Kevin Warnock

Entrepreneurship, ideas and more

UC Berkeley Founder School Demo Day

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Soragora Android application discovery application being demonstrated

Soragora Android application discovery application being demonstrated

On October 6, 2011, my birthday, I attended the first Demo Day for the brand new Founder School at the University of California at Berkeley.

Without question, I was exceptionally impressed with the results of Founder School as explained at Demo Day. In fact, I was more impressed with what I learned and saw than I have been by anything else I have ever seen at UC Berkeley.

The only events that can compare for shear impact were two rock concerts I saw years ago — the B52s promoting what I consider their best recording Wild Planet at the Zellerbach Auditorium, and Alanis Morissette promoting Jagged Little Pill at The Greek Theatre.

Yes, I am comparing presenters at a geeky entrepreneur event to actual rock stars, which I’ve never done before.

Founder School was that impressive.

Here’s the video of the event so you can see what I am talking about here:

Founder School Demo Day was held at Sutardja Dai Hall at the University of California at Berkeley campus

Founder School Demo Day was held at Sutardja Dai Hall at the University of California at Berkeley campus

The website for Founder School does a good job of describing the basics of what it is. But their site doesn’t capture the excitement I felt at Demo Day. What got me so excited?

First and foremost, Founder School is more than even the most ambitious business plan competition. I am a fan of business plan competitions, and have judged three separate competitions at three schools within UC Berkeley over the years. But those competitions are all outclassed by Founder School, because Founder School resulted in three out of the five companies raising USD $3,000,000 before Demo Day. The biggest prize I have ever seen at a university business plan competition is USD $50,000. It’s possible to start a company on well below $50,000, of course. But Founder School companies that raised money raised an average of USD $1,000,000 each during a program that was just ten short weeks. It’s much more possible to start an important company on $1,000,000 because that’s enough to hire paid staff, where $50,000 really isn’t.

2011 Berkeley Founder School Demo Day networking

2011 Berkeley Founder School Demo Day networking

The next feature of Founder School is that it’s the first large scale jointly run event sponsored by The Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (CET) and The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship. The technology I saw as a judge for the business plan competition at the engineering school in about 2006 was more memorable and to my eye more sophisticated than what I usually see at the larger Berkeley Business Plan Competition. I’ve been telling people for years that the engineers need to be incorporated more into the teams for the Business Plan Competition. The Business Plan Competition teams are far too heavily weighted towards MBA candidates, to the decisive detriment of the teams.

Jennifer Walske, Director of Social Entrepreneurship at The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship

Jennifer Walske, Director of Social Entrepreneurship at The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship

Founder School was conceived by serial entrepreneur Steve Newcomb. He approached Jennifer Walske, Director of Social Entrepreneurship at The Lester Center, shown in the picture above. Walske then introduced Newcomb to Andre Marquis, the executive director of The Lester Center. Marquis and Newcomb had a series of meetings, and Ikhlaq Sidhu was brought into the mix. Sidhu is Director of CET, the Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology at UC Berkeley. Newcomb, Marquis and Sidhu worked together to make Founder School happen. From what I can gather, the success of Founder School was a huge group effort, with many more than these three people contributing tremendous effort. I gather that it would never have happened and been successful without the relentless push provided by Newcomb, who has started a sold an impressive series of companies.

Here’s some background on the graduating companies, from the Lester Center website:

Thirst: Building new web and iOS apps that will use proprietary natural language processing technology for social media (think Rapportive or Xobni for Social Media).

Soragora: Augmented reality app allowing users to see the world in a novel way-simply point your phone at any nearby business, restaurant, landmark, or point of interest and learn all about it!

Flotype: Software that lets programmers build massively scalable web applications using Node.JS.

500Friends: Innovative Software-as-a-Service platform that enables leading e-commerce retailers to increase customer retention, acquisition, average order value, and social media engagement by rewarding shoppers not only for purchases but also for brand promotion, product referrals, and creating UGC.

