Executive MBA Alums Back Classmate’s Biotech Venture

Matt Cooper of Carmenta Bioscience

Asked to describe the ROI on his executive MBA studies at Haas, Matthew Cooper, MBA 11, has no difficulty with the calculation: Lifelong connections and 25 percent of the funding for his new venture, Carmenta Bioscience.

Cooper, previously Global Head of Non Clinical Safety Information at Roche, co-founded Carmenta in April 2012. The startup is developing a highly accurate diagnostic test for preeclampsia, a high blood pressure condition affecting pregnant women that can lead to life-threatening seizures. Cooper, who nearly lost his wife to preeclampsia, says, “I am passionate about making this disease irrelevant.”

Apparently, several of his classmates are as well. When Cooper went out for a recent round of funding, this group of alums from the Berkeley-Columbia Executive MBA Program (Haas now offers the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program) invested nearly $500,000 of the over $2 million raised by Carmenta.

Among the investors are Tim Campos, MBA 11, CIO, Facebook; Bala Kudaravalli, MBA 13, IT architect, Symantec; Sonal Sinha, MBA 11, VP, industry solutions, Metric Stream; and Krishna Srinivasa, MBA 11, VP, Manthan Systems. Cooper, who also holds a PhD in toxicology, was greatly moved by the support, but says he knew he had chosen the right MBA colleagues before he even began the program.

“I initially had a very difficult time choosing between two EMBA programs,” Cooper says, “but I went to admit receptions for both and was most impressed by the attitudes of people  in the Berkeley-Columbia program. They were genuinely interested in you as a person and what you wanted to accomplish. They were all impressive and completely without attitude and that was extremely refreshing.”

Bitten by the entrepreneurship bug at Berkeley-Haas, Cooper, previously “a big company guy,” launched one venture while earning his MBA. Then, as an adviser for the SPARK biotech accelerator at the Stanford School of Medicine, Cooper was approached by two Stanford professors, Atul Butte and Bruce Ling, to discuss their research on preeclampsia. Cooper immediately became a strong advocate for their research. “Atul and Bruce subsequently asked me to join and lead Carmenta’s commercialization efforts,” Cooper says.

He was so “all in” that he left his previous venture and sold his house to seed Carmenta—a level of commitment that did not go unnoticed by his BCEMBA colleagues. “A number of them approached me about investing, but I had to hold them off,” says Cooper. “I was uncomfortable accepting funds from my friends and colleagues until I had bona fide life science investors on board.”

An initial bid to raise $300,000 resulted in more than twice that, so Cooper increased the stakes to $1.8 million and opened the door to additional investors. That funding round closed oversubscribed at $2 million, with a quarter of that coming from Cooper’s BCEMBA colleagues.

“The investment in Carmenta was at its core a great business opportunity,” says Tim Campos, “but it was also an opportunity to do something with someone that I have grown to respect and appreciate. I would consider investment with any of my classmates—a cohort of incredibly smart, ambitious, and capable people—who have great business ideas. I see this as a perfect example of what Berkeley-Haas has to offer to its alumni network.”

Cooper agrees. “Beyond the financial support, there was a ton of advice, guidance, and mentorship from many of my classmates,” he says. “I am so glad to be able to share this potentially lucrative opportunity with them and work together towards saving lives of mothers and their babies.”

Vetted

Dan Kanivas (right), MBA 12, with Lt. Col. Eric Kail, his battalion commander in Korea

Joel Gutierrez, of the Berkeley-Columbia Executive MBA Program, says his military experience has given him the ability to “tolerate a lot of multiple tasks and prioritize,” as well as “a great sense of humor to lighten the atmosphere when things get tense.” Gutierrez, BCEMBA 12, is one of a group of veterans at Berkeley-Haas with not only combat training  in common, but an interest in rounding out leadership skills they’ve honed in the military with those they are gaining in Berkeley MBA programs.

Blake Coleman, of the Evening & Weekend MBA Program, just returned from a flying trip for the Navy, and says Haas has “greatly broadened my spectrum of experiences.”

“The business-school approach to problem-solving often comes from a very different angle than the rigid approach taken by the military,” explains Coleman, MBA 13. In his Equity Valuation and Negotiation classes, for example, he has learned a more flexible approach to problem-solving and, particularly from Negotiations, that many problems have multiple solutions. As a military aviation man, Coleman feels he brings a mindset of having a goal, being objective, and “attacking the complex questions posed in class.”

Dan Kanivas, MBA 12, is finding that his U.S. Army background, including the time he spent in Korea and Iraq, is helping him find his leadership style. “The most effective leaders in the Army did not rule with an iron fist and they were well liked,” Kanivas (pictured above) says. “Even in the Army, you would invite dissent. But then, once the decision was made, everyone had to march to that step and follow along.”

Kanivas was a summer intern for the Prudential Capital Group in San Francisco, and even though there is no direct connection between fixed-income investing and the military, Kanivas says, “the interpersonal skills I learned in the Army are huge. You have to convince the customers to trust us and our team.”

All appreciate the welcome they’ve found at Berkeley-Haas. “Veterans need to know that UC Berkeley, and especially Haas, are very receptive to veterans and the military,”says Gutierrez.

A number of the vets connect through the Haas Veteran’s Club, which recently participated in a panel with undergraduate veterans to discuss the graduate application process. The club hopes to soon bring its 30 members together in a mixer with Berkeley Law veterans.

As for what veterans bring to Berkeley-Haas, Dean Lyons reflects on how those who bring the military spirit of service to their studies align well with the school’s four defining principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Beyond Yourself, and Students Always.