Xendit: Cash Without Borders

The Xendit Team

The Xendit team, left to right: Bo Chen & Juan Gonzalez, both BS 13 (computer science); Vivek Ahuja and Moses Lo, both MBA 15

Moses Lo, MBA 15, has lived a border-spanning life. Born in Singapore to a family with roots in Malaysia, Indonesia and China, he spent his early years in a one-room house with a bucket shower before moving to Australia—and indoor plumbing. For a time he had a business selling custom suits made in Thailand and China. He has studied in Sydney, New York, and now at Berkeley-Haas; he worked at the Boston Consulting Group and Amazon.

It was this global existence that inspired Xendit, an cross-platform app that lets anyone transfer cash around the world in seconds, for a fraction of the cost of established services like Western Union—or even upstarts like Transferwise and Xoom. The funds can go directly into a bank account, or even to a post office or convenience store where the recipient collects it.

“I grew up in one world, and moved to another, and I’ve gone between different worlds all my life,” says Moses, Xendit’s CEO. “I know first-hand how difficult it can be to move money across borders, especially for people who are outside the traditional banking system.”

The startup team includes COO Vivek Ahuja, MBA 15, a U.S. Navy veteran who spent five years on a nuclear submarine; Casey Lord, MBA 15, who worked at Paypal and in impact investing, and is serving as head of Asia; as well as as CTO Bo Chen, EECS 13 and Lead Engineer Juan Gonzalez, CS 13.

Traction

The group has made quick progress: they won the Andreessen Horowitz’s Bay Area Bitcoin Hackathon last November, coming in first among 200 competitors. They took 2nd in last week’s LAUNCH startup competition, and Xendit was a finalist at the Global Social Venture Competition in April. The team has recently been funded by one of the most prestigious names in the Valley and will spend the next few months preparing for a public launch.

Xendit is focusing first on Asia, a massive market. Remittances from the U.S. to Asia alone are estimated at $50 billion, according to World Bank estimates; transfers within Asia are billions more.

Xendit screenshot 250Seven Clicks

Xendit’s user interface couldn’t be simpler. Simply choose a contact’s email or phone number, choose a currency and amount, and hit “send”. The app displays real-time exchange rates, and the cash is transferred in seconds. Within seven clicks, you’re moving money across the globe.

The back end is a bit more multifaceted: The cash moves through a combination of traditional bank channels and crypto-currencies like Bitcoin and Ripple. Xendit has already negotiated relationships with banks and non-bank cash-out locations in Asia and moved $35,000 in a six-week pilot.

For bank-to-bank transfers, fees are between 1 and 2 percent. For a non-bank transfer—to someone who does not have an account and may be picking up cash at a 7-Eleven in Malaysia, for example—fees are considerably higher, because of extra service charges along the chain. Xendit is aiming to keep the fees about half of what current competitors charge.

Support Back Home

It’s that market that gives Xendit a social-impact component. Moses says he has met many low-wage immigrants over the years who lose thousands of dollars annually to send support back home. He describes Thomas, a friend in Australia who was a South Sudanese refugee.  His father died during the civil war, he arrived on a UN passport and with a scholarship to study in Australia. He was always working two jobs to put himself through school, and paying 15 percent fees to send money to his family in a Ugandan refugee camp.

“Banking is unjust. It’s simply inefficient and too expensive to serve these markets,” Moses says. “I believe that a business worth pursuing should add value to our world.”

Berkeley Built

Moses says he came to Haas specifically to build an entrepreneurial venture. After taking time to build a team that spans Haas and the engineering school, he and Vivek have been able to leverage their 2nd-year MBA coursework this year to strengthen Xendit. They took Entrepreneurship with Toby Stuart and Rob Chandra, then Workshop for Entrepreneurs, offered through the Lester Center and taught by lecturers Nancy Kamei and Doug Galen.

“Startups are about the right team, the tech talent and access to funding networks,” he says. “Berkeley is the place to be for all of that.”

Xendit was the runner-up at LAUNCH, the Berkeley startup accelerator and competition

Xendit took 2nd place at LAUNCH, the Berkeley startup accelerator and competition.

