon Crunch website, customers use drop-down menus to create a lead character, customizing hair color and style, eye color, skin tone, facial features, clothing, and special needs.

In Crayon Crunch’s first book, My Magical Adventure, the main character takes a journey to find a key to open a magical box in an imaginary world—and learns along the way about the value of giving to other people and believing in oneself. The child can read a special letter written by a parent or loved one at the end of the book.

Schmittat, Osterbuhr, who is CEO, and San Francisco State University graduate Friederike Geiken, lead engineer and creative director, have all left their full-time jobs to focus their energy full-time on Crayon Crunch. Since graduating, the founders have launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised almost $12,000—surpassing their $10,000 goal.

Schmittat says the company’s social mission evolved at Haas, and particularly in a course on corporate responsibility. The startup is already giving back by hiring three Berkeley-Haas interns to work with them.For Schmittat, Crayon Crunch will continue to question the status quo. “The publishing industry has been doing the same thing for years,” he says. “We asked: What are they missing? We dared to ask questions and came up with an answer by developing something new.”

The company will begin printing My Magical Adventure for the public in mid-September, and ship worldwide.

Gabrielle Luu

Startup Roundup: WeFinance, California Artesian, TINE, and Honeit

This is part of an occasional series of articles spotlighting students and recent alumni who are working with Berkeley-Haas to start a new business or social enterprise.

WeFinance
Willy Chu, MBA 15
Co-founder and CEO

Though crowdfunding is becoming a crowded space, WeFinance is the first platform focused on truly peer-to-peer loans, says co-founder Willy Chu.

“Many students are paying seven to 8 percent on their student loans—even higher if you’re international—and they have living and moving expenses,” Chu says. “They’re low-risk borrowers but their credit scores don’t reflect that, and they can’t refinance until they have more credit history. Meanwhile, a peer lender in these students’ network could earn four percent or more on their extra savings.”

WeFinance launched with two critical resources. First, it has a software platform built by co-founder and CEO Eric Mayefsky, a Stanford econ PhD grad and ex-Facebook product manager who spearheaded the concept. This platform fully automates disbursements and repayments between borrowers and lenders, allowing both parties to rest easy that payments are made on time. Second, WeFinance has been tested by Chu’s network of fellow Haasies, a dozen of whom have signed on as guinea pigs seeking funding.

Ton Chookhare, MBA 14, used the platform to refinance some of his higher-interest student loans, raising $5,000 in just a few weeks and lowering his interest rate from 8 percent to 4 percent. He already had accepted an offer with Kaiser Permanente, and was working on a side project involving custom suits made in his hometown of Bangkok, Thailand. “I think many people will be surprised at how willing people in their network are to offer financial support, especially when they’re getting much better returns while supporting someone they know and trust,” he says.

Chu says when he came to Berkeley-Haas, he thought he might end up working for a startup—but had no intention of launching his own. His thinking evolved while taking Entrepreneurship with Prof. Toby Stuart and Lecturer Rob Chandra. His new path began last summer when a Stanford MBA friend saw an email from Mayefsky seeking help with the venture. After a few months of working well together, Chu—who previously worked at Credit Karma and Kiva—became a co-founder. He’s focusing on marketing, partnerships, and growth while Mayefsky develops the technological infrastructure.

“I’ve benefitted from starting this in my second year, after I had a strong base, and I’ve been able to piggyback on my coursework and lessons learned from my peers who launched businesses last year,” he says. “In particular, New Venture Finance with Asst. Prof. Adair Morse has been useful.”

Chu’s goal is to expand WeFinance to 40 schools within a year, beginning with Stanford, Harvard, and Wharton. In addition to MBAs, the company will focus on law and other top master’s and undergrad program students.

Read more about WeFinance in TechCrunch.

 

California Artesian
Stewart Wells, EMBA 15,
Founder and CEO
Stewart Wells pulled three parts of his life together to form startup California Artesian: convenience stores, artesian water, and time spent in Asia as an F-16 pilot.

Wells, chief operating officer of a gas station/convenience store chain, uncovered a natural artesian aquifer during a routine well drilling on his company’s property. The water tasted surprisingly good and analysis later proved the water was very pure.

