Buzz Solutions nabs top honor at Cleantech to Market Symposium

Seven graduate students smiling
From L-R, top to bottom: Luis Felipe Gonzalez, Federico Cueva Salas, Sean Mandell, Chelsea Boyle, Preston Suan, Dinara Ermakova, and Han Le. Photo credit: Jim Block.

An AI-powered software that automates visual inspections and provides data analytics for utility lines and energy grids earned the top prize at the 12th annual Cleantech to Market Symposium. The event was held in Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum last Friday.

Cleantech to Market (C2M) is a 15-week accelerator course that brings together graduate students, industry leaders, and researchers to pitch cleantech innovations from existing startups, government-sponsored programs, and incubators. 

Five student teams–including 31 MBA and UC Berkeley graduate students from law, policy, and science–pitched emerging technologies aimed at addressing everything from fossil-fuel reduction to carbon dioxide capture to non-flammable batteries.

Buzz Solutions, the AI-powered company that provides power line and energy grid inspections, earned the Hasler Cleantech to Market Award, named after former Berkeley Haas dean William Hasler. 

Team members included Chelsea Boyle, EWMBA 21, Dinara Ermakova, PhD 22 (nuclear engineering), Federico Cueva Salas, MBA 22, Han Le, PhD 24 (chemistry), Luis Felipe Gonzalez, MBA/MEng 22, Preston Suan, MBA 22, and Sean Mandell, MBA 22. 

Dean Harrison kicked off the symposium with a keynote, emphasizing the need for more cleantech solutions to address climate change.

“This is no longer a problem that our grandchildren will face. This is a crisis that we’re dealing with now,” said Harrison, pointing to recent catastrophic events, including California’s wildfires and extreme heat waves worldwide. “Our planet is out of its comfort zone, which is why this symposium and the development of cleantech solutions is so crucial.”

Other notable guest speakers included James Zahler, associate director for technology-to-market at Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E); Liam Berryman, CEO of Nelumbo; Miguel Sierra Aznar, CEO of Noble Thermodynamics; and Kristin Taylor, CEO of Radical Plastics. All three CEOs participated in previous C2M symposiums.

“I’m so proud of our students and what they have accomplished in the last 15 weeks,” said Brian Steel, director of C2M. “They’ve spent nearly 1,000 hours speaking to experts and investigating a wide range of market opportunities for cleantech startups that are tackling the most pressing issues of our time.”

Ready for flying taxis? 2021 Mobility Summit to focus on future of transportation

three males smiling
From L-R: Thomas Fantis, Sam Bauer, and Jon Wan, all MBA 22.

Driverless trucks and electric air taxis are generating a lot of buzz. But are these new modes of transportation worth the hype?

Second-year MBA students Jon Wan, Sam Bauer, and Thomas Fantis hope to tackle that question next week at the second annual Berkeley Haas Mobility Summit. 

“Cutting Through the Hype” is the theme for this year’s summit, which brings together students, faculty, alumni, and industry leaders to explore sustainability, equity, and commercialization challenges that may arise from adopting new mobility technologies. 

The summit, organized by the Transportation & Mobility Club, will be held Nov. 19, from noon to 4:30 p.m. in Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum. Conference organizers include Wan, Bauer, Fantis, Marcus Brandford, Graham Haydon, Ryota Soshino, all MBA 22, and Yiannos Vakis, MBA 23.

“There’s a lot of optimism around these new technologies that promise pollution and traffic reduction in cities, for example, but we haven’t seen much of the benefits yet,” said Fantis. “We hope to create some dialogue about the implications of adopting autonomous and electric cars and how to apply these technologies responsibly and equitably.”

Bert Kauffman, head of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs at Amazon’s autonomous car startup Zoox, will kick off the half-day conference with a keynote address, followed by panel discussions on the future of ride hailing, the scalability of electric vehicles, solving supply-chain challenges via autonomous trucking, and the creation of electric air taxis. 

Other notable guest speakers include Nick Matcheck, MBA 20, partnerships manager at Hyundai Urban Air Mobility; Jeff Sharp, MBA 21, government operations associate at Joby Aviation; Misha Cornes, MBA 01, UX research & strategy leader at Lyft; Shana Patadia, BS 10, director of Business Development at Chargepoint; Nick Silver, MBA 11, head of Marketing for US and Canada at Uber; Haas lecturer Molly Turner; and UC Berkeley civil and engineering professor Susan Shaheen.

“We hope this summit will serve as a guide for students interested in joining the mobility industry and that they find companies that are making the greatest impact in terms of sustainability and equity,” Bauer said.

“Our goal with this summit is to establish Haas as the center of mobility and put it on the map as the best school to attend for this [mobility] field,” Fantis added. “When prospective students look for MBA programs that offer mobility courses and clubs, we want Haas to be at the top of their search.”

Prof. David Teece named a Citation Laureate for pioneering economics research

UC Berkeley Haas School of Business Professor David J. Teece has been named as a 2021 Citation Laureate in economics for his pioneering research on entrepreneurship, innovation, and competition.

Prof. David Teece
Prof. David J. Teece

Teece is among 16 researchers from six countries whose work was deemed to be “of Nobel class” by the Institute for Scientific Information. These researchers are among the most highly cited within the Web of Science, a global database of citations in peer-reviewed journals managed by analytics firm Clarivate.

“I’m humbled to be included with such esteemed names, and wish to thank the University of California, Berkeley, the Haas School, and the Institute for Business Innovation for providing the environment that has enabled me to flourish as a scholar-entrepreneur,” said Teece, who is the Thomas W. Tusher Professor in Global Business, faculty director of the The Tusher Initiative for the Management of Intellectual Capital, and also the founder and executive chairman of Berkeley Research Group.

A global authority on the theory of firm and strategic management, competition policy, and intellectual property, Teece has written over 30 books and two hundred scholarly papers, and has been cited over 186,000 times (per Google Scholar).

Teece is well-known for his theory of “dynamic capabilities,” which says that what matters most for business is corporate agility, or the ability to sense new threats, seize opportunities, and reconfigure as necessary. His seminal 1997 paper on the concept has been cited almost 12,000 times in its original version, and 47,000 times in all versions.