First-Ever African Business Forum to Explore the New Mobile Frontier, May 2

Forum organizers: Serge Ouedraogo, MBA 15; Ould-Ali Najat, MBA 15; Ahmed Khada, MBA 15; Oseyi Ikuenobe, MBA 15; Remona Moodley, MBA 16; Sadiya Abdullahi Nur, MBA 15

Forum organizers: Serge Ouedraogo, MBA 15; Najat Ould-Ali, MBA 15; Khadar Ahmed, MBA 15; Oseyi Ikuenobe, MBA 15; Remona Moodley, MBA 16; and Sadiya Nur, MBA 15

The first-ever business forum at Berkeley focused on the world’s second-largest continent—and second-fastest-growing economic region—will take place at Haas on Saturday.

MBA students organized the Africa Business Forum to fill a gap at the school, where students have long held regional business conferences focused on Asia and Latin America.

“Our vision is to make Berkeley-Haas the premier destination for the development of innovative business solutions to Africa’s challenges, and a home for visionaries who want to develop these solutions,” says Oseyi Ikuenobe, MBA 15, one of the event organizers.

They chose the theme, “Africa: The Next Frontier For Mobile Technology,” to resonate with the larger Berkeley community.

“We didn’t have to look far to find our theme,” says Serge Ouedraogo, MBA 15. “Mobile is where everything is happening in Africa—when you talk about access, it’s through mobile devices. As a business school, we should not be missing this emerging market.”

Growth Leader

The forum is not only a first for Haas, but for the larger Berkeley campus as well, organizers believe. Conferences and panels have focused on politics and policy, development, and advocacy, but never business. But given the growth forecasts for the continent, that’s likely to change.

A few stats:

  • For 2015, Kenya has the world’s 3rd-fastest growing economy, behind only China and the Philippines, according to an analysis by Bloomberg. Nigeria has the 6th fastest-growing GDP.
  • Only about 16 percent of Africa is currently online; the connected population is expected to grow to about 50 percent by 2025.
  • Africa’s middle class is expected to double over the next ten years.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to be the global leader in growth of mobile usage over the next seven years
  • Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana have emerging Silicon-Valley-type tech ecosystems.

Gathering of Big Thinkers

In the face of such rapid growth, what will Africa look like in ten years? That’s the central question of the symposium, to be explored by entrepreneurial speakers and panelists who are pioneering a range of innovative ventures, as well as in a hands-on business-model-design session for attendees.

Sophia Bekele, founder and CEO of DotConnectAfrica—which has advocated for .africa domain names—will give the keynote address. Panelists include Shashi Buluswar, co-founder and executive director the Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab; Stephen Ozoigbo, CEO of the African Technology Foundation, Sarah Kunst, venture partner at Future Perfect Ventures; Twitter developer advocate Bear Douglas, who will talk about Twitter’s Digits—a free mobile app authentication framework suited for emerging markets; and Kevin Schuster, growth director for VOTO Mobile, a Ghana and U.S.-based enterprise working to amplify disenfranchised voters’ voices through mobile phones. See the full speaker list.

Organizers expect a crowd of about 70 people, including students from Haas and other schools, and working professionals. The group has also been marketing the event at meet-up groups focused on African business.

The event will be held from 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. May 2 in the Wells Fargo Room. Click here to register. Follow the forum on Twitter: @HaasAfrica.

WeFinance: Funding for the Student Crowd

It’s a common student dilemma: you’ve got a full-time offer post-graduation, but you still have several more months to finish your degree. And you’re facing the up-front costs of relocating—before your first paycheck or signing bonus hits your account.

What do you do? Often, your only option is to pile more credit card debt on top of your student loans, and bite the bullet on the high fees.

WeFinance_WillyChuEnter WeFinance, a crowdfunding startup co-founded by Willy Chu, MBA 15, that launched last week. Though crowdfunding is becoming a crowded space, Chu acknowledges, WeFinance is the first platform focused on truly peer-to-peer loans.

