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.


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.

Students Practice Rapid Prototyping in Multidisciplinary Product Course

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From a better farmers’ market shopping experience to high-tech feminine care, students in the Managing New Product Design course this semester developed realizable market solutions to real-world consumer needs.

After building a product from concept generation to prototype during the 15-week course, students showed off their efforts at an afternoon tradeshow Dec. 15 in the Bank of America Forum.

Professionals from such firms as Google, 44 Energy Technologies, Parc, and Aditi Rao Design added their insights by volunteering as judges and coaches for the experiential learning course, which draws students from across campus, including the College of Engineering and School of Information. The course is taught by Haas Lecturer Jonathan Propp and Alice Agogino, the Roscoe and Elizabeth Hughes Professor of Mechanical Engineering. Three of the teams at the Trade Show travel from Autonomous University of Mexico City, where they took a similar course and worked in parallel with three UC Berkeley teams.

“At the end of the semester we conduct a ‘lessons learned’ exercise with the class. The greatest learning experience for students this year was working in multifunctional teams and conducting in-depth design research with potential customers and potential users,” says Agogino. “We don’t want the students to create a polished prototype of a product no one wants. Rather we want them to focus on creating a conceptual prototype for a compelling product that could go to market.”

Adds Propp, “You can see that teams benefit from having that mix of business skills and engineering skills. They will have to work with people from different disciplines after graduation. This really does simulate the product development environment in industry.”

Hugo De Blauwe and Swapnil Dixit, both MBA 14, collaborated with chemical and mechanical engineers to develop IntelliCrop, a mobile app that runs on a tablet and automates the collection of crop data into a single source.

Explaining the team’s decision to focus on agriculture, De Blauwe called feeding a growing world population on finite land resources “one of the biggest issues the planet faces.”

IntelliCrop helps farmers manage their time and resources by gathering information on individual plots. At the touch of the screen, farmers can review either current conditions or forecasts that affect the growth of different crops.

The team got its idea after hearing from a Sacramento nut farmer who wards off winter frost by renting six helicopters that he flies throughout the night over his fields. The circulation of the propellers controls the air temperature, preserving the crop yield, but at a tremendous cost of fuel and person hours. The team quickly determined that there had to be a more efficient way to gather information and manage risk in the field by providing early real-time detection of environmental problems and suggesting appropriate action. It also encourages cross-collaboration between farmers to develop collective solutions for farming communities facing similar weather conditions

Similarly, Sarah Walker, Stephanie Curran, Kathryn Fritts, and Bernice Wong, all MBA 14, with Yilin Zhang from the Goldman School of Public Policy, talked to potential customers to come up with a very different kind of tech product.

For their project, Care Down There, they addressed the common anxieties women experience with menstruation. After interviewing 26 women, the team found that the trustworthiness of feminine hygiene products was a frequently shared concern and set about researching a market solution.

The team generated 80 concepts, weighing each against the identified needs, before developing its prototype—a tampon with a microchip that sends a phone message when near to needing replacement. Production costs would need to be less than 10 cents per chip to be marketable, the team estimated.

The team that drew the highest rating from judges created a product called Smart Glove, a sensor-based tracking device in an exercise glove that provides weight lifting feedback similar to that of a personal trainer. “Great product! Professional, marketable, useful,” one judge wrote.

Brad Edgar, BS 90, PhD 97, CEO of 44 Energy Technologies, served as both a judge for the trade show and coach for team Garden Gate, which designed a compartmentalized tote bag to improve shopping at farmers’ markets. Edgar was impressed by the thorough market research demonstrated across the board by teams. Notes Edgar, “Students got in touch with customers as real people.”

Real Estate Course Offers a New Lease on Land

Louis Li, Sarah Walker, and Dmitar Goulev appled MBA knowledge to a real-world real estate development challenge on Telegraph Ave.

Louis Li, Sarah Walker, and Dimitar Goulev applied MBA knowledge to a real estate development challenge on Telegraph Ave.