For context, out of some 52 million articles indexed in the Web of Science since 1970, only 6,500 (or .01%) have been cited 2,000 or more times. Citation Laureates are identified and selected from among this group. “They are individuals whose research publications are highly cited and whose contributions to science have been extremely influential, even transformative,” according to Clarivate’s announcement.

“For a paper to be cited 2,000 times or more is a rarity,” said David Pendlebury, senior citation analyst at the Institute for Scientific Information at Clarivate. “Authors of very highly cited papers are usually members of national academies of sciences, hold senior appointments in universities and other research institutes, and have received many top international prizes in their fields. Indeed, many of them have helped to shape their fields of study.”

Clarivate uses quantitative data in addition to qualitative assessment to provide insights about the world’s most influential researchers. Citation Laureates are awarded in the areas recognized by the Nobel Prize: Physiology or Medicine, Physics, Chemistry and Economics. Since 2002, 376 researchers have been awarded Citation Laureates, and 59 of them have gone on to receive a Nobel Prize.

Teece has been a professor at the Haas School of Business since 1982. He formerly served as faculty director of the Institute for Business Innovation. He holds a PhD in economics from the University of Pennsylvania as well as 10 honorary doctorates.

“I cherish the atmosphere of open discussion and the ability to challenge received paradigms, which is a quintessential Berkeley trait,” Teece said. “We must all work hard to maintain these traits along with an interdisciplinary focus, and linkages between theory and practice. It is only by pursuing these goals that our frameworks, theories, and models can be both rigorous and relevant.”

 

Money Moves

Haas alumni ride the wave of fintech revolution

Harsh Sinha, MBA 14 Chief Technology Officer & Senior Vice President, Wise

After growing up in India and emigrating to the U.S., Harsh Sinha, MBA 14 (shown left), learned firsthand about the oft-hidden fees involved in moving money globally. Traditionally, dollars sent overseas go through a network of correspondent banks in two or more countries, each marking up the exchange rate along the way. Remitting wages back home, booking a hotel room, paying a foreign supplier—all are subject to markups.

“I remember how expensive it was just to get Indian rupees converted to U.S. dollars for my tuition,” he says. “Banks were saying they had no fees, but the fees were hidden in the exchange rates—sometimes as high as 5% to 8% markups. It felt like a racket.”

Twelve years later, Sinha is helping eliminate the costly intermediary fees as chief technology officer at Wise, a London-based company started in 2010. Wise (previously Transferwise) has bank accounts in 80-plus countries. A person in the U.S. sending money to France, for example, would deposit dollars in Wise’s U.S. bank, and Wise’s French bank would deposit euros into the recipient’s account.

“The money never crosses borders,” says Sinha, who has helped grow the company from 40 to 550 engineers over the past five years, making it one of the world’s leading fintech firms. It went public in July, listing on the London Stock Exchange.

Instead of marking up the exchange rate, says Sinha, Wise charges a transparent fee that is five to eight times less than what banks charge, and the money generally reaches the recipient in one day or less—versus two to five days for bank transfers.

Wise is part of an explosion of companies using technology to offer financial products or services that are quicker, cheaper, or more accessible than what mainstream banks, brokerages, and insurance companies offer. And according to those in the know, we’ve thus far seen only the beginning of the fintech revolution.

Sinha is one of many Haas alumni at the forefront. Haas grads are playing leadership roles in determining how money moves at companies large and small—including some hatched at Berkeley—as well as at venture capital firms and big banks.

“Fintech applications are increasingly disrupting many aspects of everyday life: from how we pay for our coffee to how we trade stocks and apply for a mortgage,” says Professor Paul Gertler, the Li Ka Shing Professor of Economics and faculty director of the Institute for Business and Social Impact (IBSI). “If properly harnessed, fintech has the potential to do something even more revolutionary: provide access to millions of historically underserved people or those lacking access to the traditional financial system.”

The Dawn of Fintech

While the fintech era may have started when PayPal (then named Confinity) launched money transfers via email back in 1999, two things lit the flame: the 2007 introduction of the iPhone, which allowed for mobile financial transactions, and the 2008 financial crisis, which left many consumers distrustful of large banks and Wall Street firms. Over the past year, the COVID pandemic gave fintech firms another boost by forcing more commerce online. Suddenly, businesses of all kinds were clamoring for digital payment options.

Today, many fintechs have valuations that rival—or exceed—the nation’s largest financial institutions. Earlier this year, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon labeled fintechs an “enormous competitive threat” in a shareholder letter, contending that fintechs had an unfair advantage because they weren’t subject to the same regulations as banks. Others say regulators have given fintechs a wide berth in part because they’re reaching populations unserved or underserved by mainstream institutions.

Bill Rindfuss, executive director of strategic programs in the Haas Finance Group, says that in some ways, regulations are protecting banks. “Technology has kind of eaten some industries: Retail really stands out, and it’s rapidly encroaching on transportation,” he says. “But it seems like there’s more of a symbiotic relationship between technology and finance.” Only regulated banks can offer products insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and as some banks have acquired fintechs, some fintechs have started, acquired, or partnered with regulated banks so they could offer insured deposit accounts or other services.

Making Payments Simple

One example of this interdependent relationship is online payments—highly regulated because of the often-sensitive credentials, like credit card numbers, required to conduct a purchase.

Brian Dudley, BS 11 Principal, Adams Street Partners“Payments is an unbelievably massive market,” says Brian Dudley, BS 11 (shown right), a venture capitalist specializing in fintech at Adams Street Partners. Indeed, Boston Consulting Group predicts that global payments revenues could grow to $1.8 trillion by 2024—a 20% increase from 2019. It’s also incredibly complex to set up payments in multiple countries with different regulations and payment preferences, Dudley notes.

Stripe is one company facilitating those transactions for online businesses. Its core software product ensures that information is handled in a compliant manner while allowing companies to accept many payment types—such as debit, credit, ACH, and wire transfers—in many countries, with one integration.

Andrew Lee, MBA 15 Partnerships, StripeAndrew Lee, MBA 15 (shown left), manages partnerships for Stripe, whose customers range from early stage startups to large public companies such as DoorDash and Lyft. It may surprise some people, but “we’re still in the early innings of the move to digital,” Lee says. “During COVID, brick-and-mortar retailers realized that they were underinvested in e-commerce.”