“Our artesian water, sourced from 7,000 feet elevation in the Sierra Nevadas, has a much softer and smoother taste than any type of purified or spring water because it has incredibly low mineral content,” Wells said.

Wells thought the water had immediate commercial potential. He determined that he could sell the it in two markets: Northern California natural food stores and in Asian markets, where he saw a demand for high-quality water and products from California during the time he spent time there in the Air Force.

Wells—an aptly named CEO of a water company— is taking full advantage of his classes at Haas to launch California Artesian. “Three instrumental classes were Finance, which allowed me to change my business model and estimate cash flow; Marketing, which gave me incredible insight into consumer preferences; and Strategy, where I assessed and dissected the competition.”

Another pivotal experience was the EMBA program’s Silicon Valley Immersion Week, led by Professor Toby Stewart, where students visited companies such as Facebook, Google, and Airbnb and talked face-to-face with company founders. “The founders were very candid, sharing stories about how they put their money on the line,” he says. “Sometimes they’re failing and trying again, sometimes succeeding. It was a priceless experience.”

 


TINE
Vik Thairani, CEO and co-founder, and Nivas Chervirala, CTO and co-founder, both MBA 13

Vik Thairani and Nivas Chervirala formed the idea for a startup over a unique libation—a bottle of their very own smart wine. The two, who met in Lecturer Naeem Zafar’s Entrepreneurship class, created a wine label that consumers could scan on their smart phones to grab information about a wine’s quality and authenticity.  The team’s original startup, which focused on wine labels, was a semi-finalist in the 2013 Berkeley Startup Competition.

That original wine idea has since evolved into a mobile application called TINE, (pronounced TINY), which works with TINE tags that the company designed that they mail out to consumers. “You can stick a TINE tag on anything, scan it with the TINE app, and add a video or audio message,” Thairaini explains. “When someone else scans the tag with the TINE app, your message instantly plays on their phone and you get notified. Think Post-it note meets YouTube.”

The TINE team earned a slot at UC Berkeley’s startup accelerator SkyDeck and is now producing TINE Tags that can be stuck on anything from a resume sent to a hiring exec to a birthday present to add a personal happy birthday song. The company has raised close to $1 million, including investments from a former Goldman Sachs partner, and Founder.org, a nonprofit run by Michael Baum, founding CEO of Splunk.

With that support, Thairani and the TINE team is focused on growing the company.  “One of the reasons I came to Haas was entrepreneurship—to meet the people and gain the skills I needed to form a company,” says Thairani. “It worked out perfectly.”

 

Honeit
Nick Livingston, EWMBA 14
Co-founder and CEO
After spending 10 years on all sides of the recruiting industry, Nick Livingston understood the frustrations of trying to interview and hire effectively from hundreds of resumes: You miss potential job candidates who are weeded out by keyword. You lack the time or resources to screen all candidates who could potentially be great.

“Most companies today are adamant about hiring for soft skills and culture fit,” says Livingston, the former director of global recruiting for TubeMogul, the digital branding company founded at Haas. “They are looking for talent that is enthusiastic, passionate, and well-spoken, but 85 to 90 percent of applicants are declined before any of those competencies can be considered.”

To address these pain points, Livingston founded Honeit with senior engineers James Craft and Kim Duong, who shared his frustration with today’s interview process.

The company developed a real-time live interview platform that helps agency and in-house recruiters streamline the candidate screening and submittal process.

Here’s how it works: Recruiters use the system to conduct live interviews with job applicants. Recruiters can then share recorded highlights from the calls with clients and hiring managers, to give them a better sense of the candidate’s enthusiasm, personality, and professional aptitude. “This has the potential to be a real game-changer in time and costs for companies” Livingston says.

Job seekers can also leverage Honeit’s Interview Marketplace to book industry experts, who will conduct realistic “mock” interviews that can be used to help attract potential employers during their own job searches.

