Berkeley Haas to offer new master’s degree in business and climate solutions

many students sitting in a classroom wiht professor at the front of the room
Senior Lecturer Andrew Isaacs teaches the Climate Change and Business Strategy class at Haas, which just launched a concurrent MBA/Master in Climate Solutions degree. Photo: Jim Block

The Haas School of Business and the Rausser College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley have launched a concurrent MBA/Master of Climate Solutions (MCS) degree program to prepare the next generation of sustainability and climate leaders.

The new program, enrolling for fall 2024, will allow full-time MBA students to earn both a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Climate Solutions degree in five semesters, or two-and-a-half years. The application deadlines for the first MBA/MCS cohorts are January 4, 2024, and March 28, 2024.

The MBA/MCS degree is designed for early-career professionals who plan to take their careers to a higher level of business leadership, grounded in understanding of sustainability and climate change challenges and opportunities. 

Berkeley Haas Dean Ann Harrison said the new program will draw from the strength of both schools, allowing students to learn from some of the world’s top minds in climate change, sustainability, and business. 

“Future business leaders will require a depth of training in both business and climate change to work across disciplines and execute competitive strategies,” Harrison said. “This new program will provide a breadth of skill sets, equipping our grads to lead in building a sustainable, low-carbon future.” 

“Future business leaders will require a depth of training in both business and climate change to work across disciplines and execute competitive strategies.” — Haas Dean Ann Harrison.

The program aims to develop critical skills and knowledge in climate data science, carbon accounting, and lifecycle analysis, as well as technological and nature-based solutions.

Students in the MBA/MCS cohort will spend the first year completing MBA core coursework at Haas before moving to classes at Rausser.  The rigorous MBA curriculum includes courses in leadership, marketing, management, finance, data analysis, ethics, and macroeconomics, along with sustainability courses. 

Doubling down on sustainability

Under Harrison’s leadership, Haas has doubled down on sustainability through the creation of the Office of Sustainability and Climate Change and by revamping all of the MBA core courses to incorporate thinking about climate change and other sustainability challenges.

The new MBA/MCS degree program follows Rausser’s launch of its new Master of Climate Solutions degree. MCS courses will translate the fundamental science and groundbreaking discoveries of UC Berkeley experts, enabling professionals to learn how to evaluate technologies, develop just climate strategies, and remove barriers to implementing practical climate solutions. The MCS core curriculum includes teaching in the climate and environmental sciences, climate economics and policies, technological, business and nature-based solutions, training in analytical and quantitative skills, and applied exercises and engagements that emphasize adaptive thinking and problem-solving.

“The Master of Climate Solutions represents a critical step forward in expanding the interdisciplinary and highly interconnected community of practitioners needed to solve the climate crisis,” said David Ackerly, dean of UC Berkeley’s Rausser College of Natural Resources. “Students in the concurrent program will be able to leverage the critical climate knowledge and tools taught in the MCS, as well as the leadership and business skills that are core to Haas.”

“Haas and Rausser both have such impressive track records in climate research,”  added Michele de Nevers, managing director of the Office of Sustainability and Climate Change at Haas. “This program combines our offerings at the master’s level, with a keen focus on professional students, who are clearly positioned to make an immediate impact, and who serve a critical role as translators of academic insights and enacting these insights in the world.”

Addressing the Climate Challenge

All MBA/MCS students will participate in a semester-long capstone program that gives students the opportunity to partner with organizations operating across the business, government, and non-profit sectors. A unique leadership course on organizational, political, and societal change for climate solutions will prepare students to be change agents and leaders in businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies. 

“New research on climate solutions is still critical, but we already know many of the things we need to do to address the climate challenge,” said James Sallee, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and faculty director of the MCS program. “What we really need are people spread throughout society and the economy who are in a position to take action on climate, and who are equipped with the tools to make the right choices. Educating those students is the vision of the MCS program.”

Summer internships are also crucial to the MBA/MCS program. Students will complete two summer internships, which will allow for deep immersion in different disciplines and more time to build relationships.

Haas now has four dual degree programs, including the MBA/MPH (public health), the MBA/MEng (engineering), and the MBA/JD (law).

Cutting-edge climate tech takes the stage at 2023 C2M Climate Tech Summit

The C2M summit, held at Spieker Forum in Chou Hall on Dec. 1, brought together eight UC Berkeley graduate student teams (including many Berkeley Haas MBA students). All photos: Jim Block

Promising climate technologies that address everything from water desalination to Earth element extraction to lightening-fast battery charging took center stage at the 2023 Cleantech to Market (C2M) Climate Tech Summit.

The summit, held at Spieker Forum in Chou Hall on Dec. 1, brought together eight UC Berkeley graduate student teams who presented their findings from a year’s work on entrepreneurial projects for C2M company founders. Each team spent nearly 1,000 hours working with founders, assessing new technologies, and investigating paths to commercialization. 

Brian Steel, co-director of the C2M program, which is part of the Energy Institute at Haas, called this year’s summit the most successful to date and reflected on C2M’s growth since its 2008 founding. 

“One of the things that’s so energizing for us as faculty is that the students come to us now with such wonderful depth and breadth of knowledge because cleantech has been around for so long. We feel so fortunate that the world has caught up with the sustainability work we have been doing for 15 years.”