In fact, the continuing migration of financial services toward digital channels led to a near-record $21 billion raised by venture capital-backed fintech companies in the first quarter of 2021, according to PitchBook. Stripe itself raised $600 million in March, vaulting its valuation to $95 billion, the highest of any U.S. private company, according to CB Insights.

A woman using a mobile device to pay for a purchase at a produce stand from another woman.
Photo: Victor Okhumale / Alamy Stock Photo

Knowing your customer

Moses Lo, MBA 15 Co-Founder and CEO, XenditStripe announced this year that it’s expanding to Indonesia, but Xendit was there first.

Co-founded at Haas by Moses Lo (shown right) and Vivek Ahuja, both MBA 15, and then-Berkeley computer science undergrads Juan Gonzalez, BA 13, and Bo Chen, BS 13, Xendit acts as a payment gateway for Indonesia, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia, accepting and sending payments, holding funds, and providing other financial services for global names like Samsung, Wish, and Wise as well as regional airlines, rural banks, and other businesses.

Lo, Xendit’s CEO, moved the company to Indonesia because he’s from there, it’s growing fast, and half the population is younger than 30. “It’s a mobile-first, tech-savvy country, but the infrastructure is super old,” Lo says. “We have the opportunity to build new digital infrastructure that will empower the next generation of businesses in Southeast Asia.” The Jakarta-based company has raised $88 million and employs about 350 staff.

We have the opportunity to build new digital infrastructure that will empower the next generation of businesses in Southeast Asia.

— Moses Lo, MBA 15

Lo says his understanding of Southeast Asian culture has contributed to Xendit’s success. “It’s all about relationships,” he says. “You need to understand the powers that be and how to get regulators to work with you.”

John Frerichs MBA 11 Managing Director/GM of U.S. SMB Merchant Services, JPMorgan Chase & Co.John Frerichs, MBA 11 (shown left), worked for another payment fintech—but from within the nation’s largest bank. He was part of the strategy team at JPMorgan Chase that led the purchase of WePay in 2017 and became WePay’s CFO. WePay has since been incorporated into other parts of JPMorgan, and Frerichs is now managing parts of it as head of merchant services for small and mid-size U.S. businesses. 

He says fintech is changing the balance of power within financial institutions. “Historically, you have seen people with a finance or risk background steering the ship. Increasingly, you’ll see people in product or technology play a larger role because of their greater focus on the end user,” he says.

Banks ignoring customer experience is one of the reasons fintechs have made inroads into banking, says Frerichs. “Banks historically focused on managing risk, lowering prices, and offering rewards like credit card points—not how to make a financial service application work well,” he says.

But they haven’t yet moved to the next level, Frerichs adds: Using the payment data they collect to create truly personalized offers and financial services. “Google and Netflix have done this well,” Frerichs says.

Man scanning a QR code on a sign reading "Bitcoin accepted here."
Photo: Zuma Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

Serving the unbanked

While payments have been a way for some fintechs to muscle in on areas dominated by the traditional global banking system, others are using payment technology to reach those left out of the system altogether.

The World Bank reports that 69% of adults worldwide had an account at a bank or with a mobile money provider in 2017, up from 51% in 2011, but that percentage is much lower in poorer countries. And access to financial services, it found, can reduce poverty and inequality.

Fai Lui, MBA 19 Investment Professional, International Finance Corp.Fai Lui, MBA 19 (shown right), serves in the fintech investment group with International Finance Corp. (IFC), a part of the World Bank that helps to finance private-sector projects in emerging markets.

In relatively poorer countries, says Lui, bank accounts are limited to the upper class. “Payment is often the entry point where investors and companies go first,” she says. A vendor selling vegetables on the street may not have a bank account, but they could use a mobile phone app to send and accept payments and pay bills. The app maker can then see the seller’s transactions and eventually use this data to provide loans, insurance, and other financial products.

I don’t think there is true democratization of financial markets without democratizing financial education.

— Haas Assoc. Prof. Panos Patatoukas

One of IFC’s most successful investments is bKash, an app allowing people in Bangladesh to send and receive money, pay bills, and more without a bank account. Fewer than 15% of Bangladeshis have traditional bank accounts but more than 68% have mobile phones, according to bKash, which in one decade has become the country’s largest mobile financial services provider. The Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies found in a 2018 household survey that using bKash has raised non-agricultural family income by 15.2% and total per capita income by 5.8%.

Haas researchers are also at the forefront of the inclusive finance movement. IBSI is poised to launch two complementary initiatives in this space: the Lab for Inclusive FinTech (LIFT), initially supported by Ripple Impact and Binance Charity Foundation, and the Wells Fargo Research Lab for Sustainable Financial Services and Innovation. The two initiatives bridge the gaps among research, industry partners, and policy makers to reimagine the design and reach of digital financial services worldwide. They combine rigorous field experiments and frontier research with fintech, big data, and AI to build an inclusive, socially responsible, and sustainable digital economy.

Making saving a game

Pedro Moura, MBA 18 Co-Founder and CEO, FlourishInclusive finance efforts aren’t limited to the developing world. When Pedro Moura, MBA 18 (shown left), came to California from Brazil at age 15, his family was undocumented for a time. His mom cleaned houses, and when her car broke down, she had to get a high-cost payday loan to fix it so she could work.

“It’s expensive to be poor in the U.S.,” says Moura, who became a U.S. resident in 2010. “If you don’t have a credit history, your options are pretty limited in terms of accessing emergency loans.”

Indeed, a Federal Reserve survey found that in July 2020, 30% of American adults could not cover a $400 emergency with cash or its equivalent. 

While working on his MBA, Moura came to believe that lending alone was not enough to pull people into the financial mainstream. “At Haas, I wanted to meet people who would redesign banking services for underserved consumers,” he says.

Jessica Eting, MBA 18 Co-Founder and COO, FlourishMoura found a kindred spirit in Jessica Eting, MBA 18 (shown right). Her father, a Filipino immigrant, suffered an aneurysm when she was nine and fell into a coma when she was 11. He never recovered and died 14 years later. Her mom, working as a teacher’s aide, went on food stamps for a time. “The financial struggles I saw my mom go through shaped me,” Eting says.