The company—currently part of SkyDeck, UC Berkeley’s startup accelerator—secured $120,000 in startup funding and is now preparing for a seed round, Livingston says. It’s also partnered with the Hult Business School, and General Assembly, a programming, business and design boot camp. These platform partnerships allow students to conduct interviews with university’s alumni to help their graduates get hired.

One of the most valuable resources for Honeit, Livingston says, is SkyDeck. “Through SkyDeck we have access to great advisors who answer questions we might not be able to ask typical investors. That’s a pretty powerful resource.”

-Karen Sorensen and Laura Counts

Student Startup Roundup: Twindom, Wetravel.to and Lend Me Your Literacy

This is part of an occasional series of articles spotlighting students who are juggling their studies with starting a new business or social enterprise. – See more at: https://newsroom.haas.berkeley.edu/article/student-startup-roundup-brandizi-teaman-and-volunteer-forever#sthash.eFzVoafP.dpuf
This is part of an occasional series of articles spotlighting students who are juggling their studies with starting a new business or social enterprise. – See more at: https://newsroom.haas.berkeley.edu/article/student-startup-roundup-brandizi-teaman-and-volunteer-forever#sthash.eFzVoafP.dpuf
This is part of an occasional series of articles spotlighting students who are juggling their studies with starting a new business or social enterprise. – See more at: https://newsroom.haas.berkeley.edu/article/student-startup-roundup-brandizi-teaman-and-volunteer-forever#sthash.eFzVoafP.dpuf

This is part of an occasional series of articles spotlighting students who are juggling their studies with starting a new business or social enterprise.

3D World

Co-founders Richard Berwick and David Pastewka, both BS 12; Will Drevno, BS 12 (UC Berkeley College of Engineering)
Twindom

When Richard Berwick, David Pastewka, and Will Drevno met in an application development class at UC Berkeley in 2011, it wasn’t long before they were discussing how they could take emerging 3D printing technology and turn it into a business.

First, they focused on a 3D printing vending machine they called Dreambox. But that soon morphed into a new venture—creating 3D miniature figurines of real people.

“We tested an alpha version of the product and did over $3,000 in sales in just two days,” Berwick said. “From that test, we realized there was a significant market for (3D) Twins.”

The founders credit Skydeck, UC Berkeley’s startup accelerator, with helping to get the new company, Twindom, off the ground. “I believe that without Skydeck, Twindom would not be close to where it is today,” Berwick says. “SkyDeck is a phenomenal program with an outstanding management team.” Twindom is funded by venture capitalists, including Tim Draper.

The company’s miniature figurines, which are created after a photo session and cost between $39 and $399 each, “evoke a stronger emotional connection than a traditional photograph can,” Berwick says. The company targets events including birthdays, graduations, and weddings. At fairs and conventions like FanimeCon, an annual anime convention, Twindom scans people in costume.

Twindom will soon launch a faster scanner at two shopping malls, and then plans to franchise its system nationwide. It’s also planning to expand into personalized 3D avatars for use in e-cards, video games, clothing fitting/sizing markets – and more.

Berwick says his Berkeley-Haas undergrad education provided a foundation for running a successful business. “More importantly, it’s taught me to focus on the larger picture, as well as the minute details,” he says. “I regularly apply concepts I learned in my classes.”

Trustworthy Travel

Johannes Koeppel, founder, and Casey Lord, CFO, both MBA 15
Wetravel.to

Johannes Koeppel was visiting Kerala, India, when he met a tour guide named Sabu, who was leading a group of Swiss travelers on a highly-personalized trip.  Sabu, who arranges tours of his native India from his home in Switzerland, told Koeppel that gaining travelers’ trust is an ongoing challenge.

Sabu’s story became the inspiration behind Wetravel.to, an online group travel marketplace offering trips organized by local travel gurus. Wetravel.to helps address the main pain points of tour guides: payment collection, marketing and communication. In standardizing these features, the company provides a level of trust for guides and their customers, Koeppel says.

Koeppel says he realized early on that Haas student treks are very similar to the type of tours Wetravel.to offers, so the company started focusing on MBA programs for its go-to-market strategy.

When Wetravel.to recently offered a beta version of its service, travelers used the platform to organize $38,000 worth of trips in three weeks. After the successful beta, several MBA programs approached the company, which now has dedicated websites for two other schools, Koeppel says.

