The Rise of Big Data at Haas

Big Data Students

Haas Data Science Club leaders Claire Bianchi, Antoine Bruyns, Scott Crider, Samy Merzgui, and Pete Dillon, all MBA 16.

By Kim Girard

When Antoine Bruyns, MBA 16, arrived at Haas last year, he was already addicted to the power of Big Data.

A native of Belgium, Bruyns and several friends had started a mobile data-crunching company in Tanzania in 2010. The company, Real Impact Analytics, has since grown to 70 employees and recently helped track the spread of the Ebola virus using anonymous data.

But the draw of Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial culture led Bruyns to leave the growing startup for Haas.

“The way I see it, Silicon Valley is like Italy during the Renaissance,” he says. “It’s like being among the Medicis, among all of these great minds. That’s why I came.”

In Berkeley, Bruyns immediately jumped into his passion. He connected with the Berkeley Institute for Data Sciences (BIDS), a five-year, $38 million collaborative effort established to promote data-driven scientific breakthroughs, and to the AMP lab, which focuses on the intersection of three trends: machine learning, cloud computing, and crowdsourcing.

Bruyns found kindred spirits among his classmates, and joined forces to increase Haas students’ access to Berkeley’s top-flight data science resources. He and fellow MBA 16 students Scott Crider and Samy Merzgui co-founded the Haas Data Science Club last fall, as a spin-off of the Haas Technology Club. Classmates Claire Bianchi, Pete Dillon, Dale Alejandro Robinson, and Peter Jordan joined soon after the first meeting, and the group enlisted Assist. Prof. Tom Lee as their faculty advisor.

ClaireQuoteIn tandem with the students’ work, Prof. Greg LaBlanc says the MBA curriculum is changing to reflect industry changes. Data analysis has become much more sophisticated since he began teaching his Data and Decisions course five years ago with Assoc. Prof. Lucas Davis.

“We realized that business was being transformed through data-driven decision making, and companies were engaging in experimentation—moving away from decision by gut,” he says. “So we reconfigured the class to be more about understanding data and inference and not just about  statistics.”

This quarter he’s introducing a new course, Data Science/Data Strategy, centered on how big companies build strategies around data, and exploring data science techniques and business models built around data. The class is already full, with 60 full-time and 60 part-time MBA students enrolled.

Two years ago, Asst. Professsor Minjung Park also launched a Marketing Analytics course, which focuses on understanding and using Big Data in marketing.

In addition, LaBlanc is working with Data Science Club members to organize a speaker series this fall, inviting executives from Wells Fargo, IBM, Facebook, and Walmart to discuss how they use data in business. The goal is to give students the tools they need so they can leave Haas with the confidence to immerse themselves in a data project.

“When they walk into a meeting with a team of engineers they can’t come in cold,” he says. “They have to bring something to the table.”

The Data Club, which is open to IT, engineering and business majors, is also organizing technical workshops run by companies that show students how to use different data tools.

Big Data can be difficult for business majors who lack a technical background, but Bruyns says he knew they were on to something when more than 60 people showed up for an data visualization event last fall with Tableau software.

Bianchi, MBA 16, says the club was exactly what she wanted as part of in her MBA program. She has worked as a senior database marketing analyst at Hotwire and as a manager of customer relationship management at UniversityNow. Those experiences taught her that deep-data knowledge is crucial for any MBA working with engineers, analytics experts, or business intelligence managers.

“You’re at the mercy (of others) if you don’t understand data,” she says. “At Hotwire, the people who didn’t have that background struggled. They might think that the data someone pulled for them was pulled incorrectly, but they don’t understand why and they’re not able to have a conversation with that person.”

“Tangible Team Spirit” a Winning Strategy for Consulting Competition Champs

National Strategy Consulting winners_1200

Shadie Andraos and Andrea Soto, both MBA 16; University of British Columbia student Nicole Nauss; Dan Reddin and Anthony Patterson, both MBA 16.

A team of four first-year Haas students who thought on their feet took first place in the National Strategy Consulting Competition in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The team had 24 hours to create a market-growth strategy for a start-up focused on digital health services. Going head-to-head with students from the University of British Columbia in the finals, they won $1500 and first-round interviews with competition sponsor Deloitte.

Shadie Andraos, MBA 16, said the judges included the chief strategy officer from the startup that was the subject of the competition.

“The judges commented on how well we worked together as a team, emphasizing a tangible team spirit evident in our presentation,” said

“From an experience perspective, we are all interested in consulting and used the competition as an opportunity to apply lessons from our core courses, as well as our interview preparation in a practical setting,” he added.

The November competition, held in conjunction with a conference, gives undergraduate and MBA students the chance to hone their abilities in analyzing problems, solving cases, and pitching, as well as learning about the consulting industry.

A Taste of the Startup World—in Real Time

By Karen Sorensen

After earning an engineering degree and consulting at large companies for five years, Ben Ferrara arrived at Haas with an appetite for learning more about what it would be like to work with a small, dynamic startup.

He got a taste of that this fall when he and a team of fellow MBA students consulted on an expansion plan for gourmet meal delivery service Munchery. Popular in San Francisco and Seattle, the company wanted to avoid potential growing pains by clearly identifying customers and creating a roadmap to scale its operations nationally.

Munchery_1

The Munchery team

Ferrara, MBA 15, is among the 60 students who formed Startup Lab teams to work on real-world strategic business challenges faced by a dozen startups. The applied innovation course is taught by Lecturer Whitney Hischier, who co-created it last year with former MBA student Faisal al Gharabally.

“Startup Lab provides students the unique ability to work directly with an entrepreneur or company founder and experience startup life,” Hischier said.

While students gain insight from the startups, the reverse is true as well. “Startup Lab students are usually experienced in many fields,” said Gonzalo De Los Rios, Founder and CEO of GameMiles, which asked its Startup Lab team to work on valuation and key documentation for potential investors. “The team really brought value to the table and helped us learn more about our industry.”

The 12 startups that participated this fall provide a variety of innovative products and services, from drones to fire detection technology to online collaboration software. Several have deep ties to Haas: Skimatalk, which provides English language coaching, was co-founded by Koji Shimizu and Ted Smith, both MBA 12; Lecturer Ajay Bam co-founded Produkme, which provides online purchase product support; and Slava Balter, MBA 14, heads business development for online collaboration software startup Convo. Two other companies came out of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Team projects ranged from developing new market entry strategies, products, and pricing models to pitch decks for investors.

Julie Barmeyer, MBA 15, worked on the team dedicated to online advertiser MightyHive. The group researched potential new markets and experienced firsthand the importance of adaptability. “The company pivoted during the middle of the semester, so our project pivoted too,” she said.

Ferrara said he drew on knowledge from his core Marketing and Operations courses, and also incorporated Problem Finding Problem Solving (PFPS) concepts. “The PFPS course has been extremely useful because it really helps you understand the business model canvas and brainstorm in a way to see opportunities and be more creative with ideas.”

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KarenSorensen_BioPhoto_300Guest blogger Karen Sorensen is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer who specializes in business, innovation, and education.