For an applied innovation class, they created Flourish, which uses behavioral science and gamification to encourage people to save and build positive financial habits. The pair now licenses its digital rewards and engagement software to regional banks and credit unions, which then embed it into their own mobile apps to attract customers and make it fun to manage money wisely. At three years old, the company already has clients in Bolivia, Brazil, and the U.S.

Everybody trades

Some fintechs aim to democratize finance another way—by simplifying trading. Anyone can download the Robinhood app, for example, and start trading stocks and cryptocurrency almost immediately, with $1 minimum and no commission. Robinhood, which went public in July, was started in 2013; by 2018, it had more users than E*Trade, which was founded some 30 years earlier.

Stripe’s Lee, who previously worked as Robinhood’s head of partnerships, says his generation and younger might not be able to access the stock market were it not for fintechs like Robinhood. He says commissions are an antiquated fee that made sense when trading wasn’t digitized but in recent years only served to line the pockets of brokerages and lock out less wealthy investors. “Even at $5 per trade, commissions could eliminate profits on a one-share stock purchase and sale,” he says.

Robinhood’s success forced most of its rivals to eliminate commissions, but so-called “democratized finance” has raised other issues. Associate Professor Panos Patatoukas, the L.H. Penney Chair in Accounting, argues that commission-free trading isn’t enough. “Access to trading is not equivalent to access to informed decision-making,” he says.

Patatoukas is working on a platform that he describes as “the interactive Bloomberg for everyday people,” referring to the Bloomberg terminals that professional investors use to get real-time market data and analytics. “I don’t think there is true democratization of financial markets without democratizing financial education,” he says.

The future, decentralized

Enabling customers to make informed financial decisions will only become more important with the rise of blockchain and cryptocurrency.

Haas Professor Christine Parlour, the Sylvan C. Coleman Chair in Finance and Accounting, even envisions a possible future where no institutions control the financial system, thanks to the decentralized nature of blockchain technology, which records and verifies encrypted blocks of data in such a way that no single entity controls it. 

It’s the technology behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but the potential applications are almost limitless. It could allow a new system known as decentralized finance or DeFi, Parlour says. 

Under such a system, anyone theoretically could make loans or other financial products available to anyone else through a public decentralized network, cutting out the intermediaries—along with central banks and regulators—and vastly reducing costs.

“This is the biggest competitive threat to the existing big financial institutions that I’ve seen,” Parlour says. But it also poses unknown risks to the global financial system, and “that should keep regulators up at night.”

Indeed, regulators must walk that fine line between encouraging innovation and protecting individuals and the global financial system. But whether upstarts replace financial institutions or force them to become more nimble, customers should benefit as products continue to get cheaper, simpler, and more accessible.

Kernie Obimakinde, MBA 18
Program Manager for Privacy and Security, Google

Kernie Obimakinde

For Nigerian native Kernie Obimakinde, her career is all about paying it forward.

“My country is blessed with both natural resources and smart people, but many Nigerians are barely surviving,” she says. “I came to Haas to understand the world’s best business practices, to better manage resources and people, and then apply those tools to the gaps I see at home.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in both electrical and computer engineering, Obimakinde worked for 10 years in Nigeria before entering Haas. After graduation, she became a strategic and privacy program manager for Google, working first in the U.S. then in Zurich to be closer to family in Nigeria.

Recently, Obimakinde was a fellow for the Google.org project, which supports nonprofits and social initiatives with everything from funding to pro bono employee time. Obimakinde spent six months as the lead program manager for Global.health, an open platform that makes epidemiological data freely available so diseases can be tracked in real time. She and her team helped Global.health with a major rebranding effort, which required her to manage people across seven time zones during the pandemic.

Obimakinde sees her career arc as a reflection of not only the networking support she’s received at Haas but also her own ability to translate her enthusiasm into good management.

“My experiences at Google and Global.health have been amazing,” she says. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to develop my program management skills so that when I go back to Nigeria, I can work with like-minded people in shaping a better nation.”

linkedin.com/in/kernieobimakinde

New paper highlights manipulation in 5G patent licensing

The value of competing 5G technology standards shouldn’t be judged by number of patents alone, according to new research by David Teece.

Cellular communications tower for mobile phone and video data transmission
Photo credit: Bill Oxford for iStock/Getty Images

Whether its mobile phones or autonomous cars or telemedicine, 5G is a game-changer, enabling cellular connections up to 100 times faster than 4G. Unfortunately, not all 5G implementations are alike: 5G technology portfolios are easily manipulated by patent holders, and determining which set of technologies and standards are most viable is not always straightforward.

That’s according to Berkeley Haas Prof. David Teece, who examined the problem of 5G patents in a new article for California Management Review titled, “Technological Leadership and 5G Patent Portfolios: Guiding Strategic Policy and Licensing Decisions.” Teece, the Thomas W. Tusher Professor in Global Business and director of the Tusher Initiative of Intangible Assets, highlights the flaws of the patent licensing system and the use of patent counts as an indicator of a technology’s value.

Patent licensing systems

When 5G developers patent their technology, they work with standard development organizations (SDOs) that in turn work with the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) to make sure that the patents are commercially viable and meet the standardized elements for foundational technologies. Once the patent is licensed, 3GPP and these developers gain their profits from patent licensing fees and royalty payments which are determined by the fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) criteria.

Teece observed that under this licensing system, policing unlicensed use of patent data is often complex and difficult. That means that while these patents may be protected legally, they may not be protected practically. Moreover, just because a license is available does not mean royalties will be paid: The SDOs that patent-developers work with only provide the FRAND framework, but do not assist in developing an official licensing program. Teece suggests that patent owners must be willing to develop a licensing program that users must sign up for, and courts must be willing to charge patent infringers. These two actions may help prevent unlicensed users from getting away with not paying royalities.