The Wetravel.to team now includes seven people, including Berkeley MBA student Casey Lord. The company’s platform offers pictures of travel destinations, videos and messaging functions. It also provides escrow and payment collection.

Wetravel.to has received $30,000 in early angel funding and a similar amount from awards and fellowships, including the Hansoo Lee Fellowship for Berkeley MBA students.

Koeppel says he is taking advantage of his time at Haas to improve the service, bringing Wetravel into any class project possible. He says he also finds student networking and events at the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship to be highly useful.

Building Literacy

Jon Smith, MBA 15, co-founder and CEO
LendMeYourLiteracy

 

Declining literacy remains a serious a problem faced by many countries. In the United Kingdom, for example, a 20 percent illiteracy rate costs the economy billions annually, according to Berkeley MBA student Jon Smith who co-founded LendMeYourLiteracy, a startup that aims to reduce the problem.

The idea for the company began in 2011 when three teachers, including Smith’s brother, created a blog that showcased children’s writing. It quickly went viral as a teaching resource.

“We soon realized that the true beneficiaries were the children. They loved getting comments and having an audience for their writing,” says Smith, who is currently on exchange at Haas from the London Business School. “We started receiving worldwide testimonials from teachers telling us what a positive impact LMYL was having on literacy standards in their classrooms.”

Smith and his LMYL co-founders developed a business model around the idea, and he now leads a team of 14 employees.

To date, 13,000 LMYL children have received more than two million views of their writing from 190 countries, he reports.  In addition, the company offers premium products and services for schools, such as customized online portfolios, teacher training, and children’s writing workshops.

During a recent crowdfunding round, the company brought in $277,000 from more than 90 investors. LMYL has also received several awards, including the Audience Award in the 2014 EMEA regional finals of the Global Social Venture Competition.

The company’s goal is to publish the work of 50,000 child authors and earn $1.5 million in revenue in the 2014-15 academic year.

At Haas, Smith is enjoying classes on social media and business model innovation. “Both have very practical applications on what we need to do to grow faster,” he says. “At Haas I have also met many people interested in entrepreneurship, so there’s a great opportunity to exchange ideas and learn from what others are doing.”

See more at: https://newsroom.haas.berkeley.edu/article/student-startup-roundup-brandizi-teaman-and-volunteer-forever

 

 

Student Startup Roundup: Brandizi, Teaman, and Volunteer Forever

This is part of an occasional series of articles spotlighting students who are juggling their studies with starting a new business or social enterprise.

BrandiziSoftware Pivots
Kim Cabot, MBA 14
Co-founder, Brandizi

As a marketing director at a big company, Kim Cabot used to think about all the ways she could improve communication. The company worked in silos, with everyone running their own email and social media campaigns. “Things were inefficient and (software) tools were expensive,” she says.

Cabot’s idea for Brandizi slowly took shape.

By the time she started at Haas, Cabot had co-founded Brandizi with her husband, who earned his MBA at Babson College, and was a half-million lines of code into building new software.

Yet during Sara Beckman’s Problem Finding, Problem Solving class, Cabot realized that her product, designed without potential users’ feedback, “was not going to happen the way we were building it.” Cabot was accepted into the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Program overseen by the Haas School’s Lester Center for Entrepreneurship.

“We told Lester Center Director Andre Marquis, ‘We’re a little backward. We have something built and now we have to figure out if anyone wants it and for what,” she says. That wasn’t all that unusual among entrepreneurs, she discovered.

During the I-Corps Program, the Brandizi team found the product wasn’t a perfect fit with marketing managers. They told the team to take it to sales managers, who rely heavily on email and social media. “Sales managers said, ‘This is great. It helps me sell,’” she recalls.

The product automates and improves email, social media, and other communication streams between a company and client during the sales cycle and ongoing company relationship.

“We’re adding customers all the time now,” Cabot says, “and learning that the customer discovery process never ends—we have I-Corps to thank for that.”

Brandizi currently has 25 customers, who typically have about 10 users each, and has raised $1 million in angel funding.