“Many students are paying seven to 8 percent on their student loans—even higher if you’re international—and they have living and moving expenses,” Chu says. “They’re low-risk borrowers but their credit scores don’t reflect that, and they can’t refinance until they have more credit history. Meanwhile, a peer lender in these students’ network could earn four percent or more on their extra savings.”

Built-in Assets

WeFinance launched with two critical resources. First, it has a software platform built by co-founder and CEO Eric Mayefsky, a Stanford econ PhD grad and ex-Facebook product manager who spearheaded the concept. This platform fully automates disbursements and repayments between borrowers and lenders, allowing both parties to rest easy that payments are made on time. Second, WeFinance has been tested by Chu’s network of fellow Haasies, a dozen of whom have signed on as guinea pigs seeking funding.

“My classmates have been incredibly supportive, willing to try out the product,” he said. “Faculty members have provided core guidance.”

Ton Chookhare, MBA 14, used the platform to refinance some of his higher-interest student loans, raising $5,000 in just a few weeks and lowering his interest rate from 8 percent to 4 percent. He already had accepted an offer with Kaiser Permanente, and was working on a side project involving custom suits made in his hometown of Bangkok, Thailand. “I think many people will be surprised at how willing people in their network are to offer financial support, especially when they’re getting much better returns while supporting someone they know and trust,” he says.

Entrepreneurial Evolution

Chu says when he came to Berkeley-Haas, he thought he might end up working for a startup—but had no intention of launching his own. His thinking evolved while taking Entrepreneurship with Prof. Toby Stuart and Lecturer Rob Chandra. His new path began last summer when a Stanford MBA friend saw an email from Mayefsky seeking help with the venture. After a few months of working well together, Chu—who previously worked at Credit Karma and Kiva—became a co-founder. He’s focusing on marketing, partnerships, and growth while Mayefsky develops the technological infrastructure.

“I’ve benefitted from starting this in my second year, after I had a strong base, and I’ve been able to piggyback on my coursework and lessons learned from my peers who launched businesses last year,” he says. “In particular, New Venture Finance with Asst. Prof. Adair Morse has been useful.”

Chu’s goal is to expand WeFinance to 40 schools within a year, beginning with Stanford, Harvard, and Wharton. In addition to MBAs, the company will focus on law and other top master’s and undergrad program students.

Read more about WeFinance in TechCrunch.

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.

Student Spotlight: Entrepreneur Dan Schoening, MBA 16

Dan Schoening_MBA 16Dan Schoening began his entrepreneurial career early.

At age 14, he was running his own soccer camp company. By 18, the Seattle native was advising high school students on how to get recruited to college athletic programs. As an undergrad, he started a mobile shuttle tracking service.

So it’s no surprise that Dan has continued his entrepreneurial journey at Haas, as co-chair of LAUNCH: the UC Berkeley Startup Accelerator & Competition. He was also selected as one of two Berkeley students to go on the inaugural Silicon Valley Bank Trek, a tour of the Valley and San Francisco’s startups, banks, and investment firms. For three days this week, he and 18 other students from the across the U.S. are meeting a who’s who of influential tech leaders, stopping to visit the Silicon Valley Bank, the offices of Andreessen Horowitz, startup business analytics company BIRST and VC data provider Mattermark, and the San Francisco-based co-working facility WeWork Golden Gate.

We recently talked with Dan about the Trek, the LAUNCH competition, and his experience at Haas.

Haas: Tell us about your most innovative startup.

Dan: As an undergrad at Tufts University in 2009, I co-founded a mobile service that provided information about bus schedules to students traveling to and from campus. We were pleasantly surprised with the traction it gained on campus and we began to expand its applications into the shuttle management space.

Haas: What drove your decision to enroll at Haas for an MBA?

Dan: I was only interested in the West Coast—I wanted to immerse myself in the entrepreneurship world and the startup scene here in the Bay Area. This is where you have to be. I ended up doing a West Coast entrepreneurship search, and I chose Haas. I’ve only been here a few months, but I’m really excited about the program and the various opportunities and the resources it presents for entrepreneurs. I’m especially excited for Toby Stuart’s entrepreneurship class this spring—I’ve heard rave reviews about it.