Manipulation of patent counts

Prof. David Teece
Prof. David Teece

Another problem lies in the way that many companies determine which patents to license. It is tempting to look at the number of patents generated as an indicator of their quality, but quantity does not equal quality. “Patent counts are misleading proxies for technological contribution and leadership,” says Teece. “When well-respected media outlets like the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times trumpet the patent rankings of companies and countries as proxies for patent value and technological leadership, with minimal if any qualification, it reinforces widespread ignorance about the utility of patent statistics.”

Patent counts can be deceiving and because they are likely biased, he says. For example, one country could hold the most patents, but others may be running the development and deployment services for 5G technology. On another note, the line between patents described as essential and patents simply declared as essential can be ambiguous. This makes patent counting inaccurate and invalid.

More importantly, Teece found that “the patent process is strategically manipulated by some countries and some companies.” For example, as China races to match the success of Western economies, it now owns about 36% of essential 5G patents. They may be partly due to China’s government subsidizing many of the patenting processes, however. Companies also have this same motivation for obtaining license control. In the past, higher patent counts were due to certain companies’ efforts to gain leverage in license negotiations.

With patent counts being easily manipulated, Teece described five key metrics used to understand patent data. Family counts and the number of technical contributions to standard bodies are found to be easy to manipulate and are not meaningful indicators of technological value, he says. On the other hand, forward-citation counts, the number of independent claims, and geographic coverage are difficult to manipulate, but are still not perfect in judging the value of a patent.  For example, forward-citation counts do not always reflect commercial significance.

After understanding how patent data is analyzed, Teece lays out methods to for properly assessing leadership in 5G technology. These include performing a patent-by-patent analysis of leading patents, looking at comparable licenses (with running royalty licenses as the most reliable indicator of royalty rates), and utilizing aggregate market-observed choice data to calculate the profit impact of patented technologies.

“Manipulation happens all too often,” Teece says. Though some of the alternative methods to determine technological value may be costly, these steps can help make vast improvements to the future of wireless technology development and use, he argues

Teece’s article was published in the Spring 2021 issue of California Management Review, a journal that publishes academic work that engages scholars and contribute to the practice of management.

 

 

Haas startups receive top honors at LAUNCH Demo Day

MINWO Founder Melanie Akwule, EWMBA 19, took third place at LAUNCH Demo Day.

Three Berkeley Haas startups netted top honors at LAUNCH Demo Day, UC’s accelerator and competition for early-stage startups. The event was held online May 2. 

MINWO, an online hub connecting Black entrepreneurs with angel investors and resources tied for third place; Clever.FM, a podcast app that allows users to discover and listen to podcasts and make in-app purchases, won Best Pitch; and EdVisorly, a program that helps community college students transfer to four-year universities, won Audience Choice.

MINWO and EdVisorly netted $5,000 each and Clever.FM landed $2,500 in prize money. 

MINWO was founded by Melanie Akwule, EWMBA 19, EdVisorly was co-founded by Manny Smith, MBA 21, and Alyson Isaacs, BS 21, and Clever.FM was founded by Sean Li, EWMBA 20.

Portrait of Sean Li
Sean Li, EWMBA 20, founded podcast app, Clever.FM. He’s also the creator and co-producer of the OneHaas podcast.

Myntor, a test prep software that provides tutoring help and answers using conversational artificial intelligence, placed first and self-biodegradable plastic startup, Intropic Materials, took second, netting a total of $50,000. The winning team included Founder and CEO Nathan Poon, PhD 21 (mechanical engineering), and Product Director Michael Fogarasi, MBA 22.

“Working with Nate and Myntor has been an absolute highlight of my MBA experience,” said Fogarasi. “I came to Haas specifically to help build the next generation of educational technology products and I am so excited that these plans are becoming a reality.” 

Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program (BHEP) said this spring’s LAUNCH cohort was the most diverse since the accelerator’s inception, with eight of 10 UCs represented and 13 founders from underrepresented communities, five of whom identify as Black. The cohort also included seven women founders and two startups led by military veterans.

Portrait: Rhonda Shrader“All 21 teams that finished the program learned the necessary skills to take their ventures forward and will be supported by the strong bonds they formed with each other over the past three months,” Shrader said.

Ten UC teams pitched to VCs and angel investors on Demo Day, out of a crop of 21 teams that finished the three-month-long accelerator program that aims to transform promising startups into fundable companies. 

Startup teams that participate in LAUNCH go through a rigorous curriculum designed to help entrepreneurs refine and test their business model. During the program, teams get to test their product with customers, connect with industry experts, receive guidance from Haas mentors, and pitch to investors on Demo Day. 

LAUNCH, which is part of BHEP, has proven to be a boon for early-stage startups in the UC system. More than 150 LAUNCH alumni companies have raised over $200 million in funding. 

The competition featured talks from Ryan McDonough, co-founder of Accompany,  software that collects and develops profiles about C-suite executives, and Haas alums Richard Din, co-founder of food delivery service Caviar, and Brad Bao, founder of e-bike and scooter rental company, Lime. All three spoke about their entrepreneurial successes and challenges.

Launch Demo Day can be viewed on YouTube.

Stowsky and Goodson honored for ‘extraordinary teaching in extraordinary times’

Berkeley Haas Senior Assistant Dean for Instruction Jay Stowsky and Lecturer Peter Goodson have been recognized with UC Berkeley’s Extraordinary Teaching in Extraordinary Times award

The award was created by the Academic Senate’s Committee on Teaching to honor faculty, staff, and student instructors who embraced the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and engaged in or supported excellent teaching.

“These instructors and staff used innovative methods and worked beyond their traditional roles to ensure that students remained engaged and supported, and were challenged to do meaningful work under extraordinary circumstances,” wrote the award committee.

Jay Stowsky
Jay Stowsky

Stowsky has served as senior assistant dean for instruction for 14 years, and at Haas for 24 years. He played a critical role in overseeing the transition from live to remote classes. 

“Working to match the engagement level of a live, physical classroom has involved hours of brainstorming, planning, workshop training, and investments in a host of new technologies,” wrote Stowsky, who is retiring at the end of the semester. “It has been fascinating, and challenging, to conceptualize, organize and operationalize this goal with the faculty, graduate student instructors, and technology teams at Haas.” 