Now Cabot is working with entrepreneurship lecturer Dave Charron, MBA 95, in independent study. “He’s been amazing,” she says. “He’s super smart. He can listen to anyone talk about their company in any industry, and he just gets the weak link.”

The best advice Cabot received from Charron: "Don’t be afraid to ask for more money for your product. And think big.”

TeamanA Real Gem
Alastair Trueger, MBA 15
Co-founder, Teaman & Company

Alastair Trueger co-founded Teaman & Company to bring fine gemstones and luxury, custom-made jewelry to a market beyond the very wealthy.

Based in San Francisco, Teaman & Company was recently accepted into 500 Startups, an incubator program in Silicon Valley that provides early-stage companies with up to $250,000 in funding. “It’s exciting,” Trueger says. “It shows that we have traction and we’re doing interesting stuff.”

Teaman’s products range from $30 gemstones like the aquamarine to a $17,500 raspberry-pink Tourmaline ring from Brazil. “There’s an entire world of stunning gemstones beyond diamonds that most people have never heard about,” says Trueger, who stresses that Teaman sells only ethically sourced and conflict-free jewelry.

The company is tapping the cutting-edge technology to introduce the world to these gems. Customers worldwide can create their own jewelry designs, and Teaman then sends them a model created using a 3D printer to review before the final product is created.

Trueger began working on the company last July with his co-founder, Chloe Alpert, a certified gemologist who was raised in the jewelry industry. The two met in London, where Trueger previously lived. (He’s American and British and has worked in India and the Philippines.)

A vast support network at Haas has helped Trueger navigate his job at Teaman, he says, citing classes in leadership and operations and valuable feedback from Professor Toby Stewart, faculty director of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship, and Haas Lecturer Rob Chandra, a senior adviser to Bessemer Partners.

The company’s first sale? An engagement ring for a classmate. “She’s been a fantastic evangelist for us,” Trueger says.

Volunteer Forever LogoHelping Volunteers Abroad
Kelly Ling and Steve Weddle, both MBA 15, Co-founders
Volunteer Forever

Like many startups, Volunteer Forever emerged to solve the pain points of its co-founders. Both Steven Weddle and Kelly Ling had volunteered abroad, Weddle in India and Ling in Costa Rica, and found the experience expensive and a bit unnerving.

“I was more nervous landing in New Delhi than when I landed in Afghanistan with the Air Force a few years back,” says Weddle, who served in the Air Force for seven years.

After paying $2,000 for airfare, travel, and insurance, he wasn’t sure the organization he’d volunteered to work for was legitimate, or whether anyone would even pick him up at the airport. Nonetheless, he says, his three weeks working in an orphanage for children with HIV/ AIDS turned out to be remarkable.

Still, Weddle couldn’t stop thinking about how to make the experience easier for others. After meeting Ling at the start of the MBA program, the pair began discussing a Kickstarter-like platform that could be used by individuals who want to raise money to cover the costs of their trips, coupled with Trip Advisory-style program reviews for potential volunteers to read about the experience of others.

Since coming out of beta in fall 2013, Volunteer Forever now receives 50,000 visits a month and has about 3,000 users. Collectively, volunteers have raised well over $500,000 to travel largely to Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central America. Volunteer Forever makes money by collecting 5 percent of each donation and will soon earn revenue through advertisements from international volunteer organizations.

Sara Beckman’s Problem Finding, Problem Solving class helped Ling and Weddle to think more about how other people understood their idea and to consider designing it in ways not done before.

They also entered the Global Social Venture Competition and UC Berkeley Startup Competition to seek feedback from users and investors with a potential cash prize.

Student Startup Roundup

This is part of an occasional series of articles spotlighting students who are juggling their studies with starting a new business or nonprofit venture.

 

If the Shirt Fits…
Parag Jhaverie, Full-time MBA 15
Co-Founder, Hucklebury

Hucklebury Logo

Parag Jhaveri started Hucklebury in 2012 with co-founder Dhawal Shah with an idea to apply a crowdsourcing model to manufacture premium menswear. They wanted to design and make a great-fitting shirt without leaving the U.S. for manufacturing—and sell the shirts directly to customers.