One of the things that’s so energizing for us as faculty is that the students come to us now with such wonderful depth and breadth of knowledge because cleantech has been around for so long. — C2M co-director Brian Steel.

A total of $70,000 in MetLife Climate Solution Awards was awarded to three startups, who were supported by three C2M teams. The three teams honored during the summit were:

  • ChemFinity Technologies, which produces high-performing, highly modular porous polymer materials, won $40,000. The team included Chris Burke, MBA 24; Ethan Pezoulas, PhD 26 (chemistry); Kosuke “Taka” Takaishi, MBA 24; Matt Witkin, MBA 24; Mingxin Jia, PhD 24 (mechanical engineering); and Peter Pang, MBA 24. (The team also received the annual Hasler Cleantech to Market Award, given to the audience favorite.)

    Left to right: Kosuke “Taka” Takaishi, MBA 24, explains the catalytic converter recycling process alongside PhD student Ethan Pezoulas and Matt Witkin, MBA 24.


    The students worked with Brooklyn-based ChemFinity co-founders CEO Adam Uliana and CTO Ever Velasquez, both PhD 22 (chemical engineering). Uliana described the membrane filters the company built as “atomic catchers mitts that are designed to capture just one type of molecule and can be used to tackle water desalination or mineral recovery.”

    Witkin, who worked in economic consulting on decarbonization projects before coming to Haas, said that he mentioned Cleantech to Market in his application essay, as “the perfect course where I could help these innovative climate companies find and scale their impact.”

    “It was an honor working alongside Adam from ChemFinity and my C2M classmates as we considered how ChemFinity could apply and grow its impressive separation technology,” Witkin said.

    six haas students wearing suits in front of a large check
    The first-place ChemFinity team: (left to right) Chris Burke, MBA 24, Kosuke “Taka” Takaishi, MBA 24, Mingxin Jia, PhD 24 (mechanical engineering), Peter Pang, MBA 24, Matt Witkin, MBA 24, Ethan Pezoulas, PhD 26 (chemistry).
  • REEgen, which works to reduce the environmental impact of rare Earth element production, which won $20,000. The team included Carlos Vial, MBA 24; Francisco Aguilar Cisneros, MPP 24; Jeffrey Harris, MBA 24; Kelly McGonigle, MBA 24; Orion Cohen, PhD 24 (physical chemistry); and Sho Tatsuno, MBA 24 (MBA Exchange Program, Columbia Business School). The United States now imports more than 80% of its rare earth needs from China, said Alexa Schmitz, CEO of Ithaca, NY-based REEgen. REEgen is creating a new kind of rare Earth element production using bacteria to leach, recover, and purify rare Earth elements domestically.

    six students wearing business suits holding a large check
    Team REEgen: (left to right) Francisco Aguilar, MPP24, Sho Tatsuno, MBA 24, Orion Cohen,  PhD 24, Kelly McGonigle, MBA 24, Jeffrey Harris, MBA 24, and Carlos Vial, MBA 24.
  • Tyfast, a battery technology startup, which won $10,000. The team included Ankita Singh, EWMBA 24; Erik Better, MBA 24; Nicholas Landgraf, EWMBA 24; and Sterling Root, EWMBA 25. Tyfast builds high-performance lithium ion batteries “to make diesel engines obsolete in construction equipment,” said Tyfast CEO GJ la O’, BS 01, (materials science & engineering). San Mateo-based Tyfast uses a raw material that enables a new class of rechargeable battery, promising to deliver 10 times the power and cycle life with energy density exceeding commercial lithium iron phosphate (LFP) technology.
four students wearing business suits holding a large check
Team Tyfast: (left to right) Erik Better, MBA 24, Nick Landgraf, EWMBA 24, Ankita Singh, EWMBA 24, Sterling Root, EWMBA 25.

Steel said he’s grateful to all of those who support the program, in particular the C2M alumni who return to Haas to serve as coaches, mentors, judges, or speakers—or just to enjoy being a part of the audience.

This year’s event kicked off with speaker Ryan Hanley, C2M 10 and MBA 11, the founder and CEO of Equilibrium Energy, a 100-employee climate technology startup. Barbara Burger, MBA 94, energy director, advisor, and innovator, and former president of Chevron Technology Ventures, also joined a fireside chat with Harshita Mira Venkatesh, MBA 11, who participated in C2M in 2020 and is one of the first business fellows at Breakthrough Energy, founded by Bill Gates in 2015.

“It’s always gratifying to have alumni who were on stage last year come back to support this year’s teams,” Steel said. “People who have been coming to the summit for years appreciate that we keep raising the bar: that our students’ presentations keep getting better and better. It’s very rewarding to have that acknowledgement and appreciation.”

Ginny Whitelow, a director at MetLife, worked with the C2M program as a mentor. “These UC Berkeley students have been so amazing to partner with and have given me an added sense of purpose in my work at MetLife that goes beyond my day to day job,” she said. 

Berkeley Haas launches new Climate Solutions Fund 

Aerial view of a massive array of solar panels
An aerial view of Dominion Energy’s Scott Solar farm in Powhatan, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The Haas School of Business is launching the first student-led Climate Solutions Fund, the latest addition to its comprehensive curriculum to equip the next generation of business leaders with the financial skills to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Beginning in fall 2024, MBA students can enroll in a new course where they serve as investment managers for the $2.37 million fund, learning how to structure financing in complex private markets by co-investing in real-world deals focused on solutions to climate change.