Remote learning innovations at Haas included the installation of four state-of-the-art virtual classrooms, technical upgrades to regular classrooms for virtual teaching, regularly scheduled faculty-student engagement sessions, improvements in production quality of digitized asynchronous content, a remote instruction workshop series for faculty, and tech training. 

Peter Goodson
Peter Goodson

Goodson is a distinguished teaching fellow and continuing lecturer who has taught popular courses on mergers & acquisitions, private equity, and turnarounds to MBA students since 2004. After the pandemic forced all courses online, he invested “hundreds of hours repurposing content and delivery” to transform his courses.

“Our lofty goal was to deliver a ‘value proposition’ that was as good as or better than the in-person model,” he wrote of the experience. “Our team designed an online classroom experience that is optimized for student engagement; altered curricula to showcase students’ company’s pandemic strategies; published COVID MBA cases (including the first at Berkeley Haas); established rigorous and equitable inclusion; and created a feedback system to continuously improve the course.” 

The result was courses where students were highly engaged and rated among the very best experiences they’d had with online learning.

Goodson and Stowsky are among 38 individuals and teams selected from 500 nominees for the award. See the full list of honorees.

Five questions with Gauri Subramani, PhD 21, who researches the gender divide in innovation

As commencement approaches, we’re interviewing grads-to-be from different Haas programs about their experiences at Haas and future plans. We kick off our “five questions”  feature with Gauri Subramani, PhD 21, one of 11 Berkeley Haas PhD students participating in virtual commencement May 1.

Photo of Gauri
Gauri Subramani

Gauri Subramani studies the intersection between innovation and representation, specifically with respect to gender. She’s studied patents as a way to measure innovation in her research, examining the reasons for the underrepresentation of women in patents in the U.S.

This fall, Subramani will join the faculty at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. The first course she’ll teach to undergraduates is Leadership in Organizations.  (Watch a video about her research here)

Here’s our interview:

You majored in economics and English as an undergrad at Wellesley College and ended up working in the Office of Economic Policy in Obama’s Treasury Department after graduating.

Did the English major help?

Gauri Subramani with her parents at her undergrad commencement.

Economics got me in the door, but English helped me to write and to be a good communicator. I really benefited from doing both. This was my second job out of college, which I held for two years, and they were excited that I had a background in English. A lot of work goes into writing clearly about economic insights and the role of the Economic Policy team at the Treasury Department is to translate policy on behalf of the Treasury Secretary, President, and others in the administration. If you can’t communicate with others, you are working in a void.

You must have brought those same skills to your PhD research?

Yes, definitely. I feel that being able to write in an accessible way is really important, particularly as an academic. I’ve also learned from the work of researchers whom I respect a great deal. For example, (Harvard professor) Raj Chetty is an amazing economist and has written very readable papers exploring the drivers of inequality. Partly because of its accessibility, his work also gets a lot of attention in the policy world and in popular press. My favorite paper that he’s written is about who becomes an inventor in America (which explores the roles of family background and exposure to innovation by examining data available in tax records). It inspired the work that I’ve done.

You’ve researched how women and men differ when it comes to applying for patents. Why are so many more men granted patents over time?

To begin, women are less likely than men to apply for patents; roughly 86% of applications come from men or all-male teams. But even conditional on applying for a patent, women are less likely to end up receiving one than men. My coauthors and I studied this gap and found that female patent applicants are less likely to continue in the patent process after receiving a rejection, which is a fairly common event, and inventors can respond to these rejections and their application will continue to be evaluated.

To begin, women are less likely than men to apply for patents; roughly 86% of applications come from men or all-male teams. But even conditional on applying for a patent, women are less likely to end up receiving one than men.

We did find evidence that the gender gap is reduced for applications when an attorney is used or the patent applicant is affiliated with a firm. There are so many environmental factors that can contribute to gender disparities, including the type of support women get at firms, and how organizations invest in a male versus a female inventor. Our findings suggest that access to resources and information can help decrease the gender gap in patenting.

How did you decide to study patents? Was that your idea when you started the program?

I am broadly interested in understanding representation in innovation, and a project I spent some time on was exploring the underrepresentation of women in clinical trials and the impact that has on health outcomes. This project didn’t get off the ground because it was only semi-recently that companies were required to report data by gender and it’s hard to get data on the performance of a drug by gender. But that got me thinking about other areas in which to study the effects of inclusion on innovative outcomes. A popular and common way to measure innovation is to look at patents because the data is easily available, quite fine-grained, and updated regularly.

Abhishek Nagaraj
Asst. Prof. Abhishek Nagaraj of the Management of Organizations group helped Subramani “ask better questions and do better research.”

Which faculty have you worked with closely in your program?

I’ve worked most closely with Asst. Prof. Abhishek Nagaraj. I’ve learned a lot from him about how to ask better questions and how to do better research.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to go into academia initially because I thought that “measurable impact” meant working in policy.

But then I saw how some faculty here bridge the gap, by helping to inform policy conversations and by talking to people in industry. I was a GSI for Abhishek in Entrepreneurial Strategy, a class he developed as an elective to bring research to practice. In the class, the students learn research-based frameworks that inform how one should develop an entrepreneurial strategy.  Abhishek brought speakers into the class and made an effort to make the course’s takeaways tangible to students, and to keep two feet in the real world.

 

The Font Detective

Thomas Phinney, MBA 03, uncovers forgeries and solves modern-day crimes

Thomas Phinney was working as the product manager in Adobe Systems’ fonts group when his team received a request from an attorney about a suspected will forgery. The lawyer wondered whether the fonts in which the disputed document was typed might provide a clue. “I was the only one in the group to say, ‘Hey, that sounds cool!’” says Phinney.

Using a digital microscope and counting individual pixels, Phinney noticed speckles of stray ink around each letter and “wicking,” or bleeding, of ink along the paper fibers. He deduced that the document had been printed on an early inkjet printer at 300 dots per inch (dpi). “There was one small problem,” says Phinney. “That type of printer didn’t exist in 1983,” the year the document was purportedly written. The Case of the Wicked Will, as Phinney calls it—he affectionately names all of his investigations—was cracked.