On Tuesday, Oct. 15, the pair will launch a Kickstarter campaign intended to raise $20,000 to start work at a factory near Washington, D.C. that already makes clothes for stores including Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Jhaveri’s interest in the industry began at a young age in Mumbai, India, where his mother ran a factory that manufactured men’s and women’s scarves and shirts. His engineering background helped him use Six Sigma and lean manufacturing to develop Hucklebury’s crowd-sourcing business model.

A case study at Haas about Spanish retail giant Inditex and its biggest brand, Zara, clarified Jhaveri’s entrepreneurial vision and influenced the company’s decision to let customers choose what Hucklebury makes.

“My first-year operations class at Haas, taught by Pnina Feldman, helped me to understand how Zara was bringing offline efficiencies online,” Jhaveri says, noting that Inditex uses feedback from Zara store managers to update the brand’s fashions twice a week.

Hucklebury (the name is a twist on Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn) cuts out the middleman by buying 100 percent Egyptian cotton milled in Italy directly and makes better-fitting shirts with less fabric around the chest, armhole and waist. The high-end shirts will cost $78 each if Hucklebury meets its Kickstarter goal—a bargain that Jhaveri hopes will draw buyers, shirt by shirt.

 

Fits to a T
Shawn Sheikh, BS 15

Founder, The Hamper

The Hamper LogoShawn Sheikh bootstrapped his third venture, The Hamper, with profits from two previous startups, Structured Designs, which he started as a high school sophomore, and HotelsNThings, which he launched as a Berkeley undergrad.

With The Hamper, Sheikh and his 10-person team are turning their startup efforts toward direct philanthropy. Shiekh says he has always been inspired by his mother, who with her nine siblings fled from Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge as a child, and later sent food and money back to Cambodia. His father, a Pakistan native, worked at a health clinic that his family ran for the poor.

When Sheikh started The Hamper, he launched a Facebook site committed to selling t-shirts on behalf of a different cause each week. Sheikh donated $7 per shirt sold. The Hamper’s tagline: Cleaning up the world, one shirt at a time.

Now he is revamping its business model, looking at partnering directly with charities run by other young entrepreneurs. One possible new venture would use apparel sales profits to directly fund a new school in Ghana, Sheikh says.

Charitable groups Sheikh has reached out to at Berkeley have been “awesome,” he adds. Haas offers so much to student entrepreneurs, he says, and he gives back by mentoring students and investing in smaller ventures. “I really believe in the power of student leadership, innovation, and entrepreneurship.”

 

Brain Candy for Kids
Tavis McGinn, Evening & Weekend MBA 15
VP of Marketing, Kizoom

Kizoom CharacterAfter 10 years of management consulting and marketing experience, Tavis McGinn decided to change his focus toward kids’ play—and learning.

McGinn is vice president of marketing for Kizoom, which recently received a $500,000 National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant that the startup will use to make software that helps children “know and grow their brains.”

Kizoom was co-founded by neuroscientist Erica Warp and Web designer and developer Jessica Voytek, both Berkeley grads, who raised $26,370 on Kickstarter last year. Kizoom used the money to roll out an ebook called The Adventures of Ned the Neuron for the iPad. It was a great idea, but a niche product looking for a market, McGinn says.

Warp, who created Ned for kids ages 7 to 11, started looking for a marketing exec to help commercialize the firm’s future ideas. She met McGinn in January at UC Berkeley’s Bplan Competition, which mixes students from Berkeley’s different schools and departments.

The two clicked and McGinn joined Kizoom. Now, the company is testing new brain-related apps and ideas with students—such as Brain Jump with Ned the Neuron—using Haas Lecturer Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad model to figure out what works. Blank’s framework focuses entrepreneurs on developing business models, rather than business plans, and on iterating their models quickly and frequently while engaging and learning from more than 100 customers.

“We’re in a stage now where we are throwing pasta at the wall to see what sticks,” McGinn says. “We’re using the Lean LaunchPad method of letting our customers guide us.”