Haas: What do you hope to get out of the Silicon Valley Bank Trek?

Dan: The Trek is a new event this year, so it will be fun to see how it unfolds. In addition to connecting with key influencers in the Valley, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to meet and learn from the other students from around the country.

Haas: As co-chair of LAUNCH, you (along with co-chair Franklin Russell and the student executive committee) are shepherding the established competition through some significant changes. Tell us about them.

Dan: The criteria for competitors are more stringent this year: applicants needed to be further along with their startups and present more mature businesses. We’ve also shifted the program to be more of an accelerator model versus a standard business plan competition.

We had over 100 applicants from all across the UC system, and all of them have validated a product in their space. Many have incoming revenue. Only one team member has to be an affiliate of a UC school, and applicants include alumni, faculty, and staff.

LAUNCH Bootcamp is coming up on Feb. 6-7. This will be the first full-group event with the 16 teams, the faculty advisors and the mentors. We’re feeling really confident about the new model.

The UC Berkeley Startup Competition (LAUNCH): From Meeting Technology to Smart Vibrators, Winners Add to 16 Years of Big Ideas

From the opening elevator pitches to the closing award presentations, this year’s UC Berkeley Startup Competition (LAUNCH) was a suspenseful, high-energy event. Now in its 16th year, the competition attracted a record 200+ entries, which were narrowed down to eight finalist teams that presented their innovative and diverse business ideas to a packed Andersen Auditorium on April 24. The winners took home nearly $60,000 in prizes.

ReMeeting

The Winners

Grand Prize ($20,000) and an automatic six-month spot at SkyDeck, UC Berkeley’s startup accelerator: ReMeeting, a mobile meeting recorder and personal cloud service for reviewing and sharing in-person meetings.

First-Place Track Winners ($5,000):

IT & Web: ReMeeting

Energy & Cleantech: Picoyune, a developer of chemical sensing technology that condenses a laboratory’s worth of equipment into handheld monitors anyone can use. The company’s first product is mercury monitoring for industrial and environmental applications.

Life Sciences: Awair: Breathe Better Technology, a medical device company that produces the Wyshbone catheter, which numbs the throat to eliminate discomfort from breathing tubes used by critically ill ventilated patients.

Products & Services: Teaman & Company, an e-commerce site for customizing and ordering high-end jewelry, including the ability to review a 3D printed plastic model before commissioning a piece.

People’s Choice Award ($5,000): ViVita Technologies Inc., which helps eliminate the donor organ and tissue shortage with off-the-shelf, animal-derived replacements.

Elevator Pitch Award ($2,500): SmartBod, which builds vibrators that learn from and adapt to a woman’s physiological reactions, heightening her level of pleasure and enlightening her (and her partner) about her sexual preferences.

Who made it happen: The 11-member LAUNCH 2014 Executive Committee, comprised largely of first-year Berkeley MBA students, organized the competition under the direction of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship, which hosts the event. The LAUNCH student co-chairs were Kristen Duffel and Moses Lo. Primary sponsors included FOUNDER.org, UM, and The Dow Chemical Co., and nearly 90 venture capitalists, experienced entrepreneurs, and professional service providers volunteered as judges for the three rounds of the competition.

The challenge: Throughout the competition, each team is judged using five criteria: 1) attractiveness of business model; 2) quality of product(s), service(s) and/or solution(s); 3) market opportunities and competitive positioning; 4) team qualifications and experience; and 5) overall attractiveness of the venture.

The race: More than 200 teams from UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco entered the competition. After judges reviewed all executive summaries, 38 teams were selected as semifinalists. These teams then presented privately on April 22 to another group of judges who selected eight finalists—two from each of the four category tracks—to advance to the April 24 finals. A group of five finals judges selected the grand prize and first-place track winners, while the people’s choice and elevator pitch awards were determined by audience vote during the finals public presentation.

More on the grand prize winner:

According ReMeeting, 11 million meetings occur daily in the U.S. workplace. “The average cost of a five-person, two-hour meeting—including the cost of salaries and office overhead—is $1,200,” said ReMeeting CEO Arlo Faria, a PhD student with the International Computer Science Institute at UC Berkeley, as he addressed the LAUNCH audience. “And yet, one in three meetings is ‘unproductive,’ and a waste of time.”