An image from the disputed will in Phinney’s first case compared with offset lithography, like book printing.
An image from the disputed will in Phinney’s first case, Exhibit A shows “wicking” (bleeding) of ink along paper fibers, as well as bigger streaking from the printing process, both visible at top of the “o.” Also visible is a stairstep pattern on the inside of the “o,” an effect of the 300 dots-per-inch resolution of the inkjet printer. By contrast, Exhibit B shows offset lithography, like book printing.

Phinney’s fascination with all things fonts and typography have led him to become the world’s foremost forensic font expert, capable of dating and identifying fonts and the technology used to print them. He’s been an expert witness for numerous court cases and evaluated questioned documents for the U.S. Treasury, The Washington Post, the BBC, the PBS television show History Detectives, and more. He also consults for the likes of Microsoft and Google. Whether uncovering forgeries, verifying font sizes against mandated legal requirements, or a host of related typography conundrums, Font Detective Phinney relishes his work at the intersection of art, commerce, history, and technology.

Why typography matters

For a field with roots in Gutenberg’s printing press, fonts remain at the bleeding edge of our digital world. Digital typography underpins virtually every page with which we interact online. And yet, Phinney often finds himself defending why it all matters. Branding, for one thing, he says. “The selection of typefaces and the arrangement of them can be as important as the use of color, images, or abstract graphics in creating a brand,” Phinney wrote in Communication Arts magazine.

Psychological research has also shown that even subtle differences in typography, such as using small caps and old-style figures, can affect a reader’s mood (as indicated by use of the corrugator muscle in the forehead to frown) as well as one’s performance on creative cognitive tasks after reading.

Type design, a craft that blends art and science, is like fashion or furniture, says Phinney, himself a type designer. “While true innovation is rare, people consistently come up with variations on existing themes or combine existing elements in new ways.”

He points to the ScienceGothic.com site, which displays an open-source, dynamic typeface he’s been working on with funding from Google. Users can quickly change the weight, width, contrast, and slant of the font to achieve different-looking results, all while still staying within the Science Gothic family—something that would require 200+ fonts to achieve using traditional methods. “It’s proof that there’s still so much new you can do with fonts,” says Phinney.

Turning up the ‘intellectual simmer’

Phinney earned undergraduate degrees in psychology and political science at the University of Alberta in Canada, where he grew up, then a master’s in graphic arts publishing with a specialization in design and typography at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He then began an 11-year career with Adobe Systems in Silicon Valley.

It was during his Adobe stint that he decided to pursue his Berkeley MBA via the evening and weekend program. Phinney was attracted to the school’s reputation and quality. “The level of intellectual simmer at Haas was really lovely,” he says. “People’s brains were always working to come up with new ideas and to challenge each other, and I liked being in an academic environment operating on that level.”

Earning an MBA might not have been the most obvious career path, Phinney says, but he used his Haas training to move up the product management chain at Adobe and later at font management software company Extensis in Portland, Oregon, where he currently lives. In 2014, Phinney joined FontLab, a creator of apps for type design and font creation, as VP, later becoming CEO.

While crediting a Haas course in negotiation as being particularly helpful in progressing through the management ranks, it was a class in managing technology-related businesses taught by Professor Emeritus Hal Varian that Phinney recalls as a game changer for his career.

The selection of typefaces and the arrangement of them can be as important as the use of color, images, or abstract graphics in creating a brand.

“That one class gave me fundamental tools and new ways of thinking about interconnected ideas that all played into my day job, like substitutability of goods and zero marginal cost for digital goods—including fonts,” says Phinney. “They’re essentially a weird form of mass-produced software.”

Driving demand for detective work

But even as his day jobs kept him busy, Phinney continued getting called to the work that had long fascinated him: unlocking the mysteries held by fonts and typography. Throughout his corporate work years, “Cases just kept popping up,” he says, with word of mouth driving font forensic questions to his personal inbox.

One such case involved a rabbi who had faked his credentials to land a job. A family in his congregation turned to Phinney to validate details of the man’s graduation certificate, or smichah. The rabbi had taken steps to make it harder to detect, degrading the quality of the document by providing only a faxed copy, not the original. But the deception couldn’t elude the font detective. “The document was dated 1968, but the font in which his name was printed didn’t exist until 1992,” Phinney says. And so ended The Case of the Reprehensible Rabbi.

By 2018, Phinney decided to make his side gig official. “I was having so much fun with this work,” he says. “I also realized that it wasn’t a trivial amount of money I could earn through these cases, especially if I took the time to publicize it in a formal way.” Just two years after hanging out his virtual shingle as The Font Detective, Phinney earns as much as half his revenue from font forensics; the remainder comes from designing fonts for clients like Google.

typefaces created by Phinney
As a type designer, Phinney has created numerous typefaces, including commissions for open-source typefaces from Google, private designs, and a handful that have seen commercial use in supplements to the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game. Shown here are those that are publicly available.

The bad, the inadvertent, and the illegibly small

Phinney says that most forensic cases fall into one of two categories. The “nefarious” cases are those like the man who sought to prevent his wife from getting her fair share of assets in their divorce by forging debt documents, to bamboozle her into accepting a lower valuation of their communal property. Unfortunately for the soon-to-be ex-husband in Phinney’s Case of the Dastardly Divorce, those faked documents were not only printed on a 600 dpi printer that didn’t exist at the time they were dated but were created in a font that wouldn’t have been available either. “That case was slam-dunk easy,” says Phinney.

The other type of case Phinney commonly handles involves determining if documents meet typographical legal requirements, like whether what Phinney terms “the stupidly tiny” 5-point typography on Justin Timberlake’s CD liner notes were sufficient to stand as public notification of others’ copyrights on the album. (Phinney suggested not. The case was settled out of court.)

Even for organizations trying to be good font citizens, it can be challenging. “I feel for corporations, because legal typography requirements can differ in every state,” Phinney says. California, for instance, requires information on prescription labels to be printed in at least a 12-point font, while that may not be the case in other jurisdictions. In New York, legal requirements for both font point size and height work a bit differently than those of any other state. “Which is just another reason a lawyer might need to consult an expert,” notes Phinney.

