David Tao

@davidtao

A Student’s Guide to UC Berkeley’s Startup Ecosystem (2018–19 Update)

A comprehensive list of resources available for undergraduate entrepreneurs at Cal

Photo Credits: Eric Quach

When I came to Cal, I was excited by the campus’s spirit of innovation and knew I wanted to start my own company. However, despite the ample opportunities available, the decentralized nature of our large campus made it difficult for me to find the resources I needed. It took me a good part of the past three years to become acquainted. Through this guide, I hope to make it easier for current and aspiring student founders to navigate the Berkeley startup ecosystem and take advantage of the fantastic opportunities listed below.

Quick Notes:

  1. This guide was made with undergraduates in mind, however ~60% of these resources are accessible by graduate students and alumni as well. For a broad overview of all resources available at Cal, regardless of class status, check out Berkeley Gateway to Innovation.
  2. Because the previous version was so popular (over 7,000+ reads!!!), I updated this post in May 2018 to include relevant information for the 2018–2019 school year.
Table of Contents:
I. Undergraduate Courses
II. Funding (VC & Competitions)
III. Incubators & Accelerators
IV. Student Organizations
V. Events
VI. Misc.

I. Undergraduate Courses

Most undergraduate classes on technology entrepreneurship are taught by the Sutardja Center for Technology and Entrepreneurship (SCET), a program within The College of Engineering under Industrial Engineering & Operations Research (IEOR). Undergraduates are eligible to receive a Certificate for Technology and Entrepreneurship through the SCET upon completion of the A. Richard Newton Lecture Series, plus 5 additional units (more info here).

You can find SCET course descriptions, class numbers, and units count here

Across the street from the SCET building in Memorial Stadium is the Haas School of Business, and the Berkeley-Haas Entrepreneurship Program (BHEP). The BHEP, like the SCET, offers undergraduate courses on technology startups, but provides no certificate of its own.

You can find BHEP course descriptions, class numbers, and units count here

Besides the SCET and BHEP, other departments at Berkeley also offer classes that students may find useful. These include:

You can find course descriptions, class numbers, and units count on BerkeleyTime.com

UC Berkeley also offers a summer study abroad program known as Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Europe. Through a partnership with the European Innovation Academy, Berkeley students will spend a month in Europe (Portugal in 2018, Italy in 2017, France in 2016) to learn from famous motivational speakers, leaders in industry, and serial entrepreneurs and apply the teachings to launch their own company.

II. Funding (VC & Funding Competitions)

One of the amazing things about Berkeley is the abundant on-campus funding available for student projects. Here is a list of Berkeley affiliated funding opportunities I have come across:

  • The House Fund: The House Fund is an early-stage (pre-seed & seed) investment fund exclusively for startups founded by Berkeley students, alumni, and faculty. It is founded and managed by Jeremy Fiance, a recent Berkeley alum himself (c/o 2014), with $6 million in AUM currently and reportedly raising up to $50M for a second fund.
  • Dorm Room Fund: Dorm Room Fund SF is a $500,000 fund supported by First Round Capital and run by an all-student investment team to invest purely in student-run startups in the area. The Investment Team is composed of 8 students from UC Berkeley and Stanford (read: Stanfurd).
  • Contrary Capital: Contrary is a decentralized, university-focused venture capital fund for seed stage companies with presence on 50+ campuses including UC Berkeley. They recently announced their debut fund of $2.2M and plans to cut checks ranging from $50,000 up to $150,000.
  • Berkeley Angel Network: A network of Berkeley alumni, current and former faculty interested in building and investing in the entrepreneurial community at Cal. They hold quarterly pitch meetings that students can apply to to be considered.
  • Cal Hacks: Cal Hacks is a weekend long hackathon hosted by UC Berkeley, the largest collegiate hackathon in the world, open to undergraduate students of all majors from any university. Hackers are given free reign to create any type of project that sparks their interest, and will ultimately be judged by a panel of industry judges on “creativity, technical difficulty, polish, and utility”. Tech companies from around the Bay provide mentorship for the event as well as financial sponsorship for over $50,000 in prizes for the top teams.
  • Berkeley-Haas Dean’s Startup Seed Fund: The Dean’s Startup Seed Fund, part of the BHEP, awards 20 $5,000 seed grants (10 in December, 10 in May) as well as office spaces to early-stage start ups involving current Haas students (undergrad or MBA). Shameless plug: My non-profit start-up, Paradigm Shift, was part of the Spring 2016 Cohort. Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions about the application process.
  • Pear’s The Berkeley Challenge: The Berkeley Challenge is an annual entrepreneurship competition hosted by Pear VC for startups with at least one founding member that is a current Berkeley student or alumnus. Pear will invest up to $250,000 via equity seed financing in the winning team for a 5% stake, and designate 10% of ownership back to UC Berkeley. Winners will also gain access to Pear’s network, exclusive events, office-hours, and “hacker studio” in downtown Palo Alto. Click here to learn more.
  • Big Ideas @ Berkeley: Big Ideas is an annual contest aimed at providing funding, support, and encouragement for student projects in the 9 following categories: Art & Social Change, Energy & Resource Alternatives, Financial Inclusion, Food Systems, Global Health, Hardware for Good, Improving Student Life, Information Technology for Society, and Scaling Up Big Ideas. The funding for the program is provided by Andrew & Virginia Rudd Family Foundation with awards ranging between $5,000 to $10,000 for winners.
  • Global Social Venture Competition: GSVC is a global competition that provides over $80,000 in funding, mentorship, and exposure to help student founders tackle some of the world’s most pressing social challenges. The program was initially founded by Haas MBAs in 1999 and have grown to receive 600 entries from 65 countries in 2017.
  • CITRIS Tech for Social Good Program: The CITRIS Tech for Social Good Program provides up to $2,000 in funding support to UC Berkeley undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students, groups, teams or organizations developing hardware, software or hosting events which support technology for social good to applicants each semester.
  • Student Technology Fund: Provides up to $5,000 for technology-based student projects.
  • CalSpark: $10,000 startup competition hosted by NextGen Consulting at Berkeley and PlayScape for the first time in 2017. Not sure if this will be an annual event.
  • Frontier Innovation Awards: Startup pitch competition for blockchain companies hosted by Bee Partners. Held for the first time in Spring 2018, the winning team, Shelf Auctioning Network, received over $500K in funding.
  • Dekrypt Capital: A newly formed blockchain investment fund focused on privacy preserving technologies. Founded by recent graduates and Blockchain at Berkeley early members.

Besides approaching these opportunities directly, founders can also try reaching out to Student deal scouts. Deal scouts are students who are well-integrated within the school’s entrepreneurship ecosystem and selected by venture funds to serve as their eyes and ears on campus. At Berkeley we have scouts from CRV (me!), Pear, Sequoia Capital, NEA, and more, all of whom are willing and able to provide feedback and connect you with someone on the investment team if he/she thinks there is a good fit. I aggregated a list of all the Berkeley deal scouts in the past, but this list is likely somewhat outdated. A simple LinkedIn search for “Deal Scout” or something similar and filtering by UC Berkeley should yield a more up-to-date list.

BHEP’s Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Map. Some of these programs are exclusive to Haas-MBA students and are not mentioned in this post.

III. Incubators & Accelerators

Beyond VC and competitions, students also have access to numerous student-run incubators and accelerators to receive funding and guidance for their companies.

