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.


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, 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

Memorable moment: Memorable moments were plentiful, but perhaps the most valuable was when 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.


Portland Trek: MBA Students Head North for Nonprofit Insights from Nike, Mercy Corps

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By Guest Blogger Andrew Lee, MBA 15

Last month three Berkeley MBA students trekked to Portland, Oregon, as part of a Net Impact visit to the Rose City. Nick Wobbrock and Andrew Lee, both MBA 15, and evening and weekend student Vishal Kudchadkar, MBA 14, were eager to gain insights from contacts at the Nike Foundation and Mercy Corps. Additionally, the Berkeley MBAs invited the local Portland State University MBA Net Impact chapter to join us. In total, 10 individuals joined our visits.

At the Nike Foundation the group first took a campus tour. Lush and perfectly manicured sports fields surrounded us. Afterward we heard from Julie Addicott, a member of the foundation’s Global Communications team. She detailed the foundation’s main initiative, strengthening the “girl effect.” This is the powerful belief that adolescent girls are the key to ending the cycle of generational poverty in Africa. If you can change the course of a girl’s life at age 12, educate her, and prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, you can remake a continent. Much of the foundation’s efforts over the past decade have focused on driving resources to this agenda and getting the word out. Moving forward, the foundation plans to incorporate more initiatives that utilize Nike Inc.’s core competencies of storytelling, much like the Ethiopian radio drama the Foundation backed (

Following a quick lunch and commute from Beaverton, where Nike is located, to downtown Portland, the group visited Mercy Corps, an international development organization that saves and improves lives in the world’s toughest places. We heard from the social ventures and also market development teams. They provided an interesting perspective on international development because both teams employ market-based approaches, which is different than the traditional, and unsustainable, charity model of international development.

At the end of the day we reconvened with the PSU MBAs and Mercy Corps folks for a happy hour at the Thirsty Lion pub. A wonderful visit to the Pacific Northwest!

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

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.”

MBA Internships: Inspired by Education Technology

Annie Hsu_Internship

It was on Mount Kilimanjaro that Annie Hsu found inspiration to pursue education technology–when she got to know a young porter on the trek. “I asked Noah about the difficulty of his work and his response was, ‘It’s our job to carry things, so we must have the spirit to carry things,’” says Hsu. “His remarkable drive and attitude made me wonder what such a young man could accomplish if he had access to better resources and opportunities.”

Student: Annie Hsu, MBA 14.

 Interning with: Chegg, a website dubbed “The Student Hub,” Santa Clara, CA. On fellowship through Education Pioneers.

 Education because: “Being a student is a life journey filled with lessons, growing pains, and challenges. Chegg helps students succeed in high school and college with scholarships, college matching, study help, and discounted textbooks, while Education Pioneers prepares leaders to transform the education system so that all children receive a high quality education.”

 Can’t believe she’s getting the chance to: Take on a mission she could personally relate to: discovering how to increase engagement of high school students. “I recruited high school students for focus groups and was fascinated with what I learned about their priorities, pain points, and dreams. I was encouraged to ‘think big’ on ways we could help them and  felt pleased to have created a solution that increased the relevancy and impact of Chegg products.”

A year ago, would not have known: “What it would feel like to work at a young VC-backed company that is still growing and evolving at a rapid pace.  At Chegg, the environment is conducive to creativity and ideation, which can be incredibly exciting. However, for these ideas to take flight and have actual impact – I realized buy-in from key players was critical; and the only way to get this buy-in is to take the time to get to know these key players and truly understand their unique values.”

From the classroom to real life: “In my Opportunity Recognition class, we studied entrepreneurship, startups, and technology in the Silicon Valley. Books like Randy Komisar’s “Getting to Plan B” and case studies on startups taught me about the valuable lessons that could be learned from failures and tactics on pivoting until you succeed. “At Chegg, there were many instances where I had to alter my approach until I got it right. For instance, I started my project operating in a relatively formal manner – one that I was used to with my previous Fortune 500 clients. One day, I was told to make the tone of my work ‘more fun’ which made me realize I was dealing with a very different culture and set of company values. I loved the opportunity to express a different side of myself and apply new skills.”

Inside Chegg: “Since Chegg’s customers are students – the interns are the target audience. We felt like the stars, since everyone wanted to know how we think and what we like. I got pulled into meetings to give product feedback, brainstormed on-campus marketing events, and shared feedback on my favorite music, apps, and news websites.”

Advancing career goals by: “Diving deeper into the possibilities of improving personalization and learning outcomes for students through technology. Also, through Education Pioneers, I’ve met people passionate about transforming the education system. We had heated discussions on teacher effectiveness, power and privilege, and the opportunity gap. I was inspired by the passion and learned a ton about the key issues in education.”

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.

Five Things: Women in Leadership (WIL) Conference

Keynote speaker Heidi Roizen

Keynote speaker Heidi Roizen

1. Leadership: Co-chairs Ruth Duggan and Jane Wong, both MBA 13.

2. The mix: Among the more than 400 attendees was a nine-year-old, who asked speaker Heidi Roizen, venture partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson, “How do you get better at your job?”

3. Themes: What paths are you driven to bend? Is dreaming big and being a leader selfish?

4. Inspiration: Amanda Pouchot, founder of Levo League, an online community of professional women, challenged the audience to “ask for more” on Equal Pay Day (which was April 9), and Roizen shared war stories from the male-dominated VC world of the 1980’s, then inspired the audience by sharing how she negotiated a four-fold increase in compensation.

