Kevin Warnock

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Berkeley Startup Competition finalists, including Back to the Roots and Modify, are announced

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Sean Linehan, Aaron Schwartz and Ayo Oluwole of Modify, April 24, 2012. Modify is a finalist in the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition.HARBO Technologies

Sean Linehan, Aaron Schwartz and Ayo Oluwole of Modify, April 24, 2012. Modify is a finalist in the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition.

Last  night, on April 24, 2012, I attended a reception at the University of California Berkeley Clark Kerr Campus. The reception was held to announce the finalists for the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition. This event used to be called the Berkeley Business Plan Competition. I competed in the finals of this competition in its inaugural year, and have sponsored the competition every year since, including in 2012.

Dorian Walder and Julian Riediger of University Gateway, April 24, 2012. Kevin Warnock mentored this team this year.

Dorian Walder and Julian Riediger of University Gateway, April 24, 2012. Kevin Warnock mentored this team this year.

This year I was a mentor to semi-finalist team University Gateway, lead by Dorian Walden. I got to know Walden over four meetings, some of them stretching to 3 hours around my dining room table. Sadly, University Gateway did not progress to the finals, but it was easy for Walden to understand why.

Zachary Apte of EvolveMol, April 24, 2012. Apte is at the Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement reception.

Zachary Apte of EvolveMol, April 24, 2012. Apte is at the Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement reception.

Two teams I know personally were in the same judging category as University Gateway — Products and Services. University Gateway is an Internet company, but the track for Internet companies apparently was filled up already. This meant University Gateway was competing with companies that make and sell physical goods.

Scott Ahn of J2P International, April 24 2012. Ahn is at the Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement reception.

Scott Ahn of J2P International, April 24 2012. Ahn is at the Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement reception.

The teams I know that competed in the Products and Services track both were advanced to the finals. I was 99.9% confident that this would be the result, even though I knew nothing about the other competing teams. I was so confident because the teams I know are so strong, and I have been a judge for this competition for the past 8 years or so. I know from experience that teams this strong always make it to the finals.

Les Polgar of CalSolAgua, April 24, 2012. Polgar is at the Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement reception.

Les Polgar of CalSolAgua, April 24, 2012. Polgar is at the Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement reception.

I also know that teams this strong are very rare, so it was unlikely that the Products and Services track had any other teams so strong. I have never gone home from judging thinking that a third team from my judging track should have gone on to the finals.

Larry Pier of Berkeley Startup Competition, April 24 2012. Pier is at the Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement reception.

Larry Pier of Berkeley Startup Competition, April 24 2012. Pier is at the Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement reception.

University Gateway has a good idea, and I hope that Dorian Walder and Julian Riediger make their venture a success. The company is still in stealth mode, so I won’t tell you what they do yet.

The Products and Services teams that advanced to the finals are Modify and Back to the Roots. Both are unusual companies for this Berkeley competition.

Kelly Karns at Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement, April 24, 2012.

Kelly Karns at Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement, April 24, 2012.

Modify makes wrist watches that you can change easily to suit your tastes. The straps are made from silicone, similar to what silicone bake ware is made from. One can pop the time piece out of the strap/case in just a second, with no tools or special skills required. The straps are available in bright colors, and I describe them as chunky chic. The team from Modify are each wearing a Modfiy watch in the photograph I took at the top of this post. I am friends with Modify founder Aaron Schwartz. We see each other most months at the Haas Founders group I wrote about March 11, 2012.

Schwartz is a likeable and modest guy — only when researching this blog post did I discover he’s been profiled in a blog published by The New York Times newspaper. The New York Times is worth tens of millions of dollars less than photo sharing smart phone application Instagram, but I’d much prefer to be written about in a blog by The New York Times than in a blog by Instagram.

John Steuart of Claremont Creek Ventures, April 24, 2012. Steuart is a judge for the Berkeley Startup Competition.

John Steuart of Claremont Creek Ventures, April 24, 2012. Steuart is a judge for the Berkeley Startup Competition.

Back to the Roots makes and sells affordable oyster mushroom growing kits. I’ve written about Back to the Roots when I saw their CEO Nikhil Arora speak on a panel at a Food Startups Meetup run by my friend Matthew Wise, the co-founder of both Founderly and Tableslice. Back to the Roots has 20 full time employees, or so I was told when I interviewed a staff member at their booth at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show on March 24, 2012.