“As the world moves toward a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, we need financial leaders with the skills to navigate the economic revolution we are facing,” says Professor Adair Morse, co-founder of the Sustainable and Impact Finance Center (SAIF), who conceived of the fund and will lead the course. “This economic revolution will be staggeringly disruptive yet will also be a source of more business opportunities across all parts of the country than we’ve seen in 250 years.”

“As the world moves toward a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, we need financial leaders with the skills to navigate the economic revolution we are facing.” —Professor Adair Morse

The new fund was made possible by a lead gift from Allan Holt, MBA 76, along with generous founding donations from Larry Johnson, BS 72, Charlie Michaels, BS 78, and his wife Doris, Scott Pinkus, and Professor Laura D. Tyson, former Haas dean and co-founder of SAIF.

“I am thrilled to help Haas take the lead in training leaders in the emerging area of climate finance,” says Holt, a Senior Partner and Managing Director of The Carlyle Group. “Decarbonizing our economy is the critical issue of our time, and I am committed to supporting future leaders who can spur this transition.”

“Decarbonizing our economy is the critical issue of our time, and I am committed to supporting future leaders who can spur this transition.” —Allan Holt, MBA 76

The multi-asset class private Climate Solutions Fund augments Haas’ unique curriculum under SAIF, which teaches investment management with hands-on experiential learning. It rounds out the public markets-focused Sustainable Investment Fund—the first and the largest student-led sustainable investing fund within a leading business school—and the Haas Impact Fund, a seed/startup capital offering.

A new area of finance

The Climate Solutions Fund curriculum will teach students new designs and uses of finance not traditionally taught in mainstream finance courses, where there are dire needs for leadership, according to  Morse, who saw the need for this financial expertise while serving as deputy assistant secretary of Capital Access in the U.S. Department of the Treasury from 2021-23.

Financing the climate transition requires a diverse and technical tool kit: An estimated $4 trillion to $5 trillion per year will be needed to reshape global energy, transportation, food, and waste infrastructure, and to help companies reinvent supply chains and integrate new technologies, Morse says. 

This level of reinvestment will require every finance tool available, including designing financial structures to mobilize government programs and work with community and industry partners,” she says. “Our goal is to expand how we teach students to provide the leadership and expertise that corporations, financial entities, startups, governments, and philanthropies will need to navigate this transition.”

This level of reinvestment will require every finance tool available, including designing financial structures to mobilize government programs and work with community and industry partners.” —Professor Adair Morse

The fund, and the associated MBA course, are the first at a major business school to focus on complex financing strategies within private markets, including growth equity and debt equity; public-private partnerships with federal and state programs; risk mitigation; identifying the underlying technologies to fuel the low-carbon transition; and envisioning new financial products.   

Students enrolled in the Climate Solutions Fund course will assess investment opportunities in U.S.–based for-profit companies, working with outside investment partners to structure deals. Following a pitch competition, student managers will select one finalist to co-invest $100,000 to $300,000 annually. The fund is intended to generate positive returns over time so that future generations of students can build off the capital.

Stock photo of a biogas plant and farm (Adobe Stock)

Comprehensive curriculum

In addition to the “fund-as-curriculum” courses, SAIF also offers other applied innovation courses such as the Impact and Climate Investing Practicum, where faculty guide small teams of MBA students who are paired with impact investing firms to to gain hands-on experience with impact investing strategy, mapping, and measurement projects.

The courses count toward the Michael’s Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Business. Open to both full-time and evening and weekend MBA students, the certificate requires 9 units of required coursework. Students can create a pathway that’s focused on either bringing a sustainability lens to a mainstream business function or building expertise into a specific industry such as renewable energy or green infrastructure.

In addition to Morse, SAIF is led by Professor Panos Patatoukas, The L.H. Penney Chair in Accounting, and Tyson.

Five major areas of sustainability

The new Climate Solutions Fund is part of Haas’ larger effort to ensure that all students are educated in the fundamentals of sustainability. Haas launched the first student-managed SRI fund in the early 2000s and is now the only top business school to work across five major sustainable business areas: energy, sustainable agriculture and food, real estate and urban economics, corporate accountability, and sustainable finance and accounting.

The school has combined research on energy conservation and storage, building efficiency, renewable energy sources, and sustainable food with efforts to include climate and equity into the core business curriculum across all programs. All told, Haas offers more than 25 courses with a focus on sustainability.

For students planning careers in managing sustainability challenges in organizations, Haas is also planning to launch a new joint master’s program in 2024 with the Rausser College of Natural Resources to offer an MBA/MS in Climate Solutions. 

 

Professor David Vogel honored for lifetime achievement in research on government regulation

Professor Emeritus David Vogel, known internationally for his work on environmental policy and government regulation, has received a lifetime achievement award from the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) Standing Group of Regulatory Governance.

The award is given biennially to a scholar who has made a seminal contribution to the development of the field of regulatory studies. 

Prof. Emeritus David Vogel “As an American, it’s a great honor to have my work on regulation, much of which has focused on Europe, be recognized by an association of European scholars,” said Vogel.

