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‘Magic’ disruption in the transportation industry lures MBA grads to jobs

Yiannos Vakis, MBA 23
Yiannos Vakis, MBA 23, co-president of the Haas Mobility Club, interned at Zoox.

As a strategy manager at self-driving car startup Zoox last summer, Yiannos Vakis, MBA 23, spent a lot of time thinking about the challenges of rolling out robotaxi fleets in cities. 

“Watching self-driving cars navigate the complex streets of San Francisco is pure magic,” Vakis said. “But to commercialize at scale, the industry has big strategic questions to work on that no one has fully solved so far.”

Vakis, co-president of the Berkeley Haas Transportation and Mobility Club, is among a growing number of students drawn to the rapidly-changing and fast-growing transportation/mobility industry. At Berkeley Haas, interest in the sector reflects that growth, with eight students in the Class of 2022 taking full-time jobs in the industry, (up from previous years), and 15 students in the 2023 class accepting internships. One lure, aside from the fun of being immersed in new technology, is the impressive pay. Mean base salaries for the 2022 FTMBA grads reached the higher end of the school’s employment report, coming in at $152,000 with a mean $23,000 bonus.

The Haas Mobility Club is hosting its annual Haas Mobility Summit 2022 Saturday, Nov. 5, at Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum.

Doug Massa, a relationship manager in the transportation and mobility sector for the Berkeley Haas Career Management Group, said the rise in interest comes at a time when companies that spent years on the technical aspects of building their products and services are looking to scale.

Doug Massa
Doug Massa, a relationship manager in the Berkeley Haas Career Management Group.

 “That’s why these companies are recruiting strong MBA talent,” Massa said. “MBA roles like corporate strategy, product management, and operations are what get our students excited and these are the types of roles that they’re landing.”

Many current students are meeting and networking through the Haas Mobility Club, which is hosting its annual Haas Mobility Summit 2022 Saturday, Nov. 5, at Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum. The summit, UC Berkeley’s largest transportation-focused conference, focuses this year on “reimagining sustainable and accessible mobility,” with senior executives from Zoox, Rivian, General Motors, Spin, Autotech Ventures, and others joining. The student-run Haas Mobility Club, now more than 175 members strong, welcomes graduate students from beyond Haas—in the Engineering, Data Science, and Urban Planning programs. 

Disrupting industries

As the market has heated up, Massa said he’s fielding about 20 calls a week from first and second-year students who want to talk about job opportunities in transportation. In addition to Uber and Lyft, Massa helps students recruit for roles at upstarts as well as big automakers like GM and Ford, electric auto leaders like Tesla and electric adventure vehicle maker Rivian, and autonomous vehicles like Cruise.

Minjee Kang portrait
Minjee Kang, MBA 23, interned at Rivian.

Haas Mobility Club member Minjee Kang, MBA 23, landed an internship in strategic operations at Rivian. Kang, who worked in operations at Air Korea before coming to Haas, said her goal and her reason for getting an MBA is to be part of sweeping industry-wide change.

“I believe the airline industry is going to be disrupted soon, just like Uber and ride sharing disrupted the traditional auto industry,” she said. “I think the transportation and mobility industry is facing a variety of opportunities as a whole, and I want to be a part of it.”

Sarah Thorson
Sarah Thorson, MBA/MEng 23 and co-president of the Haas Mobility Club, interned at Nvidia.

Sarah Thorson, MBA/MEng 23, who studied mechanical engineering as an undergraduate, landed an internship in product management at Nvidia, where she worked on autonomous vehicle development tools.

Thorson said she’s always been pulled to the technical side of the auto industry and knew she could study both business and engineering in her dual degree program. “I wanted to come to Haas to explore a product role in tech and to learn about the impact of technology innovations on transportation and mobility,” said Thorson, co-president of the Haas Mobility Club.

Investment opportunities in transportation also lures MBA students. Logan Szidik, MBA 23, pivoted toward early stage venture capital investment at Haas, working as an intern at Menlo Park-based Autotech Ventures.

Logan Szidik, MBA 23
Logan Szidik, MBA 23

 “With companies staying private longer than ever before, private capital has an outsized impact on the future of the automotive industry,” he said. “As someone with a deep interest in technologies addressing the climate crisis, I wanted to better understand how investors approach start-ups focused on emerging spaces like vehicle-to-grid and fleet electrification.”

Alumni ecosystem

As more Haas grads move into transportation, the alumni community has expanded, with about 180 members of the Haas Mobility Network’s WhatsApp group.