5. Perspective: “Today gave me a lot to think about.”–comment from male attendee.

Five Things: Business of Healthcare Conference

Conference Co-Chairs Tara English and Darya Rose with Steve Burrill

Conference Co-Chairs Tara English and Darya Rose with Steve Burrill

Each year, more than 1,000 students, academics, and industry professionals build knowledge and expand networks at conferences organized entirely by Berkeley MBA students. This series will take a look at recent conferences, starting with the Business of Healthcare:

1. In charge: Co-chairs Tara English, Darya Rose, both MBA 13.

2. In attendance: A mix of about 30 percent students, 50 percent professionals, and 20 percent academics/other. People from more than 120 different organizations come, split evenly between small companies and large ones that include Kaiser, Genentech, and UCSF.

3. Questions: How are companies helping consumers manage complex healthcare decisions? How are organizations changing business models to adapt to increasing consumer choice? And who will consumers ultimately choose to meet their healthcare needs?

4. Answers: Keynote speakers Steve Burrill, CEO of the life sciences financial services firm Burrill & Co.,and  Ken Shachmut, EVP  & CFO of Safeway Health, a company founded upon the supermarket chain’s experience in controlling healthcare costs, were joined by attendees, and a host of experts in tackling healthcare’s big questions.

5. Food for Thought: 85% of people who look at their genetics with @23andMe (a personal genomics co.) choose to share their data. An Assumption that people cling to privacy is wrong.

Backstage: Salman Khan’s Meet-up with MBA Education Club

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The student-led spirit at Haas recently resulted in a Dean’s Speaker Series event featuring Khan Academy founder Salman Khan, whose simple YouTube tutorials to help young cousins with homework exploded into a “one-world schoolhouse” with 3,900 lessons viewed more than 230 million times.

With an introduction made by Bryan Wong, MBA 14, Co-presidents of the Berkeley-Haas Education Leadership Club (ELC), Erica Butow and Tom Pryor, both MBA 14, took on the initial outreach and legwork to connect with Khan. The Dean’s office then helped to make the talk a Dean’s Speaker Series event—attended by more than 400 people. (Catch Khan’s lecture in the Haas video room.)

Butow introduced Khan before the lecture and says, “While I was thinking on what to say, I started to wonder how this was possible. How was I able to come from Brazil, from a non traditional background, and suddenly be there introducing Salman Khan to the Haas Community?”

“Thinking about it, I got to the core of what I am passionate about,” says Butow. “All of this was only possible because one day I was given opportunities and these opportunities opened doors, including Haas. As with most of us at Haas, I want to make sure I don’t forget about those who are not given the same chances.”

Khan stayed after his lecture to meet with members of the Education Leadership Club in a more intimate setting, an experience called “amazing” by ELC member Mike Ciccarone, MBA 13.

“At one moment, Sal Khan was trying to describe the way in which he thought virtual education might impact the labor market, and you could tell he was going into ‘teacher mode’ like in his videos,” says Ciccarone. “He asked for a piece of paper to diagram on and I was lucky enough to be sitting next to him. He drew a few scribbles in my journal to illustrate his point, and only afterwards did I realize that I now had an original Salman Khan teaching aid. I’m thinking of getting the page framed.”

“For someone like me, who wants to build a career working in the education space and bringing the lessons learned at Haas to bear on the problems of education equality, getting to meet Sal Khan was nothing short of getting to meet a celebrity or a hero,” Ciccarone says.

Butow says Khan exemplifies the mission of the ELC. “We believe that in order to have the impact we want, we need to multiply the effect we could have on our own by empowering others who will empower others and so on. We believe education has the greatest potential to change lives and break the cycle of poverty.”

Adds Butow, “We are really thankful to Deans Lyons and grateful for being part of this incredible and student lead community that keeps opening doors for us.”

Revealed: The Mysteries of Coding

Alumnus Joe Wadcan demystifies code

Don’t know your Ruby on Rails from your RAM? Joe Wadcan, MBA 12, plans to change that. Wadcan recently offered the first of what he hopes may become a series of classes on coding for MBA students.

A serial entrepreneur, Wadcan has learned that there are numerous advantages to being conversant—even self-reliant–when it comes to code. Wadcan, who launched the social media team for Citi as Senior VP of emerging communications, as well as a number of his own social media ventures, is currently coding for his latest venture, Calico, which is “reinventing the calendar built around social.”

He returned to Haas to share what he’s learned because he wished he’d had access to such a class when he was a student. “I could have saved time and avoided mistakes,” he says.

Some 30 students turned out for an initial session, offered by the Haas Entrepreneurs Association. They heard from Wadcan on the joys of never again having to beg for coding help, or at least being able to avoid sounding dumb to developers. One goal was to help students see a way forward in getting started with code. “It’s less complicated than people think,” says Wadcan. “GMAT math is sufficient for 99 percent of web apps and a CS degree is not required. Though logic and patience are.”

Gabe Cohen, MBA 13, says he’s exploring opportunities with mobile app startups that would involve collaboration with coders and wanted “to get an understanding of the language and structure.” He says he might ultimately want to write his own code. “This session helped demystify the subject to the point where I think, with hard work, I could familiarize myself with coding.”

Wadcan hopes to return to Haas to help with that increased familiarization and suggests that students reach out to @joewadcan to express their interest in keeping their CPU and their CSS straight.