Not everything about real estate development can be contained on a spreadsheet, as students in the Real Estate Investment and Market Analysis course learned this spring.

“Buildings, like any other enterprise, need to make money and they sink or swim on the developer’s mastery of core business disciplines,” says Professor Nancy Wallace, who co-teaches the BILD experiential learning course with Professor Dwight Jaffee. However, Wallace points out, “The ability to think creatively across those disciplines is also a must.”

One team of students applied creativity to a City of Berkeley plan to rejuvenate a Telegraph Ave. site adjacent to People’s Park. Their plan: preserve a historic mural and bring affordable housing and a small grocery store to the neighborhood.

Another team, tapped to address Cal Performances’ desire for a new facility, ran the numbers and found that immediate shorter term options appeared to have greater paybacks. “It’s a very real-world outcome,” says Wallace, “to find that very large scale projects must be developed in stages.”

Sarah Buchwalter, Brad Wolfe,

Sarah Buchwalter, Brad Wolfe, Betul Balci, and Gabriel Gomez Rojo reframed their real estate challenge to help Cal Performances build culture.

“We then thought we could best help by drawing Cal Performances’ attention to their existing assets,” says Brad Wolfe, MBA 13. Noting the success Berkeley-Haas has had differentiating itself through culture, the team reframed their challenge and made recommendations to help Cal Performances expand revenue by more directly connecting to and leveraging Cal culture.

“Our approach was inspired by the Haas Defining Principle of Question the Status Quo,” says Wolfe. “We believe in the Haas Defining Principles and we also see their power as market differentiators.”

On the other side of the Bay, Cleya Ormiston, MBA 14, was on a team helping the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission determine highest and best use for a site in Millbrae. Ormiston chose Haas specifically for its Real Estate Program and this summer will be working at Met Life in the Real Estate Investment Group.

She says the team spoke with more than 80 people during the project, including Connie Moore, MBA 80, CEO of REIT giant BRE Properties, and Steve O’Connell, MBA 12, development manager with Grosvenor.  “People really wanted to help us learn,” observes Ormiston.

That learning was critical because, as Wallace says, “Real estate may be about piles of dirt, but these piles of dirt require an understanding of supply and demand, of the tenant base, of sustainable rents, operating costs, and capital structure, as well as the marketing knowledge to attract the target constituency to a development. It’s a very serious-minded pursuit.”

Student Teams Compete for Capital in Pitching to the Stars

By William Rindfuss, executive director of strategic programs and Lecturer, Haas Finance Group

HIF TeamBlue

Team Blue was feeling good following its investment strategy pitch…

They executed back-tests instead of back-flips, sought “alpha” instead of fame, and competed in suits rather than…  what they wear on that show.

MBA teams in the Haas Investment Fund course pitched their investment strategies to a panel of judges on May 6th, competing for allocations of capital from a dedicated fund that the teams will now use to execute those strategies.  HIF is the finance experiential learning course in the Innovative Leader curriculum, in which students explore their own areas of unique insight, anticipate catalysts for change in those areas, and train on portfolio analytics tools — all to develop unique investment strategies. In working as members of teams they also develop the capabilities of framing problems and opportunities, experimenting to learn, managing complexity and uncertainty, and influencing beyond authority.

The three judges — including a hedge fund manager and a former chief investment officer and with two Berkeley MBAs and two PhDs among them — were a bit unnerving before the competition but then wholly inspiring during the presentations.  Feedback was equal parts praise and constructive suggestions, with a particular focus on prospects for achieving true “alpha” — or market-beating returns — through the strategies, while closely evaluating and managing risk.

Team Blue pitched a multi-manager strategy that capitalizes on areas of experience and insight among the teammates, identifying potential price catalysts through fundamental analysis and selecting a portfolio of under-covered small-cap stocks.  Team Gold focused on the semiconductor and biotech spaces, gearing buy/sell decisions off an aggregator of mentions in online media — following extensive testing of this data.