Back to the Roots has received lots of press coverage, including two minutes and forty seconds on the national CBS Evening News  in the United States on March 15, 2012. The newscast says that Back to the Roots sells its products in over 1,000 stores and has 28 employees. Impressive.

John Servaites of S2E Energy, April 24, 2012.

John Servaites of S2E Energy, April 24, 2012.

Both Modify and Back to the Roots have businesses that are well along. Modify has sold _____ of thousands of watches to companies as well known as _____ and _____. [I'm waiting to hear from Schwartz to fill in the blanks in the last sentence. I know the values, but I want to verify the numbers and names I know are meant to be public information.] Back to the Roots sells its kits at Whole Foods Market and Home Depot. While Modfiy and Back to the Roots are still startups, they are making big strides and are companies to watch.

Erik Krogh-Jespersen of Aurinko, April 24, 2012.

Erik Krogh-Jespersen of Aurinko, April 24, 2012.

The reception was well attended and busy. I got to talk with my fellow judges from past years of this competition. I captured video. I took hundreds of pictures. I didn’t eat until the event was technically over. What I didn’t get to do, sadly, was interview the finalist teams that I didn’t know. If they are reading this and would like to be the subject of a future blog post, I invite them to contact me. I’ll meet you for coffee and you can give me your pitch and I’ll write about your venture.

Anthony Franco of Better Cater, April 24, 2012.

Anthony Franco of Better Cater, April 24, 2012.

Here is a list of the 2012 finalists for the Berkeley Startup Competition. The descriptive text that follows was provided by the teams themselves.

  • Kloudless, Inc.

Kloudless is a free service that helps you manage all the things you put in the cloud. We enable users to search for, access, and manage their information that is spread across the Internet. We’re starting with email attachments, the black hole of cloud services, and will expand to other cloud services in the near future. Our solution addresses an increasingly large problem as more and more information moves into the cloud.

  • Traverie

Traverie is an explorer focused startup that leverages the emotional, personal and inherently social aspects of travel discovery to make the process visual, fun and trustworthy. We bring structure to the current ad hoc and offline model of discovering and selecting destinations. We blend user-generated content, professional content and advertising to deliver a compelling user experience. Our founding team comprises a designer, engineer and product manager from MIT, Harvard and Berkeley-Haas, respectively.

  • AdrenaRx

AdrenaRx is a biopharmaceutical company focused on the prevention and treatment of heart failure due to toxicity from cancer chemotherapy. Each year, 1.6 million Americans are affected by cancer, and a third of these patients receive chemotherapy that can damage their heart. AdrenaRx has identified a new therapeutic target and a potent, selective drug that can protect the heart from damage by chemotherapy, and reduce a patient’s risk of developing heart failure after surviving cancer.

  • Calcula Technologies

Calcula Technologies is developing a novel urological medical device for the removal of kidney stones outside of the operating room. Our patent pending technology will treat 4M patients/year in the US and EU. With clear FDA predicates and existing CPT reimbursement codes Calcula will be a major disruption in the field of Urology.

  • Claro Energy

Claro Energy provides solar-powered water pumping solutions to meet irrigation needs of farmers in remote power-deficit agriculture areas in India where costly diesel generated power is the default choice. Claro Energy’s solar-powered pumps have near zero operating costs, are longer lasting and highly reliable when compared to dieselpowered pumps. In combination with sales, marketing and business development competencies, Claro Energy has also developed in-house integration and implementation expertise in remote rural regions of India.

  • HARBO Technologies

During the first critical hours, oil-spills spread, split, and create escalating irreversible damage. HARBO develops the only emergency oil-spill containment solution for immediate response. HARBO’s Zero Time to Spill system is at standby position on-board oil-tankers/rigs and other ships and deploys a boom (floating barrier) within minutes to contain spills. HARBO’s advantage: Minimizing environmental damage, avoiding large containment/cleanup expenses, offering superb costefficiency and preventing a PR nightmare. “Containing oil-spills when they’re small, preventing big disasters.”