Post-meeting follow-up, however, results in 20 percent more successful meetings. Based on this research, ReMeeting has developed a mobile-device-based meeting recorder and personal cloud service that, using advanced speech and language technology, allows people to save, search, and share conversations. The result is more productive meetings.

“The coaching and workshops provided by the LAUNCH Competition were extremely helpful to us,” Faria noted after his team’s win “Over the past months, we have developed a better sense of who might become customers.”

Michael Baum

Serial Entrepreneur Michael Baum, CEO of FOUNDER.org

Memorable moment: Memorable moments were plentiful, but perhaps the most valuable was when FOUNDER.org CEO and finals judge Michael Baum (whose career has included several startups) spelled out two primary things startup teams should remember not only when competing in LAUNCH, but also when pitching to investors.

“Most of the debate (among the judges) centers around two things: 1) the credibility and passion of the entrepreneur and 2) how big of a company we think you can ultimately create. Generally, investors think about a 5- to 10-year time horizon. We discuss not just how big we think the available market is, but how likely it is you will get there with your go-to-market and business model,” said Baum, also founder and former CEO of Splunk, one of the biggest IPOs in 2012.

The Haas takeaway:

The UC Berkeley Startup Competition was founded 16 years ago by two Berkeley MBA students and has been a student-run program ever since. Each year, students take on the job of attracting and showcasing the entrepreneurial drive that exists throughout UC Berkeley and beyond. “We worked hard to advertise our events and workshops to the larger UC Berkeley/UC San Francisco campuses,” says LAUNCH co-chair Moses Lo. “This came through in one of the largest events held to date and the record number of entries this year.”

In addition to students organizing the event, several Berkeley MBA students and alumni were members of this year’s winning teams. Among them: Dan Sherman, MBA 14, of Picoyune; Alastair Trueger, MBA 15, of Teaman & Company; James Wang and Bobby Davis, both MBA 15, of SmartBod; Albert Lucius and Agung Nugroho, both MBA 14, of second-place IT & Web track winner Kudo; and Laurie Peterson, MBA 11, of second-place Products & Services track winner Build & Imagine.

 

Classified: An EMBA Immersion Applies Innovation Cycle Lessons to Dating

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This article is part of a series called Classified, in which we spotlight some of the more powerful lessons faculty are teaching in Haas classrooms. If you have a suggestion for a class to feature, please email Haas News editor rkelly@haas.berkeley.edu.

Two days into Applied Innovation Immersion Week at San Francisco’s towering Grace Cathedral, Joe Inkenbrandt, EMBA 14, is on the phone with his co-founders to schedule an urgent meeting. Inkenbrandt, an entrepreneur launching a startup to provide security for 3-D designs, is excited to share what he’s learning about the importance of gathering customer insights before the team goes much further.

This epiphany strikes during a week in the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program when students move through an entire innovation cycle—gathering customer insights to frame problems, ideating and iterating their way to a product or service, and sharing their ideas in a culminating challenge.

Cast Assumptions Aside

Haas Senior Lecturer Sara Beckman, a leader in making design thinking and problem framing part of b-school curriculum, and Michael Barry, of Stanford’s Design Program, are teaching this applied innovation module, one in a collection of EMBA immersion experiences.

The challenge: develop a product or service aimed at easing the pain points of dating. In one exercise, Beckman has students generate “how might we” questions to get ideas flowing. “The goal is to generate as many questions as possible,” says Beckman of this process, known as “diverging.”

Post-its, each with a single question, seem to fly onto the walls: How might we help people have more fulfilling social lives? How might we soften the blow of rejection? How might we cure loneliness?

The shared element is focus on the customer, an orientation Inkenbrandt finds helpful. “I can see that my company’s founding team is making a lot of assumptions about what the customer thinks,” he says.