One member of Team Blue who found it “extremely valuable to be in a professional setting pitching our investment ideas,” said the feedback was “concrete and actionable, and will definitely make our portfolio perform better over the next six months.”

…while members of Team Gold were feeling even better at the post-pitch celebration, here with judge Minder Cheng.

…while members of Team Gold were feeling even better at the post-pitch celebration, here with judge Minder Cheng.

A member of Team Gold added that it was “invaluable that the judges had direct experience with our specific type of strategy and could pass lessons on to us.”

In the end, the judges admired both strategies almost equally, and allocated the fund 55/45 between the two teams.  After some adjustments based on the insights and suggestions of the judges, the teams will implement their strategies starting this month and will continue to monitor and manage their positions until December. The three judges were Minder Cheng, MBA 89, PhD 94, a former chief investment officer at BlackRock; Joel Drescher, MBA 05, co-head of equities and a portfolio manager at Symphony Asset Management; and Stephen Malinak, global head of investor analytics at Thomson Reuters.

This one-year, three-unit course is cross-listed between the Full-time and Evening & Weekend MBA Programs and is led this year by Finance faculty member Bill Rindfuss.

MBA Internships: Google

Here’s an update from Pablo Molinero, MBA 13, on his product marketing internship with Google’s mobile ads team in Mountain View. In his latest post, he discusses everything from sushi contests to all-hands Q & A sessions with Larry and Sergey (Page and Brin, that is). As the internship winds down, Molinero realizes that he won’t have time for everything, but says, “That’s a great sign.”


Learn more, in Pablo’s latest post for Google’s Diary of a Summer Intern.

MBA Internships: Citigroup

Benny Du, MBA 13, celebrated 200 years of Citi by volunteering to refurbish a park on the Upper West Side and entertain kids for the Fresh Air Fund in Brooklyn

Student: Benny Du, MBA 13

Interning with: Citigroup, NYC, as part of the Digital Strategy and Channels Team at Citi Cards.

Thrilled because: “Citi is truly a global brand.” Also, since this year marks the 200th anniversary for Citi, Du was able to take part in the celebration.

 Can’t believe he’s getting the chance to: Meet and interact with many senior leaders and executives, such as Jud Linville, CEO of Citi Cards. “Also, I’ve already had an in-depth discussion on the future of payments with the executive responsible for the Citi—Google Wallet partnership.”

The Berkeley MBA toolkit: Du has been using the observation and framing skills learned during PFPS class exercises. “I have also consulted with Sara Beckman during my time here. The framework that she provided of ‘use, usability, and meaning’ has been helpful in figuring out how consumers engage digitally through various devices, touch points, and functionalities; and determining potential opportunities for Citi. 

Inside Citi: “The summer associates were given a core values card (along with our name badges) as reminders to ‘be bold and curious,’ and ‘think and act like an owner.’ These definitely remind me of the Haas Defining Principles.”

Advancing career goals by: Gaining exposure to a wide variety of functions, such as traditional e-mail marketing and digital media strategy, along with “a front-row seat on applying innovation and cutting-edge technology to a consumer-facing business.”

MBA Internships: Google

Pablo Molinero, MBA 13, has posted an update on his summer as a product marketing intern with Google’s mobile ads team in Mountain View. In his latest post, he discusses his aim of learning all he can about business management and applying new skills in “a cool tech company that improves the world.”

He’s digging deep into questions like: How can Google improve user’s experience in mobile? How can Google serve the most relevant information and ads to its users? What should be the value proposition for all Google stakeholders (advertisers, publishers, app developers, and users)? As he puts it, “So much to do in so little time!”

Learn more, including a fun Google fact in Pablo’s latest post for Google’s Diary of a Summer Intern.

