After working for a few years as an attorney, Yoav Gilat realized his interests lay elsewhere. So he changed course and joined the wine industry. “There’s something magical about wine that brings people together,” Gilat says. “Wine is like pixie dust that creates uplifting experiences. You don’t find that in other industries.”
While at Haas, Gilat did a case study on Bonny Doon Vineyard and met John Williams, owner and winemaker of Frog’s Leap. Those experiences helped clarify his own path forward.
In 2006, he founded Cannonball Wine Company. Rather than buying a vineyard, Gilat outsourced that part of the business and hired a talented winemaker to work closely with growers. “Even though we don’t own the vineyards, we have input in the way the vines are grown,” he says.
His initial vision was to create a delicious cabernet sauvignon priced under $20, a gap in the market, as he saw it. Cannonball released its first 5,000 cases in 2007. The next year, the recession hit. This could have been disastrous for the company, but the attractive price tag—around $15—made it an affordable luxury and instead marked the beginning of exceptional growth. Since then, the company has expanded to produce a selection of wines under different labels—including Angels & Cowboys and Atelier—and has partnered with New Zealand and Portuguese wineries, all under the parent name Share a Splash Wine Co.
Fifty rising juniors and seniors in the new M.E.T. Innovation Academy (M.E.T.ia) took residence on the Berkeley campus for two weeks in July for the program, which is designed to provide real-world experience in solving business and technology challenges.
The program is designed to provide real-world experience in solving business and technology challenges.
Students visited world-renowned corporations and organizations, interacted with successful entrepreneurs from the heart of Silicon Valley, and met Berkeley M.E.T. student entrepreneurs. M.E.T. is a dual degree program launched in 2017 by the Haas School of Business and the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley. The program, designed for students with a strong aptitude for math and science, was held July 17-28.
“As a school we are mission-driven to change society for the better—and the Innovation Academy gives us a chance to expose a diverse group of students to new ideas that could potentially change the world,” said Saikat Chaudhuri, faculty director of the undergraduate M.E.T. program.
The group participated in interactive workshops focused on topics such as how to think like an entrepreneur; self-driving and energy-saving cars; developing business plans and resumes; accessing venture capital, and launching startups.
The students also headed off campus for visits to Berkeley-based Ambi Robotics, an AI-powered robotics company with UC Berkeley roots, and to San Francisco-based audiovisual company Dolby.
The program wrapped up with a Shark Tank-style pitch session, with student teams presenting their capstone projects to a panel of judges. Judges included serial entrepreneur Nilesh Bhandari; Sibyl Chen, general manager at UC Berkeley SkyDeck; and Darren Cooke, executive director of the UC Berkeley Life Sciences Entrepreneurship Center.
Sahil Puranik, a rising high school senior from Fremont, California, pitched an idea to turn food waste into energy. Pitching during the program helped boost his confidence in presenting and collaborating, he said. “Before, I never really had the confidence to talk to people I didn’t know,” he said. “But after this program, I found it a lot easier to just reach out to people who have shared interests.”
“Not only has this program shown me the importance of learning from others, but also about passing down what I have learned from my experiences—skills and lessons that I hope to teach to others,” student Jay Ananth added.
Another program highlight was an IPO simulation led by Michael Grimes, BS 87, EECS, the head of Global Technology Investment Banking at Morgan Stanley and the M.E.T. program’s founder. The session taught students about how an IPO works in the real world. “It was fascinating to see the different forces manipulate the price, but all within a set of rules,” M.E.T.ia student Kaelen Cazzell said.
Due to strong interest in the program, next year’s M.E.T. class size will increase to 70. Chaudhuri said he looks forward to what the students will accomplish.
“There are so many existential challenges right now,” Chaudhuri said. “There’s climate change, geopolitical tensions, transportation that needs to be disrupted, and healthcare that isn’t covering everybody. I think there are incredible opportunities for students to affect change.”
This spring, I embarked on an in-depth study of the captivating realm of cottage industries around the world. I was driven by my desire to understand how cottage industries can be integrated into a country’s economic development. Take the example of India as a developing country. As India shifts from a largely agrarian to an industry-driven economy, it will face formidable challenges. The crux of addressing this transformation lies in understanding and effectively managing the process, attentively considering the heterogeneous necessities and historical legacies of the populace, rather than resorting to mere mechanization of traditional industries.
Surprisingly, about 60% of India’s population relies on agriculture as their primary source of livelihood, particularly in rural enclaves. As the economy develops, India must address the question of what is next for agrarian workers. In this context, cottage industries or handicrafts emerge as indispensable facets, exemplified by the exquisite hand-knotted rugs handcrafted by artisans in Jaipur. These industries serve as crucial pillars, supporting the livelihoods of myriad Indians, with an estimated 200 million individuals (equivalent to the entire population of Brazil!) deriving their sustenance from the intricate tapestry of cottage industries. Consequently, the pressing inquiry emerges: How can these industries be seamlessly assimilated into the future trajectory of economic growth without merely advocating for wholesale mechanization?