Vogel, who holds the Soloman P. Lee Chair Emeritus in Business Ethics, has focused his career on subjects ranging from regulating health, safety, and environmental risks in Europe and the United States to global challenges in responsible business. He has examined the differences between environmental policy in the United States compared to that of the European Union. In his book, “The Politics of Precaution: Regulating, Health, Safety and Environmental Risks in Europe and the United States” (Princeton University Press, 2012), he decribed how the U.S. and the E.U. “flip-flopped their position in risk regulation: Whereas before the 1990s the US had often the stricter standards, nowadays EU standards are stricter in many instances,” said Professor Eva Ruffing of Germany’s Osnabrück University, in a speech presenting the award. 

Vogel is the author of eight other books, including “California Greenin’: How the Golden State Became an Environmental Leader” (Princeton University Press, 2018). Other books include: ; “Global Challenges in Responsible Business” (Cambridge University Press, 2010); and “The Market for Virtue: The Potential and Limits of Corporate Social Responsibility” (Brookings, 2005).

Vogel has taught both Ethics & Responsibility in Business at Haas and Public and Private Global Business Regulation at UC Berkeley. Since 1982, he has served as editor of Berkeley Haas’ management journal, The California Management Review. He has taught classes and lectured on environment management in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Why the tech layoffs offer opportunity for a reset: Q&A with Saikat Chaudhuri

Portrait of a man with glasses and blue suit jacket
Saikat Chaudhuri (Photo: Copyright Noah Berger)

While tech employment remains strong, a wave of layoffs is shaking up the industry. According to the tracking site layoffs.fyi, about 137,000 people have lost their jobs since layoffs started ticking up in May. 

To find out more about what is driving this shakeup, we spoke with Saikat Chaudhuri, faculty director of the Management, Entrepreneurship, & Technology (MET) Program and of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Hub. Chaudhuri, an expert on corporate growth and innovation, mergers and acquisitions, outsourcing, and technological disruption, says the upheaval offers the opportunity for a reset and a chance to pursue growth in emerging areas.

The economy and labor markets are going strong. So why are so many tech companies laying off workers? 

Many people are confounding two different things. We should not mix up the events specific to the tech industry with all the other issues that are going on in the broader economy due to the challenges of macroeconomic shocks, like Russia’s war on Ukraine, the aftereffects of the pandemic including supply chain problems, and the general inflationary pressures. The technology industry is also affected by those events, but there are additionally more fundamental factors at play.

“I am not worried about the jobs coming back. What we are seeing are structural changes. The jobs will be shifting, and will grow in up-and-coming areas.”

What’s happening in the tech industry is really a natural shakeout after over a decade of phenomenal growth. It is not unlike when the dotcom bubble burst in 2001. The sector was overheated and it could not continue as it had. The same is true now, as many startup and unicorn valuations skyrocketed over the last years, especially because the pandemic accelerated the growth to record levels as the deployment of technology and digital transformation became necessary everywhere. On the bright side, it’s actually not all bad. While I recognize that layoffs are painful for many people right now, the industry as a whole needs this adjustment to bring us to a path of more sustainable economic growth in tech. Because what was happening, especially with hiring over the last few years, was just completely unrealistic.

Meta laid off 11,000 workers in November, or about 13% of its workforce. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

How did we get here?

During the pandemic, we went more digital. People worked remotely and they could work from anywhere—Hawaii, the countryside, anywhere. Tech became a big factor as the economy shifted entirely online: online retail, online banking, online instruction, online meetings, online therapy. It brought significant disruption to all industries. 

We need to keep in mind that the pandemic was a different kind of economic crisis. Usually in an economic crisis, everybody loses, but that didn’t happen here. Some industries actually gained significantly, especially most of the technology sectors. The growth rate that they experienced, whether hardware, software, e-commerce, healthcare apps, fintech, crypto—you name it—was completely unsustainable. Just take a look at tech hiring last year: Tech job postings hit their peak in March 2022 and have been declining sharply since. We hit the point where the trend reverses. It was going to happen, either now or a year or two from now. It coincides with what’s going on in the overall economy and world politics, leading to a perfect storm. 

“Once that first domino falls, it is easy for others to follow.”

This situation also poses a great excuse for employers. They say: A recession is coming. I will have to let people go.” Once that first domino falls, it is easy for others to follow.

Are you saying there was an inflation of the workforce inside the tech industry?

Yes. The reason for this is very simple: You don’t get penalized for growing your workforce while the sector is growing so fast. Everybody knows it will have to stop at some point, but there’s no penalty for riding the wave. 

In fact, there’s a loss for your firm if you don’t ride the growth. If you said, “We should be more prudent because some sort of adjustment is going to happen,” there’d be no gain and you’d be losing out on the potential benefits—profits, funding, talent. Because when the correction happens, you can simply lay people off by the thousands. Two years later, the same people who got laid off will come back to the industry (whether at the same kinds of firms or new areas that emerge), and the same VCs will invest. There are no consequences for these actions. That’s just the way of Silicon Valley and the tech world, as they go through cycles. 

 

In November, Amazon cut its corporate workforce by 10,000 people. (AP File Photo by Michel Spingler)

Is this correction just a tightening of the belt, or is the industry reorganizing itself to make room for a new wave of technologies that require new skills or a reallocation of resources?

