Cross-Campus Collaboration + Innovation = 1st Place in Tech Challenge

Dirk de Wit, Kiki Liu, and Charles Guo (left to right), winners of the Tech-to-Market Innovation Challenge

Dirk de Wit, Kiki Liu, and Charles Guo (left to right), winners of the Tech-to-Market Innovation Challenge

The competition: Tech-to-Market Challenge, organized by the Berkeley-Haas European Business Club and sponsored by Orange Silicon Valley and Qualcomm Technologies.

The outcome: First-place win and $4,000 grand prize

The team: Charles Guo, MBA 15, Berkeley School of Information student Kiki Liu, and Dirk de Wit, a visiting I-School student from Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands

The challenge: Students competed against teams from across campus to develop biz and tech strategies that capitalize on the emerging LTE Direct mobile standard. LTE Direct employs “ambient awareness,” which allows mobile devices to passively monitor broadcasts from other devices within several hundred meters. The technology opens up possibilities for hyper-local mobile advertising, a burgeoning industry expected to grow into the billions.

What made them winners: The team recommended that the competition sponsors adopt a platform they called “Connect Better,” which would allow retailers to attract consumers into their their stores by pushing out real-time offers and promotions. For example, a shopper strolling through a mall on a hot day might get an alert for a deal on a on a double Java Chip Frapuccino from Starbucks or a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cone.

Charles said the team’s go-to-market strategy to get the full range of potential users–telecoms, advertisers, brands, and mobile device users–to adopt the advertising platform distinguished their project from others.

Working in an interdisciplinary team was a big advantage, he said. “Everyone brought a unique view and skill set to the team. Our team was able to successfully balance technical and business perspectives in every part of our decision making,” he said. “Working with a data scientist and a programmer also gave me a glimpse of the environment that I would encounter during my internship with HP this summer.”

The H-factor: “This was an innovation case competition so we used several brainstorming approaches from Problem Finding, Problem Solving to generate use cases ideas and business models,” he says. “I was also exposed to a variety of business models through the cases we examined in Toby Stuart’s Entrepenurship class. Exposure to numerous models really helped me mix and match concepts to form our business 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.


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.


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.”

Career Advancement: VP of Product Management, FreeWheel

FreeWheelin' VP Nick Ionita (That's him in the Blue and Gold)

FreeWheelin’ VP Nick Ionita shows off the Blue and Gold

Student: Nick Ionita, MBA 13

Working as: Vice President of Product Management at FreeWheel, a B2B software company that provides advertising and revenue management tools for premium entertainment companies delivering their content online (ESPN, MTV, CNN, etc).

The path: Ionita joined FreeWheel as a product manager and was promoted to product director just before starting the Berkeley MBA Program. “When I joined, FreeWheel had about 20 people – we’re now up to 170 globally. While earning my MBA I was promoted to VP of Product Management and joined the company’s executive team. My experience at Haas played a very big role in that.”

Thrilled to: “Work with major media companies who are expanding their traditional television businesses online.” Ionita’s role has grown from product strategy and development to playing a larger role in the organization’s operations. “Start-ups face some unique management challenges when they start to grow.  Maintaining a loose, open culture while beginning to layer in the organizational process and structure required to continue scaling is a difficult balance.”

FreeWheel because: “Five years ago I was working as product manager at a large media company in Chicago. Every visit to SF for industry conferences made me realize that we were just sitting on the sidelines reacting to what was happening out here. I knew my next step had to be relocating to the Bay Area and I created a short-list of requirements: 1) Join something early stage where I had opportunity to be impactful, 2) learn from an experienced founding team, and 3) help solve a problem that I believed in. It was important to me that I join something that would help move an industry forward.”

Networked: “Working in the Bay Area you meet Haas alums at companies big and small. I constantly leveraged my Haas network for introductions to clients and partners as FreeWheel was growing, and now get many of the same requests from other alums building companies in the space.”

Inside FreeWheel: “I recently hung a poster above my desk (there are no offices) that says ‘Work like a Captain, Play like a Pirate.’  I think that sums up the work culture here perfectly.”

Best advice: “At work I made sure to discuss courses I was currently taking or planning to take and how I believed those were lining up with career goals I was setting. People (including your boss) don’t know what you’re learning and how that’s applicable to what you’re doing day to day unless you talk about it. Make your MBA work for you now, don’t wait until you’ve got your diploma.”

How an Evening and Weekend MBA Student Moved from Idea to Acquisition–in Eleven Short Months

IMG_9183Amit Paka is not a man who wastes time. Three semesters into the Evening & Weekend MBA Program, he realized he wanted to be an entrepreneur. And in 11 short months, he hatched an idea, relocated, launched a venture—and sold it to eBay.