I’m not sure if there were any MBA students on the teams at Founder School, but the staff of The Lester Center was prominently featured and highlighted, so I think in future years more and more mixing of business students with engineering students is likely.

I think that’s key to getting a Google or Apple sized company to come out of the University of California. Are you beginning to understand why I am so ecstatic?

Darrel Sumi and Neil Sharma, founders of Soragora.com

Darrel Sumi and Neil Sharma, founders of Soragora.com

Kunal Modi and Anuj Verma, founders of Thirstlabs.com

Kunal Modi and Anuj Verma, founders of Thirstlabs.com

Sridatta Thatipamala, Eric Zhang and Darshan Shankar of Flotype.com

Sridatta Thatipamala, Eric Zhang and Darshan Shankar of Flotype.com

Justin Yoshimura, Cofounder & Chief Executive Officer of 500friends.com

Justin Yoshimura, Cofounder & Chief Executive Officer of 500friends.com

Ikhlaq Sidhu, Andre Marquis and Steve Newcomb.

Ikhlaq Sidhu, Andre Marquis and Steve Newcomb.

Andre Marquis, Steve Newcomb and Ikhlaq Sidhu. Newcomb showing his award plaque recognizing his contribution to Founder School.

Andre Marquis, Steve Newcomb and Ikhlaq Sidhu. Newcomb showing his award plaque recognizing his contribution to Founder School.

Steve Newcomb, founder of Founder School. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Steve Newcomb, founder of Founder School. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Christian Perry, Producer at SFBeta.com

Christian Perry, Producer at SFBeta.com

Another great perk provided by Founder School is the access it has arranged for graduating companies to present at SFBeta. For those of you who don’t know it, SFBeta is Bay Area’s ‘finest startup mixer’ according to their website. The founder of SFBeta is Christian Perry, in the green shirt immediately above. Perry invited everyone in the audience to attend as his guest the next SFBeta event on November 8, 2011. For those not in the audience, here’s the link to buy a ticket to attend the November 8, 2011 SFBeta.

Yes, it’s nice to give companies a soapbox on campus to talk about their startup, but the real movers and shakers of the Internet world don’t come to Berkeley to see these pitches. Instead, they’re at events put on by TechCrunch, AlwaysOn and other industry taste makers and pace setters. To my knowledge, no winning teams from any other business plan competition at Berkeley have been awarded guaranteed spots to demo at SFBeta.

I predict that next year the graduates of Founder School will be covered the day after Demo Day by TechCrunch, as it’s likely others have noticed the results this year and won’t miss it next year.

Kristin Sverchek and Andre Gharakhanian, law partners at Silicon Legal Strategy

Kristin Sverchek and Andre Gharakhanian, law partners at Silicon Legal Strategy

Naval Ravikant, founder of AngelList.com. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Naval Ravikant, founder of AngelList.com. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Anuj Verma and Kunal Modi - founders of Thirstlabs.com

Anuj Verma and Kunal Modi - founders of Thirstlabs.com

Justin Yoshimura of 500friends.com

Justin Yoshimura of 500friends.com

The video above shows the graduating teams describing their startups, and they do it better than I could write about it, so please watch the full video, even though it’s over an hour. It will be an hour that will change your impression of UC Berkeley, I promise.

I introduced myself to Steve Newcomb, the instigator of Founder School. I told him then that what I had just seen was the most impressive thing I had ever seen at UC Berkeley. I’ll say it again here in case he’s reading this.

Founder School is the most impressive thing I have ever seen at the University of California at Berkeley.

I want to help put on Founder School next year. Please let me know how I may contribute.Here’s a short clip of the networking hour and the audience as they’re taking their seats. These scenes are not included in the official video above, but they capture some of the energy and sold out excitement of the event, so I am publishing this clip.

Lab space visible from walkway to Sutardja Dai Hall at UC Berkeley

Lab space visible from walkway to Sutardja Dai Hall at UC Berkeley

[Note: I am a member of the Advisory Council for the Entrepreneurs Forum at The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship. I am a Venture Coach at CET. I am writing here as an independent blogger, not in any other capacity.]

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