UC Berkeley Startup Competition Adopts New Name, Attracts Record Entries

Whether the challenge is finding convenient parking in San Francisco, minimizing the toxicity of chemotherapy, or quickly and cost-effectively converting a business to LED lighting, the entrepreneurial teams in this year’s Berkeley Startup Competition have solutions.

More than 200 teams from UC Berkeley and UCSF entered this year. On April 22, 38 semifinalists, including 18 Haas-affiliated teams, will compete to become one of eight finalists to compete in the April 24 final round. Nearly $60,000 in prizes will be awarded to winners of the semifinal and final rounds.

This year the contest, previously known as Bplan, now has a new shorthand name: LAUNCH. The new name reflects the continued move away from the use of a long-form business plan to a one-page business model canvas and a 10-slide presentation used by today’s startups, according to Moses Lo and Kristen Duffel, both MBA 15, the student co-chairs of the competition.

“We thought about what this competition is really trying to do: It’s now much more about catapulting and launching companies from ideas to viable businesses over the course of the competition,” Lo says. “LAUNCH exactly describes our aim.”

The competition draws startups from four industry tracks: energy and cleantech, life sciences, products and services, and IT and Web. After teams make their pitches at the private semifinals, judges will select two teams from each track to compete in the final round. First-place track winners receive $5,000 and a chance to pitch their idea during the Spring 2014 application cycle for SkyDeck, UC Berkeley’s startup accelerator. Second-place track winners receive $2,500.

During the private portion of the April 24 finals event, judges will select the $20,000 grand prize winner, who also will receive an automatic six-month spot at SkyDeck. The winner will be announced at the public finals on the evening of April 24.

Each finalist is also eligible to win the $5,000 People’s Choice Award, chosen by an audience vote during the final public round presentation. In addition, the semifinalists who did not advance to the final round are eligible to win the $2,500 Elevator Pitch Award, also determined by audience votes.

Teams participating in LAUNCH receive other benefits as well, including networking and mentorship opportunities. New this year is a networking reception and expo, where the 30 semifinalists who did not advance to the finals can set up visuals and discuss their business ideas with attendees of the public final round.

Another change to the LAUNCH competition this year is a greater emphasis on financials and go-to-market strategy, with two new workshops created to better prepare teams in these areas.

“The workshops bring in real-world VCs and successful entrepreneurs to relay their insights into our focus areas and allow teams to iterate their content with our practitioners,” says Duffel, a co-chair.

All LAUNCH participants are also encouraged to enter FOUNDER.org’s competition—open to all students at UC Berkeley and other partner schools—to win a $100,000 grant. FOUNDER.org, a LAUNCH sponsor, is a nonprofit dedicated to advancing student entrepreneurship. A March 19 event at UC Berkeley will launch FOUNDER.org’s 2014 competition with a talk by FOUNDER.org CEO Michael Baum, whose career has included six startups, including the recent IPO of Splunk.

Registration is required for the April 24 LAUNCH public finals, which will take place from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. in Andersen Auditorium. For more information about LAUNCH, visit launch.berkeley.edu.