When Paka, MBA 12, began his MBA studies, he was a senior program and product manager with Microsoft, working in online advertising with Bing. “I entered the Haas program to broaden my perspective and explore all opportunities that were out there,” he says of an open-minded approach. The Seattle-to-Berkeley commute for Saturday classes was challenging, he acknowledged, but worth it.

Courses and seminars taken during Fall semester of his second year, such as Entrepreneurship and Competitive Strategy, became the game changer for Paka, introducing him to new ideas, frameworks, and people. “Becoming part of an entrepreneurial universe leaves an impression on you,” he says.

Launching a Mobile Conversation Platform

The impression made on Paka led him to take even more entrepreneurship classes, network extensively, at least once a week whether in Seattle or San Francisco, and to come up with an idea and a game plan. By the end of his second year in the Berkeley MBA Program he left Microsoft and relocated to the Bay Area, ready to commit to Flockish, his idea for a mobile conversation platform. “Flockish combines the status feed concept of Facebook with the location awareness of Foursquare to create conversation among people gathered in the same locations, such as a concert or a sporting event,” says Paka.

“I felt this was the right space, a big enough market and that I had the expertise to execute on it,” says Paka. eBay apparently agreed: Their event ticket site, StubHub, purchased Flockish and snapped up Paka to head their mobile apps division. In his new role, Paka was able to scale StubHub’s mobile apps, releasing a new iPad app that Apple featured on the App store.

Paka says one of the most important things he learned at Haas is to Question the Status Quo and to ask questions of other people. “If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to go talk to customers, you have to go talk to your investors,” he says. “You can’t just have an idea and hope that it will somehow become a successful product.”

A Full Entrepreneurial Education

Just how you approach those investors and customers matters too. Paka took Confidence Without Attitude, another of the Haas School’s four Defining Principles, to heart in presenting himself and Flockish to the entrepreneurial community. “When VCs connect you to other VCs, they put their reputations on the line,” he says. “It’s a very close-knit group, so people will hear about it if you come across as anything other than genuine, clear about your goals, and free of arrogance.”

eBay’s purchase of Flockish meant that before he even graduated, Paka engaged in a full entrepreneurial education–from idea generation to launch and all the way through the due diligence required for an acquisition. “I learned a lot about IP and trademark infringement,” he says.

Paka says that since he’s launched Flockish and joined eBay, “Mind-blowing opportunities come up every day.” The most recent one took him from StubHub to a group product manager role with PayPal’s Digital Wallet product team, a group he believes is well positioned to develop and scale the smart-phone-as-wallet. The rapid pace of personal recognition and capture of opportunity mirrors what Paka sees around him. “In this valley you have to keep moving,” he says.

Mobile Insights Garner Finalist Honors at Infocom

Evgeniya Kalenykh, MBA 14

Evgeniya Kalenykh, MBA 14

The Competition: The 2012 Infocom Future Leadership Awards, held in Calcutta, Dec. 7 as part of the Infocom conference for professionals in information and communications technology.

The Winner: Evgeniya (Eve) Kalenykh, MBA 14, who was one of six finalists.

The Field: More than 1,000 students from 70 b-schools worldwide.

The Challenge: To write a paper on the theme of mobility.

The Winning Approach: In addressing the impact of mobility on organizations and consumers, Kalenykh wrote from her perspective as an MBA candidate who will rejoin the workforce in two years, exploring what the organizations would be like and the skill set that would be required. “For instance, I talked about the importance of seeing and sensing the big picture in the terabytes of data that we are now able to obtain. As a result, ideal employees of mobile era would be visionary and curious rather than skilled.”

A Winner Because: Kalenykh thinks it’s because she identified key trends, such as the ability of companies to offer more with less, (i.e. creating meaningful data instead of simply abundant data,) and the need to be supportive—without being “creepy.” “Suppliers struggle with a desire to offer more, while assuring the user of privacy and anonymity of his information,” she says. “There will be more educated guesses about consumers, more bold campaigns–and more epic failures.”

The H Factor: Kalenykh is pursuing her Berkeley MBA to re-enter the tech industry after four years with the global consumer goods giant Unilever. At Haas she has helped with the school’s annual digital media conference, >play, putting together a mobile application to replace a conference brochure. “This appealed to me from both a sustainability perspective and the ability to get up to speed with latest technology advancements.” She also worked on the annual challenge put on by the Haas Technology Club and will co-chair that event in 2013.

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.