There will be some reorganization happening, because some areas are growing faster than others. For example, Amazon decided that not all of its devices are doing so well. Companies have been carrying losses in some areas for a while. But it didn’t matter because there was so much growth overall, and they didn’t want to miss out on that wave. It is not unlike the dotcom bubble, where for instance network equipment companies were investing in an array of optical networking products that never properly worked, because regular routers and switches were minting money. 

“A re-evaluation of talent needs will also play a role.”

Moreover, re-evaluation of talent needs will also play a role. I’ve been puzzled for a while about all the anxiety surrounding the shortage of software developers, and the salaries they were being offered in the mad scramble to secure such talent. So much basic programming work has become well-defined, codified, and routine that those skills can be learned at scale by a wider base of employees. If you think about it, thousands of software developers, even at companies like Microsoft and Google, are engaged to implement enhancements to products such as adjusting fonts or updating visuals or adding simple features—not product design or creation of new functionality. Those jobs don’t require computer science graduates, as IBM realized five years ago, when they began hiring non-college graduates with programming experience, at that time out of necessity. 

In fact, there are tools now that can automate basic code writing, which are already being deployed. It won’t stop there, because we now also have algorithms which can do many sophisticated tasks; just look at Open AI’s ChatGPT, which is writing essays, poems, lecture notes, speeches, and other creative pieces at the click of a button!

Why now? Is there anything in particular that started this domino effect this year? 

Now, with increased scrutiny from investors and others who look at a firm’s financial viability, this overstaffing approach is getting reined in. There have been excesses in view of rosy projections and seemingly limitless valuations. Now the bubble has popped, as it does in every tech cycle, and it’s been a great opportunity (and excuse) for firms to make adjustments, tighten their belts, and reduce their workforce.

photo of five students who won top award at C2M
The winning Cleantech to Market (C2M) teams celebrate after making their presentations on Dec. 2. C2M is a partnership between graduate students, startups, and industry professionals to help accelerate the commercialization of leading cleantech technologies. Over 15 weeks, each team and their subject matter experts spend nearly 1,000 hours assessing these leading-edge technologies and investigating a wide range of market opportunities.

Where do you see opportunities?

The next wave of growth will come from emerging sectors, like cleantech and green tech, new materials, breakthroughs in the life sciences, and novel products and services resulting from the maturation of general purpose technologies like AI. Just like the dotcom era was about the internet and all that it spawned—cloud services, big data, the internet of things, and other advances in information technology—there will be a wave of new technologies that will disrupt a lot of different sectors. 

In many industries, the disruption has just begun and exciting new transformations are taking place that’ll unfold over the next decade—whether in education, healthcare, finance, automobiles, or aerospace, just to name a few. I am not worried about the jobs coming back. What we are seeing are structural changes. The jobs will be shifting, and will grow in up-and-coming areas. 

“If I could give one piece of advice, it’s this: Don’t get sidetracked by group think and FOMO. To become a leader, you’ll need to be comfortable charting new paths and challenging conventional approaches.”

What does that mean for the students at Haas, and those considering an MBA? 

For our own graduates, it would be healthy to see this as an opportunity. The most entrepreneurial people are the ones who look at these situations and say, “Change is good, and uncertainty has two sides. It’s what creates the opportunity for new things.” 

Instead of defining your career in terms of a particular job at a particular company, you could think about which problem you want to solve. That is where you will find the opportunity to lead and to make a real impact. 

It’s great to aspire to work your way up to an executive job at a large firm, and many of our graduates will do that and be very successful. Others will go against the grain. They will be the ones we hear about, because they actually change how Goldman Sachs works or McKinsey works or Google works for the next era. And of course there will be the entrepreneurs who will pursue startups that will redefine entire industries. 

Take Stuart Bernstein, BS 86, former Goldman Sachs managing director and partner who shook up investment banking with his passion for clean energy and the environment. A true leader by definition changes things. That’s why we pay attention to them and learn from them.

A lot of our students come in wanting to make an impact early in their careers. What does it take to get there?

If I could give one piece of advice, it’s this: Don’t get sidetracked by group think and FOMO. To become a leader, you’ll need to be comfortable charting new paths and challenging conventional approaches. Leaders have confidence, without attitude—confidence in their vision and in their ability to make it happen, and the humility to learn and acknowledge challenges and risks.

The good news is, you don’t have to be born with it. An MBA program like Berkeley’s gives you the opportunity to develop that kind of confidence. You can train yourself to see the opportunity in ambiguity, embrace serendipity, and take intelligent risks. 

Along the way you also learn key the business skills—finance, marketing, management, operations, and so forth—that you will need as a leader. All that will help you develop this vision for your path to make an impact, and the confidence and network to make it happen. 

Winners of this month’s LAUNCH Startup Accelerator Demo Day.

What opportunities are there at Haas and Berkeley to get ahead of the next wave?

As part of our strategic priorities, we are building a new entrepreneurship hub at Haas that will be a game changer for our students and students across Berkeley. It will draw people from all over the campus. The great thing about Berkeley is that it has so many top-rated departments, and we will be able to bring them to one place to talk to each other and collaborate. So many of our Haas signature programs are about this kind of cross-pollination. Take Cleantech to Market’s partnership with the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, or the Berkeley Skydeck accelerator, or the dual degree programs we have with Public Health, Engineering, Law, and that we are developing with the Rausser College of Natural Resources. 