That community includes transportation industry entrepreneurs like Ludwig Schoenack, MBA 19, co-founder of Kyte, a cars-on-demand service, and Arcady Sosinov, MBA 15, CEO of FreeWire, which makes fast electric vehicle chargers and battery generators. Both Bay Area companies have found success in raising $239 million and $230 million respectively, to expand their businesses.

This rich alumni network will continue to serve students well, Massa said. (Carlin Dacey, MBA 22, for example, recently joined Kyte as a market manager)

“The network has led to internships and full-time jobs,” he said. “It’s become a really nice ecosystem.”

New book explores pandemic’s effect on innovation

Jerry Engel
Jerry Engel

When Jerome Engel and colleagues presented a framework to describe innovation communities in 2014, the world was a different place. That book, Global Clusters of Innovation: Entrepreneurial Engines of Economic Growth around the World, explored the explosion and global trendsetting impact of Silicon Valley new venture development business practices. Now Engel has refined and extended that framework with Clusters of Innovation in the Age of Disruption (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2022), a collection of essays from business leaders and teachers worldwide. Berkeley Haas asked Engel, the founding executive director emeritus of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship (now the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program), about his new findings.

What made you want to revisit your study of clusters of innovation?

In my first book, we outlined and demonstrated how innovative technology companies tend to emerge in clusters in certain regions—and we questioned what drives that process. The world has since entered a period of severe economic, cultural, and environmental disruption due to an ongoing series shocks. We wanted to investigate what was happening in these innovative communities and whether they demonstrate enhanced resilience. We found that the answer was a profound “yes”. Clusters of Innovation demonstrate an entrepreneurial agility that enhances their resilience to external shocks, contributing significant social and economic value to society.

How do they do this? 

Through innovation, which I define as the positive response to change. Trends are obvious, especially technology trends which tend to be of relatively long duration. While a tech trend is not in itself innovation, its adoption into a valuable good or service is. Commercialization of such tech trends is often pursued by venture-capital backed entrepreneurial firms. Their initial market entry strategy is often to approach niche markets that provide a beachhead opportunity because incumbent firms are not serving their needs exactly. So smaller firms gain traction by providing these niche markets with products and services that provide a tight product market fit. Many entrepreneurial firms that blossomed in the midst of the pandemic were prepared for years before the pandemic. Their work in refining their technology and products put them in a position to provide solutions of huge impact quickly when the pandemic hit. This agility enhanced the resiliency, as they were already in the market with a limited but proven track record—so their businesses were positioned to explode into an “overnight success” when the shock occurred.

Can you provide examples of this?

Two clear, and very different, examples are Zoom in telecommunications and mRNA vaccine development in health care. Zoom had an innovative business model and mRNA developers embraced deep technology innovation. Zoom displaced slower- moving Cisco (WebEx), Microsoft (Skype/Teams), and other incumbents in revolutionizing business, personal, and education communication. Zoom became a verb, a place, a way of conducting much of our daily life. Zoom’s quick mass adoption revolved around a subtle business model innovation: Product-Led-Growth [PLG]. PLG is an evolution of the freemium model, where ease of user adoption is emphasized (just click the link, no log-ins, no hassle) and is often free. Traditional marketing is initially de-emphasized and that investment pored back into product development and viral marketing. Revenue evolves eventually from upselling to universities and larger businesses with value-added full-featured SaaS subscriptions. This ease of adoption drove the rapid behavior change that enabled a greater collective agility and a greater resilience.

A different type of innovation-driven agility is demonstrated in mRNA technology, which enabled the creation of vaccines in months rather than many years. Startups commercialized the novel mRNA vaccine technology, based on university research, before the pandemic. While the fundamental technology was revolutionary, its impact on the health of the general population was minimal. But during the pandemic, the benefits of this novel approach and the urgent need for a vaccine made its advantages clear, gaining the full attention major pharmaceutical firms. The rapid development and deployment of the various Covid-19 vaccines often depended on partnerships with major pharmaceutical companies, providing a perfect combination of speed and scale. The smaller firms’ product development speed combined with the larger firms’ capacity to scale trials, manufacture, and distribute.

What’s the takeaway from the book?

Economic regions such as Silicon Valley and other Clusters of Innovation around the world have proven to have enhanced resiliency to economic and environmental shocks. At the heart of such Clusters of Innovation are entrepreneurs, collaborating with venture investors and major corporations. Their constructive interactions build the resiliency required to quickly adapt and rebound from shocks. The process is helped by supportive government, universities, service firms, and other supporting actors in the community.