  • LAUNCH: LAUNCH is Berkeley’s leading accelerator, designed to transform early stage startups into fundable companies. It is a 3-month program where companies are paired with serial-entrepreneur mentors to build out their teams, protect IP, connect with industry experts, get minimum viable products into customers’ hands, prove their scalable business model, pitch to investors, and become fundable. Companies with at least one team member that is affiliated with any UC campus are eligible. Winning teams at LAUNCH’s demo-day typically receive around $50,000. Select LAUNCH companies: TubeMogul (acq. by Adobe for $540M), Byte Foods ($5.5M seed led by Bessemer Venture Partners), Xendit (YC S15). Below is this year’s LAUNCH demo day for those interested.
  • SkyDeck: SkyDeck is a Berkeley affiliated accelerator and venture fund located in the tallest building in Downtown Berkeley. It provides startups with at least one member affiliated with Berkeley, UCSF, or Lawrence Berkeley National Labs workspace, programming, speaker series, and mentorship. There are two tracks: Cohort (full 6-month program), and Hot-desk (more flexible, for earlier stage companies or companies with funding already). Select SkyDeck companies: Ensighta Security (acq. by FireEye), Lendsnap (YC S16), Civil Maps ($6.6M seed).
  • CITRIS Foundry: The Foundry is a UC accelerator located on Berkeley’s campus for startups with at least one member affiliated with a UC campus. It is a one-year accelerator program where admitted teams receive $5,000 to $10,000 in cash plus up to $50,000 worth of in-kind infrastructure and services, as well as space and mentorship.
  • The House Residency: The House Residency is an incubator part of The House Fund. Berkeley students, faculty, and alumni will receive space, mentorship, and infrastructure resources necessary to build a company. Companies that join this residency program will also receive up to $20,000 in funding from The House Fund.
  • Free Ventures: Free Ventures is a UC Berkeley student-run accelerator for student startups located in The House building. Student founders receive 2 academic units, need-based funding, mentorship, and workspace to pursue their ideas. Select Free Ventures companies: Blitz Esports (formerly Instant eSport, YC S15, $2M seed from KPCB Edge & Greylock Partners), Dot (Raised $115,401 on KickStarter)
  • CITRIS Invention Lab: Not technically an incubator, but a great resource on-campus for students to design and prototype ideas. Open to all Berkeley students.
  • Qb3 Garage@Berkeley: QB3 incubators provide biotech startups with access to laboratory space. QB3 Garabge@Berkeley is located in Stanley Hall with 800 square feet of wet laboratory space and 8 stations.

There are also non-UC Berkeley affiliated accelerators & incubators in the area, including The Batchery and Berkeley Ventures, that are worth checking out.

IV. Student Organizations

On-campus clubs and independent student organizations are great places for founders to expand their network, find co-founders, and discuss ideas. Here are some good places to look:

Click here to see all student organizations at Berkeley.

V. Events

There are soooo many tech/startup events at Berkeley, so instead of listing them individually, here are some channels to subscribe to to stay up-to-date:

VI. MISC

And finally, here is an assortment of useful links that doesn’t quite fit anywhere else:

  • BerkeleyBase: Most exhaustive public database for Berkeley startups (Credit to Ruochen Huang).
  • BearFounders: Help users make startup connections such as finding co-founders, investors, interns and more within the Berkeley ecosystem.
  • StartU: Like TechCrunch but ran by university students covering campus affiliated startups exclusively. Launched in early 2018 and currently cover startups from Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and UPenn. It’s a great way to see what other student entrepreneurs are working on around the country.
  • CalFounders: Group for startup founders who are also UC Berkeley alumni.
  • I’m subscribed to over 20 technology and entrepreneurship related newsletters. It’s a great way to stay up to date on technology trends and what other ambitious founders are working on; here are some of my favorites:
  1. Accelerated: weekly newsletter ran by Justine & Olivia Moore, investors at CRV, covering trends, news, and internship and full-time job openings in technology.
  2. AVC: daily musings from USV’s Fred Wilson, a prolific investor in the NYC ecosystem
  3. Crunchbase Daily: daily newsletter on general technology news
  4. Hacker Newsletter: Weekly newsletter containing the best of Y Combinator’s blog Hack News. Full of interesting articles and links.
  5. Token Economy: Weekly opinionated recap of the most interesting news in blockchain.

I hope you found this post helpful in turning the ideas gnawing at the back of your head into reality. Feel free to email me at dtao114@berkeley with feedback, and best of luck to you going forward! :D

About the Author:

David Tao is a Senior studying Economics at UC Berkeley. He is passionate about working with startups, and is involved in Berkeley’s entrepreneurship ecosystem through the LAUNCH accelerator, CRV’s Deal Scout program, and blogging. He interned at Anthos Capital, a Santa Monica based venture and growth equity firm, during Summer 2018 and will return as a full-time investor upon graduation.

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