In the full-time MBA class of 2014, there at least nine serious startups percolating—and probably half a dozen more emerging. Many of the students who have pursued startup ideas while at Haas hedge their bets by accepting a full-time job offer, with plans to work on their venture in their spare time. But a few are jumping in with both feet.
Jesus Nieto Gonzalez, Mercadero
Jesus Nieto Gonzalez on the Pacaya volcano in Guatemala during a 2013 trek. Photo by Peter Brock, MBA 14.
The Spanish make beautiful shoes. And people still buy them in shops. And, about one-third of those shops are small and local.
That’s why Jesus Nieto Gonzalez chose the Spanish shoe industry to test-launch the inventory management system he’s developing.
Jesus, who has a background in electrical engineering and worked in the Spanish telecom before coming to Haas, plans to return to his native Spain after graduation to build his startup full-time. He’s calling it Mercadero, from the ancient Spanish word for merchant.
“Offline commerce has a much bigger presence there, and one of the things I noticed when I was doing my research is that they still do things with pencil and paper. They don’t have a good system for tracking what they have in the store,” he says. “Now with the cloud and tablets, a small businesses can afford to go digital.”
Inventory management is critical to shoe retailers: if a shop doesn’t have the right size, a customer will go elsewhere. And keeping track of what’s in the storeroom is no less crucial for many types of small businesses–which gives Mercadero lots of opportunities for expansion once Jesus brings it from prototype to product.
Jesus says he moved across the globe to attend Haas because of its reputation for entrepreneurship and technology. The school did not disappoint: he learned about strategy in David Charron’s Business Model Innovation course, how to build mockups and use analytics in Design and Development of Web-based Products and Services, and how to approach investors in Toby Stuart’s Entrepreneurship. He has already taken the first steps to cultivate VC’s in the small Spanish investor community.
“Haas is the place to learn how to start something,” he said. “This is something I really want to do, and I need to try it.”
Albert Lucius and Agung Nugroho, KuDo
Albert and Agung on a 2013 exchange to the London Business School
These high school friends from Indonesia who ended up at Haas together plan to return home to build an electronic point-of-sale system that “transforms the shopping experience of consumers in Indonesia, where credit cards are virtually non-existent.”
They came up with the idea through their travels at Haas. “We viewed how payment systems are done in different parts of the world—in developed countries such as USA, UK, and Japan as well as emerging markets such as Morocco, Turkey, and Thailand. We want to bring the best of technologies in the developed market and apply them to address some of the restrictions and problems in the emerging market,” Albert says.
“The idea is that customers can find products from any of our e-commerce partners at KuDo machines located at retail stores. For example, instead of ordering online, you could use cash at a store like Walgreens to buy products sold by other stores such as Amazon.”
Prior to Haas, Agung worked at BCG Indonesia as a consultant, and he has postponed a new job there for a year. Albert, who had worked as a product designer at Apple in the U.S., will devote himself to KuDo full-time.
Kyle Rudzinki, Karmic
While climbing Mount Kilimanjaro over winter break, Kyle decided to pursue Karmic full-time.
Using business to do good was always Kyle Rudzinki’s goal. He came to Haas from the Department of Energy, where he managed investments in innovative solar startups, and he planned to continue his career in clean energy and sustainability.
But just before his final semester, he stumbled on an idea that caused him to pivot in a completely different direction.
It started one evening with a Facebook post that reminded him of the power of asking for what you want. A classmate put out a call on for others to join him at a local radio station’s dance competition. Another replied that that she it was one of her life goals to do the same thing. Thus was born Haasies Helping Haasies—which has since morphed into Karmic. It has become Kyle’s new path.
“Karmic is my sole focus,” he says. “Ultimately the reason I’m building it is because of what it can do for people. It’s about taking online connections and bringing them offline, helping people to live more fulfilled lives,” he says.
The idea behind Karmic is that if people share their unfilled aspirations—whether openly or anonymously—someone within their social networks can probably help realize them. That proved to be the case with Haasies Helping Haasies. Students posted desires such as meeting Sheryl Sandberg, learning to surf, and even hugging a panda. “With such a talented group of people, someone was likely to have the connections to make these things happen. And they did.” More than five times as many offers to help were made as requests.
Kyle brought the concept to his Intrapreneurship class in November, which earned him an invite to Facebook. “That gave me an entrée into the VC world,” he says.
He’s now pursuing Karmic as a new platform, and leveraging his last semester to propel it forward. He’s tapping Berkeley talent through his courses in new venture finance, marketing research, and developing web products and services. Haas faculty outside of his courses are also lending their expertise and advice—from brand gurus Bill Pearce and Lynn Upshaw to startup experts Toby Stuart and Rob Chandra.
“I’m building all the scaffolding, so no matter what the edifice ends up being, I’ll have all the tools to build something great,” he says.
Ben came to Haas to study double-bottom-line businesses. He spent most of his time focused on social impact investing, hoping that an idea would emerge for a social enterprise to start.
Ben and classmates during O-Week public service day
It wasn’t until his final semester—after he had registered for classes—that he hit on the concept. He was on BART with a classmate, tossing ideas back and forth to answer the question: in 100 years, what would be the ideal way to create and operate a local business?
“I started thinking about the high failure rate for local businesses. How could this be improved through technology? What if demand came before supply? What if local business owners knew what the community wanted before they ever made capital investments?”
That was the seed for Localwise (originally called OurTown), an online platform that will improve local businesses through engagement with local consumers and other local businesses. Inspired by his parents’ mom-and-pop, Ben, a former associate at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, believes he has landed on a solution to help mom-and-pops everywhere.
“Today, local entrepreneurs make business decisions and then consumers vote with their wallets. They take undue risk because they don’t fully understand demand, and they don’t share information. By collaborating with consumers and each other, they could do much better,” he says.
Ben plans to work on the venture full-time post-graduation. In his last few months at Haas, he’s taking advantage of every resource he can. He says last year’s Entrepreneurship and Problem Finding, Problem Solving classes have been invaluable. He also took Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad class online. He’s now working closely on OurTown with Whitney Hischier, Lecturer and CEE Faculty Director, through an independent study.
“I’m trying to tackle a big, complex problem using the tools taught by the Haas curriculum,” he says.