Haas MBA student featured on new season of hit Netflix dating show ‘Love is Blind’

Sikiru (“SK”) Alagbada, MBA 22, in front of Chou Hall on campus
Hoping to meet the love of his life, Sikiru “SK” Alagbada, MBA 22, joined the Season 3 cast of “Love is Blind.” Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small.

Hoping to meet the love of his life, Sikiru “SK” Alagbada, MBA 23, joined the Season 3 cast of “Love is Blind,” the hit Netflix dating show.

The show asks 30 single people to spend 10 days inside “pods,” where they interview potential love matches from behind a wall that separates them. Couples who agree to get engaged during the experiment exit the pods to see each other for the first time. 

In this interview, Alagbada, who plans to work in early-stage venture capital investing after graduating, discusses his Netflix adventure, life before Haas, and juggling the demands of the show with the MBA program. The first episodes of the new season—which features Alagbada—airs October 19.

Haas News: The Season 3 “Love is Blind” cast promo came out yesterday. How do you feel? 

SK Alagbada: It’s a mixture of excitement and feeling anxious because this remains the craziest, most out-of-place thing I’ve ever done—crazier than moving to Poland from Nigeria by myself when I was 19. I’m a little worried about how the show will be edited. We filmed so many hours and you don’t know what will make it to the final cut. 

Do your classmates know yet?
I kept this secret from my classmates even though so many of them watch the show. I haven’t stepped into a class since the announcement so I am just preparing myself for the 21 questions. I kept this from them because of the confidentiality agreement, and also to try to have as normal a first-year MBA experience as possible.

Watch the “Love is Blind”  cast announcement.

 

Had you watched “Love is Blind” before you were on the show?

No, but my mom had. She loves the show.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

I left Nigeria as an international exchange student to study in Poland. I still speak some Polish and three other languages. I lived all over Europe for a few years before moving to the U.S. 13 years ago by myself, and settled in Texas, attending Baylor University as an undergraduate. My brothers and mom are in the U.S. now. I am from the Yoruba tribe in southwest Nigeria, so I take my African culture, food, and Afrobeat music with me everywhere. 

So how did Netflix find you?

Every season is scouted in a certain city. This one was in Dallas, where I lived. Someone reached out after they saw my Instagram account. I initially thought it was a scam and didn’t respond for several weeks. One day, I responded. From Instagram we did FaceTime auditions and interviews during COVID. They’re looking for responsible, emotionally stable people in their 20s to mid-30s. They look at your interests, your career, your lifestyle, and whether you are an eligible bachelor.

Why did the reality show idea of finding a wife appeal to you?

I was at the point in my life when I wanted to settle down. I didn’t want to hear my mom’s constant reminder anymore about getting married. Also, in the past couple of years I’ve lived in different places where I haven’t had stability in my life. I tried the conventional ways of finding partners, through friends and family introductions and dating apps, but nothing seemed to stick. But a lot of things in my life happen in unusual ways, most unexpected ways, so this was not foreign to me. It’s the story of my life.

I was at the point in my life when I wanted to settle down. I didn’t want to hear my mom’s constant reminder anymore about getting married.

How did you juggle filming “Love is Blind” with your MBA program schedule? 

We finished filming the season before I started my first year of class, but I was still working at JP Morgan as a senior data engineer during my first year to cover the higher Bay Area costs and occasionally support my family back in Nigeria. Juggling that first year was tough. I’m so grateful for my classmates at Haas. They’re very gracious and were especially understanding when I had so much going on, willingly volunteering their time to help me understand unclear concepts in class. As a community, we are always there for each other.

I’m so grateful for my classmates at Haas. They’re very gracious and were especially understanding when I had so much going on, willingly volunteering their time to help me understand unclear concepts in class. As a community, we’re always there for each other.

 

Sikiru (“SK”) Alagbada, MBA 22,on Haas campus
Sikiru “SK” Alagbada, MBA 22, is co-chair of the LAUNCH startup accelerator program at Haas and president of the student-run Africa Business Club. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small.

In the show promo they asked about your most annoying habit and you said “snacking.” Snacking doesn’t seem so bad! 

I work from home and study a lot and I always have a snack with me. My favorite snacks right now are Smartfood popcorn and Walkers shortbread cookies. My girlfriends in the past learned to accommodate it—or they picked up snacks for me when they went shopping.

You are very involved with the LAUNCH accelerator program. How does the student-led startup accelerator program align with your career goals in venture capital?