Rapid Prototyping

Surrounded by walls festooned with fluorescent sticky notes, Beckman issues the call to “converge” and the EMBA student teams begin the process of selecting one “how might we” question around which to design a product or service.
But first, they get a lesson on building—prototyping being an important part of the innovation process. The challenge: In 10 minutes, using only paper and tape, create an object that will drop as slowly as possible from an indoor balcony in the cavernous Cathedral to the floor below.

Suddenly the room is full of people standing on chairs counting as they drop an array of paper airplanes, doilies, and parachutes. In the end, the top performers are a tiny scrap of paper and, the winner, at 12.9 seconds—a completely un-embellished 8.5×11 sheet of paper.

Ahead of a second build (this one involving toilet paper and foil), Barry instructs, “Pay attention to how your team worked and pulled knowledge together rapidly—you’ll need this on Friday.”

Create under Challenging Conditions

By Friday, challenge day, the teams have begun developing solutions to problems that plague dating. Three tables of judges await, and each team, sticking with the same judges, cycles through in a process rather like washing one’s hair—with iterate, feedback, repeat standing in for lather, rinse, repeat.

Team “Sage Date” launches into its initial pitch, acting out a skit in which an anxious woman on a date suddenly excuses herself to make a stealth call to Sage Date for advice. The judges express reservations about mid-dinner disruptions. After five rounds, the team has added pre-date prep to their panic-abatement model.

“The process isn’t about coming up with the perfect presentation for the afternoon challenge,” says Barry. “It’s about teaming and about figuring out how to be creative while managing resources and incorporating (potentially contradictory) feedback.”
“I’ve been doing some of these things,” says Inkenbrandt, “but now I feel like I’m moving forward with even more tools that have proven success.”

Winners: Berkeley-Haas SmartBod Team Takes 2nd in SXSW Challenge

SXSW Winners

SXSW SmartBod Winners: Bobby Davis, MBA 15; , Arlene Hadi; Liz Klinger; and James Wang, MBA 15. (Leo Chen, EECS 07, not pictured.)

The Competition: South by Southwest 2014 Business Startup Challenge

The Outcome: A Berkeley-Haas team took second place in the competition at University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business on March 8.

The Team: The winning team, a vibrator startup called SmartBod, consisted of Berkeley MBA students James Wang and Bobby Davis, both MBA 15; Liz Klinger and Arlene Hadi; and Leo Chen, EECS 07 (who was unable to attend the event).

“I think it’s worth noting that our entire team came together through Haas connections; Bobby and I are in the same MBA year, and Leo was introduced through another MBA classmate,” Wang points out. In addition, Klinger is Wang’s partner, and Hadi is Davis’ partner.

The Field: Competing teams came from Stanford, MIT, Ross, Darden, McCombs, and Chicago Booth.

The challenge: Teams had to make a 10-minute pitch for their startup ideas, business models, and progress to experienced angel and venture capital judges.

“Most competitions have shorter pitches, so mostly cover just the high-level idea of a startup,” says Wang. “Since this competition involved a longer pitch format, we had to get pretty detailed on not just our broad concept, but how we would execute, market, and make money from it. With experienced judges and a lot of fodder, all the teams got really good (and difficult) questions during the Q&A portion as well.”

What made them winners: “As a VC, you see the same idea over and over again—they loved that this was something they haven’t seen before, and feel that it’s a viable business versus one that just chases a hot trend,” says Wang. “Again, I think our willingness to challenge conventional wisdom came through here.

“Additionally, they really liked that we were a strong, diverse team where everyone brought something to the table. (We have two electrical engineers, a systems engineer, a data and software specialist, and a designer).”

The Haas Factor: “The Defining Principles are core to how we’re approaching our startup and how we got into it in the first place,” Wang says. “Our startup is a smart vibrator company (yes, those types of vibrators). It’s not a typical startup, but we feel like we can bring a great product to market—we’re definitely questioning the status quo with what we’re doing.

“Additionally, even during the Q&A session, I think it came through that we were very open to feedback (Students Always) and very focused on providing reasoned, logic-based answers and not just opinion (Confidence Without Attitude).

“Finally, a big part of what drew us all to this project is the fact that it’s not just a business—we’re able to go beyond ourselves and help remove harmful taboos and misunderstandings around the topic of female sexuality.”