The most pressing problems of global society today require interdisciplinary perspectives. The hub we are developing will not only allow diverse people to connect, but it will provide them with the space and resources to create community, build their ventures, and be discovered by investors. What is novel is that we will not only support those who have a good sense of the entrepreneurial path, but also those who simply would like to be exposed to what it’s all about—the “entrepre-curious,” as we call them. And anyone from around the university will be able to drop in to simply ask an expert for guidance on how to navigate the vast innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem at Berkeley based on what they need.

“While the tech industry is doing a reset, it may be a great time for you to do a reset as well.”

What’s your big-picture advice?

Silicon Valley is our backyard. While the tech industry is doing a reset, it may be a great time for you to do a reset as well. Beef up your skills, develop your leadership potential, build your network, and embrace your inner entrepreneur.

RockCreek Founder Afsaneh Beschloss on the long-term value of impact investing

photo of Afseneh Beschloss
Afsaneh Beschloss

In a recent Dean’s Speaker Series talk, RockCreek founder and CEO Afsaneh Beschloss weighed in on the long-term goals of ESG and impact investing and how her firm allocates capital to diverse asset managers and underrepresented founders.

Global investment firm RockCreek holds $15 billion in assets to invest in a diverse portfolio that  integrates sustainability and inclusivity. “I like to call (our investment strategy) air, land, and water, because a lot of what we have all worked on traditionally is energy on land and food and agriculture,” she said during a fireside chat with Dean Ann Harrison. “But there’s also a lot going on with aviation fuels and, as we speak, we’re doing some early investments on alternatives to aviation fuels.”

Before starting RockCreek in 2003, Beschloss worked in economic development at the World Bank, where she rose to become treasurer and Chief Investment Officer. (Along the way, she met Michele de Nevers, the executive director of Sustainability Programs at Haas. Dean Harrison also worked as an economist at the World Bank.)

During her early career, Beschloss shifted focus from health to the energy sector, leveraging private sector investment as her group worked on projects to move countries away from coal to natural gas. As solar and wind technology started to develop, the World Bank began pioneering investing in these areas. “We got special grants from the Nordic countries to work on this in a number of countries that were well-suited for doing solar and wind,” she said. “And it was really quite spectacular to be investing in Latin America, in Africa, and in Asia in these cleaner forms of energy in the early days and doing environmental studies.”

Watch the video to learn how Beschloss’ early impact investments shape RockCreek’s investment strategy today. The event was co-sponsored by the Sustainable and Impact Finance Initiative at Haas.


Three teams honored for innovation at Cleantech to Market Summit

students holding large checks on stage at Haas for winning at C2M summit.
Three teams were honored at the annual C2M Summit. Photo: Jim Block

Three teams that included Berkeley Haas MBA students won top awards at the annual Cleantech to Market (C2M) Climate Tech Summit last Friday.

C2M is a partnership between graduate students, startups, and industry professionals to help accelerate commercialization of cleantech solutions. Over 15 weeks, each C2M team spends nearly 1,000 hours assessing leading-edge technologies and investigating market opportunities.

Last week, teams presented their findings, followed by an audience Q&A. Dean Ann Harrison also took the stage, interviewed by Financial Times correspondent Dave Lee about the school’s work to put sustainability at the core of business education.

This year’s winners of the MetLife Climate Solutions Awards included:

Niron Magnetics: The team won $20,000 for working on powerful, low cost, and environmentally-sustainable permanent magnets to free electrification from dependence on rare earth elements. The team included Andrew Cahill, EWMBA 23, Ben Brokesh, JD 24, Campbell Scott, MBA 23, Yiannos Vakis, MBA 23, and Sepideh Karimiziarani, MS 22, Development Engineering.

Five students who won top honor at C2M summit
Team Niron Magnetics. Photo: Jim Block

GenH: The team won $10,000 for working on a rapidly deployable, fully modular hydropower system to electrify non-powered dams and canal heads to generate clean, stable, and cost-competitive renewable energy. Team members included Emily Robinson, EWMBA 23, Hon Leung “Curtis” Wong, MS 23, Development Engineering, Maelym Medina, MBA 23, and Santiago Recabarren, MBA 23.

four students standing in Chou Hall
Team GenH: Photo: Jim Block

Quino Energy: The team won $5,000 for working on scalable, non-flammable energy storage made possible by a proprietary zero-waste process that transforms coal and wood tar into designer flow-battery reactants. Team members included Dongwan Kim, MBA 23, Ingrid Xhafa, MS 23, Development Engineering, James Wang, MBA 23, Kennedy McCone, graduate student researcher, UC Berkeley College of Chemistry, and Noah Carson, EMBA 23.

four students standing in Spieker Forum
Team Quino Energy was the audience favorite. Photo: Jim Block

The Quino Energy team also won the Hasler Cleantech to Market Award as audience favorite based on online polling throughout the day. 

MetLife is a corporate sponsor of the C2M Program; The Financial Times served as an event partner.

Top sustainable investing leaders gather at Haas to discuss ESG disclosures

As regulators wrestle with disclosure standards for the burgeoning $35 trillion ESG investing industry—named for its focus on corporations’ environmental, social, and governance activities—a group of influential thought leaders is gathering at Berkeley Haas to share their expertise.

