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.
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.”
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.