Where the idea came from: “It was mainly from Liz’s experience. She’s studied human sexuality from an artistic, philosophical, and sociological perspective for nearly a decade now since college, and in the past few years has sold sex toys as a sales consultant. She has gotten to talk with a lot of women about vibrators and has seen basically all the products on the market. When Startup Weekend Berkeley rolled around (a weekend “hackathon” where you build a startup from scratch) she was ready with her idea, and we were off to the races from there,” Wang explains.

Most memorable SXSW experience outside of the competition: “Some members of our team got to meet Grumpy Cat. During a panel that one of our teammates attended, Shaquille O’Neal popped in as a surprise guest. That same teammate, tagging along with a new friend from the pitch event, ended up at a small, intimate dinner event with Hunter Biden (Joe Biden’s son),” Wang recalls.

“Personally, even though I was in Austin for less than 24 hours, I ended up having a long talk with my UberX driver on the way to the airport –he’s a music photographer in Austin now, but turned out to have worked at Google, and we ended up talking about the future of smart medical devices, artificial intelligence, and the different management styles of companies in the Valley. You never know who you’ll meet at a place like SXSW!”

Learn more about SmartBod at smartbod.co.

MBA Student Builds Skills, Strengthens the Berkeley Startup Ecosystem

Ryan Jung croppedFor Ryan Jung, MBA 14, it won’t be enough to leave Berkeley-Haas with the skills to build a business.

He is dedicated as well to supporting the entrepreneurial aspirations of others. In his time here, Jung has already vetted startups for two business incubators, co-written a paper covered by Forbes, and launched an experiential cross-disciplinary elective.

“At Haas, it has been a lot about the Defining Principles of Question the Status Quo and Students Always,” says Jung. “To me, this outlook was a huge advantage in thinking about what I wanted to get out of the experience and how I would move toward gaining skills.”

Jung came to Haas with experience managing a portfolio of VC relationships for Silicon Valley Bank. “I got to see a lot of ventures up close through this work and wanted to learn more about building successful startups myself,” he says.

Much of Jung’s opportunity capture has come through the Haas Venture Fellows Program. He applied to Venture Fellows soon after arriving on campus, interested in the opportunities to meet with leading VCs, help fellow students hone their entrepreneurial pitches, and be part of evaluating ventures for Berkeley’s SkyDeck startup accelerator.

Venture Fellows also gain hands-on experience through a required project. For his, Jung teamed up with Byron Deeter of Bessemer Venture Partners to write a white paper exploring pricing strategies in cloud computing.

“Byron is one of the top VCs for enterprise software,” says Jung of the opportunity to work with Deeter, which came through a connection in the Haas Alumni Network. “Byron is very influential in Bessemer’s thinking, and they are one of the top investors in this area.” Their paper has been posted on Bessemer’s site  as well as written about on Forbes.

Jung has also helped launch Cooperative Innovation, a cross-disciplinary team-based course in which students develop and launch new products or services in conjunction with local nonprofits and international organizations. Jung’s team, for example, is working with Sanergy in Kenya on an in-home toilet for use in Nairobi slums that uses chemical waste processing.

Jung also weighs in on pitches from UC Berkeley startups hoping to work with the SkyDeck accelerator and he is a member of the Bay Area investment team for the Dorm Room Fund, a national student-run venture firm investing in student startups. “It’s been a great experience for me to meet passionate student entrepreneurs working to solve big problems and to support the growth of the startup ecosystem at Cal,” Jung says.

These myriad learning opportunities have reinforced Jung’s original goal: “Building the skills to take an idea and turn it into a successful business is fundamentally what I came to Haas to do and what I’m still focused on. Having the freedom to explore at Haas has allowed me the space to pursue these interests and initiatives,” he says, adding, “Access to all of these great opportunities would not have been possible at other business schools.”

Go Girl: Indiegogo’s Innovative Leader

Indiegogo Co-founder Danae Ringelmann, MBA 08, shares the story of how her Berkeley MBA experience helped her build the leading international platform for crowdfunding—an industry that did not exist when she began her career at Haas.