The June 1 conference, “ESG Accounting: The Present and Future of Environmental, Social, and Governance Disclosures,” features an SEC commissioner, the CEO of the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board, Bloomberg’s head of ESG research, the CEO of As You Sow, the global head of ESG investing at State Street, a senior Wall Street Journal editor, and leaders from law and Big 4 accounting firms. 

Panos N. Patatoukas
Associate Professor Panos N. Patatoukas

“The timing and the content of the conference are unique,” says Panos Patatoukas, associate professor of accounting at Berkeley Haas and faculty director of the Center for Financial Reporting and Management (CFRM), which organized the event. “Our set of panelists and moderators are at the cutting edge of the ESG investing world and represent a wide range of perspectives, including ESG strategies, scoring and indexing, investing, regulation, and sustainability reporting standards.”

The importance of measurement, standardization, and verification is becoming more urgent as ESG investing grows, and the amount of capital allocated in ESG indices and financial products has exploded. For example, the SEC recently fined Bank of New York Mellon over misleading claims about funds that use environmental and social criteria to pick stocks.  A transparent standard setting process can play a crucial role in advancing the clarity that investors and businesses are asking for in the area of ESG disclosures, Patatoukas says.

ESG from four angles

The conference will approach ESG accounting from four main angles, Patatoukas says: disclosure, assurance, standardization, and valuation and investing. After an introduction from Dean Ann Harrison, the first panel will focus on measurement and disclosure, and will be moderated by James Webb, executive director of the CFRM.

Next, Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow, a nonprofit that uses shareholder advocacy to “create lasting change by protecting human rights, reducing toxic waste, and aligning investments with values,” will lead a discussion on ESG advisory and auditing, with partners from PwC, KPMG, Deloitte, and Moss Adams.

Berkeley Law Professor Stavros Gadinis will moderate two keynote addresses: SEC Commissioner Hester M. Peirce will speak on ESG reporting regulations, and Janine Guillot, CEO of the Value Reporting Foundation, will speak on reporting standards.

The afternoon discussion of ESG valuation and investing will feature AJ Lindeman, Bloomberg’s head of Index and ESG Research; Wall Street Journal Senior Columnist James Mackintosh, and Karen Wong, head of ESG & Sustainable Investing for State Street Global Advisors. Patatoukas will moderate.

The event, which is the 26th annual Conference on Financial Reporting, will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum on the Haas campus. Registration is open to all. Attendees can receive CPA Continuing Education credits.

Q&A with Sheeraz Haji, new Cleantech to Market (C2M) co-director

Sheeraz Haji standing in front of digital screen in Cafe Think
Sheeraz Haji is the new co-director of the Cleantech to Market (C2M) program. Photo: Jim Block

A passion to protect the environment began as a child for Sheeraz Haji, the new co-director of the Cleantech to Market (C2M) Program at Berkeley Haas. 

“My dad was working in Africa for the World Bank, and we got to see how water pollution impacts peoples’ lives,” said Haji, who directs C2M with Brian Steel. “I ended up going back to Africa in college, and the environment just emerged as something that I became interested in.”

We talked to Haji, who began his career as an environmental engineer, about his varied career and his plans for C2M, a program that matches graduate student teams with entrepreneurs seeking to commercialize their climate tech solutions. 

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up?

All over the world, actually. My dad worked for the World Bank, so we lived in Washington DC, then in Algeria and then Kenya when I was between eight and 12. Africa was amazing; Nairobi was a peaceful, amazing city surrounded by stunning parks. My dad was born and raised in East Africa so it felt like discovering our roots. One of my big memories was kicking and screaming when my parents told my brother and I we had to return to DC, where I went to high school. We didn’t want to go.

How did living in Africa as a kid impact your world view?

Africa played a big role in shaping my world view. My dad’s work gave me exposure to development and sustainability projects. It hit me as a young person. I was like, ‘Oh, this is something to hold onto.’ It was a pretty strong focus coming out of college. Later I got interested in a lot of other things, including business and software.

 You’ve had an interesting career. What are some of the highlights?

There are different parts of my background that fit so well with this job. I studied environmental engineering in college, and started my career as an environmental engineer, working on water and air pollution issues. I’ve had some twists and turns in my career, working at McKinsey in strategy and at startups, running software startup GetActive, which helped nonprofits raise money online. But certainly the environment and energy have been big themes. Recently, I ran a company called Cleantech Group which helps corporations and investors across the globe invest in sustainable innovation. I now focus on climate tech investing and corporate consulting through my own firm, zipdragon ventures.

There are different parts of my background that fit so well with this job. I studied environmental engineering in college, and started my career as an environmental engineer, working on water and air pollution issues.

What interested you in C2M and this role in particular?

First and foremost, I’ve known Brian (Steel) for a while. We met back in 2013 when I became involved in the program as a guest speaker, a coach, and then as a judge last year. What interested me was just observing and admiring what Brian and (former C2M co-director) Beverly Alexander had built and the impact it had on the students and the entrepreneurs. They put a lot of passion into this program. When I talked to students last year it was clear that C2M was a transformative experience for many of them. Brian, Beverly and co-faculty Bill (Shelander) have also done a really nice job of also keeping other folks from Haas, from the Berkeley ecosystem, and from the industry involved. Also, I have always dreamed of teaching at a world-class institution such as Haas, which happens to be very close to my home in Berkeley.