The perfect case

Phinney’s dream case is “one that has major implications of some sort and exposes malfeasance that affects a lot of people.” He had a close brush back in 2004, when he was asked by journalists to examine memos related to President George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard that seemed to prove that Bush had disobeyed orders and received outside help in cleaning up his military record. “Based on my research I could not support a conclusion that they were authentic—quite the contrary,” says Phinney, speaking of the high-profile case that ended with a public repudiation of the journalists who ran with the story without authenticating the forged documents first. So the hunt for the perfect case continues.

Reflecting on his career, Phinney has a message for anyone thinking of making a mid-career switch to a vocation that has been tugging at them.

“I could have been embarrassed or ashamed to switch paths out of my corporate management career to something that, on the surface, wouldn’t draw so broadly on my MBA training,” he says. “But I’m really glad I didn’t let those feelings deter me from doing what I wanted to do. Because I’m still making money but having way more fun!”

Mike Ralston, MBA 99
Co-Founder & COO, Qwake Technologies

Mike Ralston, MBA 99

According to the National Fire Protection Association, one U.S. civilian dies a fire-related death every 142 minutes. Mike Ralston is working to alleviate that tragedy. The engineer and former firefighter co-founded Qwake Technologies to help firefighters navigate smoke-filled scenes.

“Typically, a firefighter will be walking or crawling, with one hand on the wall, feeling their way blindly,” says Ralston, who spent his 14-year firefighting career in Santa Clara County and Menlo Park. “If you come into a room that’s 10 feet by 20 feet and there’s a victim in the middle of the room, it could take five minutes to locate the victim.”

Qwake’s C-THRU Visual Communication platform is a helmet-mounted, augmented-reality device that delineates the contours of people and obstacles not otherwise visible in fire scenes. C-THRU also streams the images to an incident-command tablet for better communication and situational awareness. The device, which should be available this year, also shortens the time firefighters spend in toxic environments and speeds locating a fire’s source, reducing financial losses to a structure.

Ralston has long advocated for technology to fight fires—he previously led the technology and innovation group within the Menlo Park Fire Protection District—but for Qwake to succeed, he says, technology needs to be built into the public safety ecosystem.

So far, he says, “It hasn’t been economically viable for companies to go out and produce this [kind of] technology. We came at it from a different point of view, ‘How can we make something with an economic incentive to bring to market?’ Saving lives while reducing property loss and health exposure may be the answer.”

linkedin.com/in/mikeralston

Drip Buy

The cunningness of hidden fees

iPad with Stubhub Order Screen

There’s a reason online ticket sellers hit you with those extra fees after you’ve picked your seats and are ready to click “buy.”

Pure profit.

A massive field experiment by Prof.Steven Tadelis with the online ticket marketplace StubHub concluded that so-called “drip pricing”—whereby additional fees are only disclosed at checkout—resulted in people spending more than those shown all-inclusive prices up front. It’s a particularly effective strategy for online sales, which in the past two years have overtaken brick-and-mortar shopping.

For the experiment, StubHub randomly assigned half of all U.S. users, who count in the millions, to a hidden fee structure: Buyers saw only the ticket list price as they shopped; extra fees were displayed on the checkout page. The other half of users saw all-inclusive prices, which included fees and taxes generally amounting to 15% of the ticket price plus shipping and handling.

Overall, the StubHub users who weren’t shown fees until checkout spent about 21% more on tickets and were 14% more likely to complete a purchase compared with those who saw all-inclusive prices from the start. Those in the hidden-fee group also bought pricier tickets.

The findings raise questions as to whether consumers have a right to full price transparency up front. Tadelis noted that some governments have regulated this behavior—Canada, for example, banned drip pricing for ticket sales.

“I can’t think of a good reason to allow this practice in any country as the harm to consumers is clear from our study,” Tadelis says.

Like-Minded

The power and vulnerability of social networks

Brain formed of images of people with outstretched arms.

There’s a reason ideas—even erroneous ones—catch fire on social media, says Berkeley Haas Assistant Professor Douglas Guilbeault: groupthink. His new research, published in Nature Communications, shows that large groups all tend to think alike and illustrates how easily people’s opinions can be swayed by social media—even by artificial users known as bots.

In an experiment, Guilbeault and colleagues asked numerous people to identify what they saw in Rorschach blots.

“In small populations, there was a ton of variation in how people described the shapes,” says Guilbeault. “As you increase the size of the population, however, rather than creating unpredictability, you could actually increase your ability to predict the categories they’d decide on.”

The large groups consistently settled on just a handful of ways to describe the numerous different blots, including “crab,” “bunny,” “frog,” and “couch.”

“When you’re in a small group, it’s more likely for unique perspectives to end up taking off and getting adopted,” Guilbeault explains. “Whereas in large groups, you consistently see ‘crab’ win out because separate individuals are introducing it, and you get a cascade.”

Interestingly, he and his colleagues were able to manipulate people’s choices by introducing bots with an agenda into the system. These automatic participants continually implanted the idea that the ink blots looked like a sumo wrestler, an otherwise unpopular category. Sure enough, when bots accounting for 37% of participants pushed the idea, human users also started adopting it over other categories.

Ten years ago, no one was talking about ‘fake news,’ and now everyone is trying to categorize whether news media is fake or not.

What’s more, when researchers afterwards showed those participants the image commonly deemed a crab by other groups, they were much more likely to call it sumo as well. “We showed people the crabbiest crab,” Guilbeault says, “but now plenty of people described it as looking like a sumo.”

The same phenomenon happens on social media, says Guilbeault, who has previously researched the influence of Twitter bots. By pushing an idea continuously, both real and automated users are able to sway the majority to use their terms. “In some sense, Trump’s presidency was a war over categories,” Guilbeault says. “Ten years ago, no one was talking about ‘fake news,’ and now everyone is trying to categorize whether news media is fake or not.”

For that reason, he says, content moderation by social media platforms that relies on identifying the difference between real and fake news may actually be doing more harm than good by subtly validating those very categories. A better approach, Guilbeault says, may be to focus on eliminating the bots spreading the categories in the first place—or to create more accurate categories that are also appealing enough to spread.

“You could do market research in a networked focus group,” says Guilbeault, in order to discover and spread more benign ideas. Those strategies might ultimately succeed better than using flags or warnings in changing the way people communicate, leading to a more civil public discourse overall.

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