Prior to Berkeley, I worked at large companies like General Motors and JP Morgan, but I wanted an immersive startup experience and to learn the business of technology, grow my network, and boost my startup pipeline. Serving as LAUNCH co-chair of strategy and partnerships helps me to achieve this goal. I’m responsible for shaping the vision by managing and growing our relationships with investors, raising funds for our startups, and developing initiatives to strengthen our program experience. To date, LAUNCH startups have raised over $700 million and LAUNCH remains completely student run.

You are also president of the Africa Business Club. Can you talk a bit about investing in African startups?

This is very personal. I left Nigeria at the onset of a tech revolution that’s led to one of the fastest growing ecosystems in the world. I’ve stayed connected to home, but still have major FOMO from leaving the country at such a pivotal time. That’s why I’ve been dedicated to helping connect startups on the continent to capital, mentorship, and resources in Silicon Valley. In April, my team and I hosted the first in-person Africa Business Forum at Haas since COVID. This event laid groundwork for new connections and startup investment in Nigeria. 

What’s your favorite thing about Haas? 

Haas does a very good job of assembling a class of genuinely good people. In addition to being so accomplished and having done such interesting things in their lives and careers, they are genuinely good people.

What do you like to do outside of school? 

I love soccer, tennis, and Scrabble. I also like to cook. There is a dearth of African food in the Bay Area, so I usually find myself cooking a lot. My mom also ships me food sometimes. 

Have you picked up anything new since moving to California?
Recycling! I came from Texas. It’s a huge shift for me.

Detroit

Just in: Three new books by Berkeley Haas professional faculty members

Three new books written by Haas professional faculty members share one thing in common: deep learning from the successes of people making innovative change in business today. Here’s more on each new book:

Clusters of Innovation in the Age of Disruption

Edward Elgar Publishing, published August 2022

By Jerome Engel, founding executive director emeritus of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship (now the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program)

Much has changed since Engel’s 2014 publication of Global Clusters of Innovation: Entrepreneurial Engines of Economic Growth around the World, a book that explored the explosion of entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems globally, a movement that spread Silicon Valley business practices around the world. By 2022, economic disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic, global warming, and environmental degradation led Engel to ask how innovation ecosystems can support the evolution of more robust, agile, and sustainable societies. Those questions led to this book about innovation ecosystems, clusters of innovation, and the global networks of clusters of innovation that naturally form. He argues that entrepreneurs, collaborating with venture investors and major corporations, can create clusters of innovation that help build the resiliency required to quickly adapt and rebound from economic shocks. The process is helped along by supportive government, universities, and other elements of the ecosystem. 

 

Global Class: How the world’s fastest-growing companies scale globally by focusing locally

Matt Holt (BenBella Books), published August 2022

By Aaron McDaniel, BS 04, lecturer with the Berkeley Haas professional faculty, and Klaus Wehage

Aaron McDaniel, who teaches entrepreneurship to undergraduates at Berkeley Haas, and Klaus Wehage are co-founders of 10X Innovation Lab, which helps build innovation ecosystems worldwide. During the pandemic, the authors said they realized there was no book published on innovation in international business expansion that matched the success of Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup. So over 1 1/2 years, they interviewed more than 300 executives from the world’s fastest-growing companies across 50 countries to understand what made them successful in reaching global scale. The list included CEOs and founders of Apple, Zoom, Slack, and Airbnb. The authors suggest that applying agile principles will enables global-class companies to more easily pivot their business and successfully localize in overseas markets with different cultural contexts. McDaniel said he hopes that Global Class will provide a tool kit and framework for companies of all sizes and stages to help build global, distributed teams; manage a diverse footprint; and balance cultural differences.

 

Becoming a Changemaker: An actionable, inclusive guide to leading positive change at any level

Balance (Grand Central Publishing), published September 2022

By Alex Budak, Haas lecturer and creator of the Changemaker course

Stepping into a leadership role doesn’t require people to be at the top of a group or organization. Anyone—regardless of title, personality, race, gender, age, or class—can be a changemaker and effect powerful, positive change from where they sit in a workplace or community, Haas Lecturer Alex Budak argues in his new book. Based on Budak’s popular Berkeley Haas course of the same name, the book is anchored by the Berkeley Haas Defining Leadership Principles Question the Status QuoConfidence Without AttitudeStudents Always, and Beyond Yourself.  Budak introduces concepts and tools aimed at helping readers develop the confidence, courage, and commitment to lead change from wherever they are—and includes examples across industries, age levels, and abilities. The book includes a longitudinal study of how people develop key changemaker skills over time and provides access to some of the same exercises he uses in his class.