What are some of the trends that you’re seeing as an investor in clean tech markets?

Investors have poured more money into climate tech in recent years than at any other stage in my career. Global enterprises are driving sustainability goals, and governments are seeking to adopt policies to accelerate transitions to a low-carbon economy. We have observed some big financial outcomes for climate tech startups – something we had not seen for a long time. For example, quite a few EV charging companies have been able to access public markets and provide big returns for founders and investors. In the larger picture, I see sustainability serving as a huge driver across every industry and every company. There’s a massive amount of investment and adoption of climate technologies like the ones we work on at C2M. It feels like a unique time across the globe to focus on clean tech. 

 Can you share immediate/long-term plans for C2M?

I think job number one is for me to learn the program. Job number two is to try to not to mess up a good thing. We’ve got amazing students and a great cohort of startups. We must execute. We’re definitely looking at the curriculum, trying to figure out if and where to adjust. We’ve had some interesting conversations around, ‘Okay, where could we go? Is it another cohort, perhaps? Doing a class in the spring versus just in the fall?’ Also, we’re trying to be creative, as in, ‘Okay, there’s a great set of relationships, both within and outside the university community, creating a wonderful foundation. What else could we do?’ We are very open to ideas, and would love to hear from the Haas community.

 

There’s a spider robot in the attic! MBA students help win national E-ROBOT competition

 

(L-R) Alexander Sergian, Joseph Aharon, John Aquino, all MBA/MEng 22, worked on a business plan for the U.S. Department of Energy's American-Made E-ROBOT competition as a capstone project in their program.
(L-R) Alexander Sergian, Joseph Aharon, John Aquino, all MBA/MEng 22, worked on a business plan for the U.S. Department of Energy’s American-Made E-ROBOT competition as a capstone project in their program.

A group of Berkeley Haas MBA students helped build the business plan for an attic-retrofit system based around heat sensing drones and foam-spraying spider robots that took the top prize in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) 2022 American-Made E-ROBOT competition.

Alexander Sergian, Joseph Aharon, John Aquino, all MBA/MEng 22, built the business plan for team RoboAttic/Thermadrone, along with Zixuan Chen, EWMBA 23, and Vincent Chang, MBA 22. The robotics project was led by Dr. Avideh Zakhor

Dr. Zakhor led the team of about 35 people, including UC Berkeley students, professionals, and consultants, who developed the RoboAttic/Thermadrone technology.  The three top winners in the multi-stage competition were announced April 7 by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).  (Watch the robot in action in the video below)

Homes lose up to 20% of their heat and air conditioning due to poorly insulated roofs. Yet just 1% of building floorspace in the U.S. undergoes a meaningful retrofit each year due to the high cost and invasive nature of construction and renovation, according to Ram Narayanamurthy, a Program Manager in the Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office.

Thermadrone’s software uses thermal drone camera images to diagnose and identify opportunities for attic insulation retrofits. Once attics in need of insulation are identified, Roboattic robots clean, air seal, and apply spray foam insulation to the building envelope. This enables construction workers to retrofit previously inaccessible attics with a PS4 controller. Finally, Thermadrone software provides quality assurance by measuring and verifying the retrofit was done properly.

An earlier round of the E-ROBOT Competition challenged participants to design and build robot prototypes that could be used to retrofit buildings to improve energy efficiency. For the second and final phase of the competition, 10 finalists were tasked with building viable business models for their respective startups.

Sergian, Aharon, and Aquino worked on the business plan for RoboAttic/Thermadrone for both the competition and as their capstone project, a required component of the MBA/MEng Program. 

Their work included estimating the total market size, sales, marketing, channel partners, and go-to-market strategy. “As MBA/MEng students, we were brought on as folks who were not only technical enough to understand the technology, but also strategic enough to put together a compelling business vision,” Aharon said. “It’s an example of the sort of cross-disciplinary collaboration that we constantly see around UC Berkeley.”

To be successful, the team had to prove the energy consumption and cost reduction benefits as well as worker safety potential. 

To be successful, the team had to prove the energy consumption and cost reduction benefits as well as worker safety potential.

“We were presented with an exciting technology,” said Sergian. “It was our challenge to figure out how to commercialize the product and make it a market success.”

Photo of Zixuan Chen, EWMBA 23
Zixuan Chen, EWMBA 23, worked on the business plan with UC Berkeley Professor Avideh Zakhor.

The students said they applied lessons from their MBA coursework in research and development and finance to the project. They calculated a total market size for building envelope retrofits in the US at about $1.25 billion, estimating that contractors would be willing to invest about $10,000 per robot. The value of the robot is that it can access places in attics that are hazardous and foul for construction workers to crawl through, Aharon said. 

Chen, who also worked on the project while in the evening & weekend MBA program, helped with marketing research, identifying potential user groups and conducting interviews with facility managers, utility companies, and government agencies.

“In the business plan stage, I worked with Avideh to identify critical cost components and revenue sources,” she said. She also developed profit and loss statements, cost performance models, and a manufacturing and scalability analysis.

The other  competition winners included a semi-autonomous flying quadcopter air duct inspection drone and a robotic retrofit tool used for caulking, aerosol sealing, and foam insulating buildings.