Preserving the essence
The beauty of cottage industries lies in their traditional methods. They bring a unique characteristic and value to their products that can’t be replicated through modern means. Imagine a painting made by a machine versus one crafted by a passionate artist. The artist’s creativity and personal touch make it priceless. So, as we look to the future, we must find ways to preserve and uplift these traditional skills and values.
Boosting productivity and modernization
To integrate cottage industries into the speed of the modern economy, we need to focus on enhancing productivity and modernizing certain aspects of these industries. Often, traditional processes lack certain efficiency and modernization elements that can assist in better integration with modern markets. By leveraging technology and innovative processes, we can eliminate unnecessary manual labor and allow artisans to focus on the activities that truly add value. This shift can transform the way work is done, positively impacting everyday tasks and income generation.
Streamlining the value chain
Let’s not forget the importance of the entire value chain in this integration process. Many cottage industries face challenges in terms of inefficient systems that hinder their products from reaching the right places. By creating avenues that deploy modern business practices, we can revolutionize the way these industries operate. Imagine more professional and passionate individuals working to solve these pressing problems. Together, we can unlock the full potential of cottage industries and pave the way for inclusive development.
Embracing change for a better future
In a rapidly changing world, we must avoid creating a social imbalance by merely mechanizing cottage industries. Instead, let’s focus on integrating them into new business models and approaches that consider the preservation of traditional value while embracing productivity enhancements and modernization. By doing so, we can foster a balanced and inclusive economic development in India.
A dynamic journey
Let’s remember that the journey towards progress and development is a dynamic one. It requires us to find ways to embrace change while honoring the rich heritage of our cottage industries. Through innovative thinking, skillful integration, and a passionate commitment to inclusive development, we can build a future where cottage industries thrive, traditional skills are valued, and social imbalance is avoided. Together, let’s pave the way for a brighter and more sustainable world!
Hitesh Kenjale, MBA 23, is a graduate of the full-time MBA program. He is the founder of DesiHangover, a venture focused on driving grassroots supply-chain innovation to enable legacy artisans to bring authentic crafts to formal markets.
Startup: FlowGPT Co-founders: Lifan Wang, MBA 22, and Jay Dang, a former UC Berkeley Computer Science major
In this interview, Lifan Wang discusses how he met his FlowGPT co-founder, Jay Dang, at UC Berkeley, and why speed was critical for his startup in entering the AI market.
How did you come up with the idea for FlowGPT?
We started this project in January. We both were power users of ChatGPT when it first came out. We would spend around 10 hours a day exploring different use cases of ChatGPT prompts and trying to leverage AI to increase our productivity. As we used it more, we realized that there are so many more use cases that people haven’t discovered. So we started doing extensive research by talking to people who use ChatGPT and prompts. We talked with approximately 100 people from various online communities, such as Discord channels and found that people constantly post and share ChatGPT prompts with each other, which gave us the idea to create a dedicated platform for prompt creators to share their prompts.
How did you get started in entrepreneurship at Haas?
Haas is a great place for aspiring entrepreneurs. I’ve taken several entrepreneurship classes, including a class with Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program, that helped me understand the process of launching a startup — from searching for ideas to conducting user research to creating a prototype.
Haas is a great place for aspiring entrepreneurs.
In the Business of AI, taught by Pieter Abbeel, a renowned professor in the engineering school, I interacted with generative AI and learned about neural networks and the GAN (Generative Adversarial Network), which pits two different deep learning models against each other in a game. I also explored various technical imaging technologies. I firmly believe that AI, especially generative AI, is going to be a significant trend that will revolutionize the world.
Where did you meet your co-founder?
Jay and I met during our time at UC Berkeley SkyDeck, where we attended various events. Jay was seeking funding for his startup in his freshman year. As a part-time venture partner, I was interested in potential investment opportunities. He pitched me his startup, which connected to the work I had previously done in the industry. We had extensive discussions and got to know each other well.
Are you both seeking funding right now?
We secured our C round of funding in May and are currently preparing to launch a new funding round this month or next. Our user base has experienced robust growth, and based on the data we’ve gathered, now is the perfect time to accelerate expansion.
With every technological advancement, there are inherent risks. When computers were introduced, illegal activities emerged on websites and regulations evolved. Our aim is to empower people to be more productive and generate a positive impact while prioritizing safety. We must ensure the safe use of AI, which will become a powerful tool, similar to the internet and software. Many people are already leveraging new AI tools like ChatGPT and Prompt Engineering to increase their productivity. At FlowGPT, we use ChatGPT daily for coding, product management, messaging, and marketing, covering various aspects of our operations. AI represents the next generation of powerful tools that elevate human productivity to new heights.
Our aim is to empower people to be more productive and generate a positive impact while prioritizing safety.
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Execution is crucial. That is the most important thing I learned from Jay, my co-founder.
We launched the product in January, just one and a half months after ChatGPT’s release. Unlike many competitors, who were still in the ideation stage, we were already ahead. When competitors attempted to imitate us, we had already iterated three times and gained a million users.
My advice is to start building right away. You don’t have to be an expert at product development to get started. During my time at Cal, I noticed many people getting stuck in the same phase. Some might say, “I’ve got all the business plans figured out, and all I need is one programmer to build the product.” However, as time passed, they were still searching for programmers. The ability to launch is crucial, especially in the initial stages.