Studying and Launching Simultaneously: Student Startup Roundup

From a global crowdfunding platform to a $2.4 million waste-to-food mushroom business to a school lunch program in dozens of cities, Berkeley-Haas has produced a number of successful startups that have attracted the attention of such media giants as the Washington Post, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Sunset magazine.

Juggling study groups with venture planning has become increasingly popular as the pace of innovation and entrepreneurship grows ever-more rapid. “The best way to create entrepreneurial leaders is to give them the experience of building startups while they are here,” said Andre Marquis, executive director of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship, in the latest issue of BerkeleyHaas magazine.

To highlight student entrepreneurs at Haas who are doing just that, we are launching an occasional series of articles about student ventures called "Student Startup Roundup." Here is our first installment: a look at three student entrepreneurs in the Undergrad, Full-time, and Evening & Weekend MBA programs:

Evening & Weekend MBA Program: Gaurav Agarwal, CEO and co-founder, Traverie

Gaurav Agarwal, MBA 13, and partners Jimming Chen and Tiffany Yang launched Traverie, an interactive magazine, to make travel decisions easier and even more appealing. Users connect through Facebook for inspiration and recommendations from friends. The venture recently placed second in the Student Startup Madness tournament at South by Southwest, emerging from a field of 64 startup teams.

Launched this past November, Traverie is currently focused on growing its user base and developing partnerships.  Agarwal says classes such as Problem Finding Problem Solving and New Venture Finance, along with the Lester Center’s Startup Board of Mentors Program and the UC Berkeley Startup Competition, have all greatly contributed to the team’s success. “At Haas I’ve learned how to create a business out of an idea and how to build a strong team, which is the most important asset in a knowledge company.”

Full-time MBA Program: Jane Buescher, GM and co-founder, RockIT Recruiting

A tip from an alum from her undergrad alma mater (Duke) steered Jane Buescher, MBA 13, into the recruiting business with founding partner Cody Voellinger. The two friends had longstanding plans to launch a venture together, along with combined expertise in corporate recruiting (Voellinger) and corporate finance, risk management, and operations (Buescher). After the alum suggested that the Bay Area had a big need for efficient and effective matching of talent to need, the pair founded RockIt to help Bay Area startups build and grow their engineering teams.

Launched in June 2011, the company is currently working to meet the talent needs of about 50 Bay Area startups through a mix of high-tech tools and a high-touch approach. The firm engages in activities such as trivia nights and hackathons to meet and support the developer community. The six RockIT team members also host “Careers Lunched,” an initiative in which RockIT team members take an engineer to lunch (more than 500 so far) to expand their knowledge of engineer skills sets and interests beyond what is on a resume. Noting that a lot of its startup clients boast company T-shirts or track suits, RockIT decided to complement the mix with a trademark headband.

Undergraduate Program: Jacob Park, Chief Marketing Officer and Co-Founder, Jellycoaster

Jacob Park, BS 14, is co-founder of a mobile application developer named Jellycoaster, whose first product, Buddy Up, has gained 200,000 users (mainly in South Korea) since its launch in June. The startup has raised $800,000 in seed funding from two South Korean VC investors: POSCO Venture Partners and SBC Ventures. The app helps users capture and record moments with friends; earn badges for activities such as coffee, movies, and working out; and identify their pals of choice through a leader board.

The idea for Buddy Up came when the founders realized that in our world today, virtually anything is searchable on the Internect except one's memories. Park's co-founders are CEO Daniel Joo and Chief Strategic Joseph Shin, currently a visiting researcher at Haas

"Coming to the Haas School of Business is probably the best decision that we’ve ever made for our company," says Park. "From numerous Lester Center of Entrepreneurship-sponsored guest speaker series and entrepreneur network events to the extensive alumni network in the tech industry, we were able to develop relationships with individuals that have been a significant help to the development of Buddy Up."

"A newly launched database of UC Berkeley alumni network called @cal allowed us to reach out to the alumni’s in the leading technology companies, including Twitter, Google, and Facebook. As we frequently visit these companies, we are able to sit down with engineers to gain valuable feedback to improve Buddy Up," Park adds.

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