Pablo Molinero, MBA 13, Google Summer Intern Diarist

Pablo Molinero, MBA 13, is spending the summer as a product marketing intern with Google’s mobile ads team in Mountain View and will be keeping a diary of his experiences for Google. He’s looking forward to learning as much as he can about Google’s businesses (particularly mobile), enjoying the culture of fun and hard work, and working on complex problems in an ever-changing industry.

One thing he’s shared so far: Favorite past-times include time with his son (seen here at the Monterey Bay Aquarium).

In the coming weeks, Haas Achieves will keep you posted on Molinero as well as other Berkeley MBA interns.

Investment Fund Students Pitch Strategies to Distinguished Judges

By William Rindfuss, executive director of strategic programs, Haas Finance Group

It was a format familiar to many, but without any singing or dancing. And with much nicer judges.

On May 9, students in the Haas Investment Fund course — an experiential learning course in our Innovative Leader curriculum, competed against each other in pitching to judges the investment strategies they’d been developing over the past semester. The purpose was for the teams to benefit from feedback and advice from this panel of high-level investment professionals (who have a Berkeley MBA and two Haas PhD degrees among them), and for the judges to recommend allocation of the fund itself between the two competing teams, based on the market-beating promise of their innovative strategies — taken together with the degree of perceived risk.

Investment executive and Haas alum Minder Cheng (l.) with Haas Investment Fund students.

Judges included Minder Cheng, MBA 89, PhD 94, independent director with Investment Technology Group, Inc. Previously, Cheng served as chief investment officer for index equity and capital markets globally at BlackRock and as chief investment officer for the Equity and Capital Markets division of Barclay’s Global Investors worldwide.

Students in the course are encouraged to consider their own backgrounds and areas of expertise that would provide their teams with unique insights into the fundamental dynamics of particular industries or macro trends. They use skills learned in the Problem Finding Problem Solving course in “divergent thinking” to brainstorm multiple possible theses, and in “convergent thinking” to narrow and refine the list for further research and analysis. They are introduced to the particular financial instruments that might be used to implement a strategy (most students benefit from concurrently taking the Investments course), and they may then analyze their strategies with factor models and backtest them with historical data. Students received training on financial tools such as Bloomberg, FactSet, and BarraOne — as well as research tools and databases available from the Haas Library.

Team 1 had developed a “matched pair” strategy of long/short positions within multiple segments of the automotive components industry, with positions selected based on varying degrees of commitment to green technology. Team 2 had developed a screen for promising performance in the apparel retail space based in part on real-time trends in “Likes” of particular brands on Facebook.

Guidance was constructively delivered by the judges and was eye-opening to the students. A member of Team 1 felt the judges “provided extremely insightful feedback regarding our proposed investment strategy, including their suggestion to look more closely at current valuations and their recommendation to reconfigure our portfolio to a long-only one with risk analyzed through a factor model.”

A member of Team 2 added “The panelists’ questions were candid and thought-provoking.  It was reassuring to find that we had already discussed some of them in our team meetings — while there were others we hadn’t considered at all. To be able to present in front of such a distinguished panel was truly a phenomenal experience.  The panelists were respectful, kind, and generous with their compliments.”

In the end, the judges allocated the fund 60/40 between the two teams. After some adjustments based on the insights and suggestions of the judges, the teams will implement their strategies starting this June and will continue to implement, monitor, and manage their positions until December.

This one-year, three-unit course is cross-listed between the Full-time and Evening & Weekend MBA Programs and was led this year by Finance faculty members Christine Parlour and Bill Rindfuss.

With the pressure of pitching over…

Haas Investment Fund Team

…these investment fund teams will spend the next six months implementing their strategies.

Haas Achieves: A Video Year-in-Review

Congratulations to the full-time MBA classes of 2012 and 2013. In just one year you have accomplished an extraordinary amount, from organizing conferences and international treks to winning case competitions. We are so proud of all you achieve at Haas–and have captured what we could (i.e. some, certainly not all!) in this Haas Achieves video. We know you have many achievements yet to come and wish you the best.

Video produced by Tritone Media