  • Back to the Roots

Back to the Roots, started by two Haas Business School undergrads, promotes sustainability and zero-waste, while reconnecting people to food through its grow-at-home mushroom kit. Our gourmet mushroom kits are made with 100% recycled coffee grounds, and produce 2 pounds of fresh oyster mushrooms in just 10 days! People of all ages can actually grow and eat their own mushrooms all at home, a unique experience in today’s urban lifestyle.

  • Modify

Modify is a brand built on freedom of expression. Customizable for individual style, Modify’s interchangeable watches offer dope design for anyday wear. Available in two different sizes and over 250 combinations, Modify is a brand made for anyone—anytime, anyplace. A proponent of exceptional personalized service, we engage organizations and fans to help create (and name!) watches. Modify Watches are available for corporate gifting and licensing.

Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announced, April 24, 2012.

Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announced, April 24, 2012.

Nikhil Arora, the CEO of Back to the Roots. This was taken by Kevin Warnock on November 16, 2011, not at the Berkeley Startup Competition event.

Nikhil Arora, the CEO of Back to the Roots. This was taken by Kevin Warnock on November 16, 2011, not at the Berkeley Startup Competition event.

Here’s the handheld video I captured of the finalist teams learning of their advancement and collecting their certificates documenting their achievements. Andre Marquis, the Executive Director of The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, delivers the opening remarks. John Steuart, Managing Director at Claremont Creek Ventures, comments on the judging process. Steuart’s firm is a financial sponsor of the competition, and Steuart is one of the judges.

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Anthony Franco of Better Cater, pictured above, contacted me and asked me to link to his startup’s website. Sorry for the delay in creating the link — I just saw your Facebook message from April 25th a few minutes ago. Kevin — May 3, 2012 @ 12:47am.

San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, March 24, 2012

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Tuli Fisher, owner of FisherBlacksmithing.com, March 24 2012, at San Francisco Flower & Garden Show

Tuli Fisher, owner of FisherBlacksmithing.com, March 24 2012, at San Francisco Flower & Garden Show

On Saturday, March 24, 2012, I attended the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show at the San Mateo Event Center in San Mateo, California USA.

I met Tuli Fisher, the owner of Fisher Blacksmithing at 409 South Fifth Avenue in Bozeman, Montana 59715 USA. Fisher personally crafts the nicest hand garden tools I have ever seen. That’s right, he hand-forges the iron parts for the hoes, trowels, rakes. He turns the handles on a lathe. He occupies the booth at various shows, where he personally sells his quality product. Fisher graciously posed holding two of his fine creations, above. I photographed three examples of his work, immediately below.

Here’s a piece about Fisher Blacksmithing that appeared on Forbes.com. In 2009, Fisher Blacksmithing was featured on the cover of Bozeman Magazine, the city in Montana where Fisher lives.

Fisher Blacksmithing handcrafted garden tools, March 24, 2012

Fisher Blacksmithing handcrafted garden tools, March 24, 2012

San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, March 24 2012

San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, March 24 2012

San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, March 24, 2012

San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, March 24, 2012

San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, March 24, 2012

San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, March 24, 2012

Fiesta Roses from FiestaRoses.com, on display at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, March 24 2012

Fiesta Roses from FiestaRoses.com, on display at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, March 24 2012

These roses are ‘real’ in that they were living before being cut. They are called Rainbow Roses, and you can order them at FiestaRoses. I had never seen these before, so I inquired about the process. Here’s what the website of the manufacturer says:

1. Fresh long stem [white I was told] roses are hand picked from our farms to make our Rainbow Roses

2. A trained horticulturist prepares the roses for “fiesta-ization”.

3. The roses are placed in a unique substance, which is a combination of water and various dyes. The roses slowly absorb the dyed water the same way as they would naturally absorb water. Our unique process allows the horticulturist to pinpoint which petals receive each color of dye. This results in the various colors being diffused throughout upwards of 60 of the rose petals thus resulting in rainbow roses, blue roses, purple roses.

4.Rainbow roses, Blue roses, Purple roses are carefully packed and shipped throughout the United States.

San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, March 24 2012

San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, March 24 2012

San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, March 24 2012

San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, March 24 2012

San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, March 24 2012

San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, March 24 2012

Here’s a video clip I shot that shows the main building for the show. These exhibits were elaborate, and at least one had a fish pond with large live fish in it.

I posted these pictures at full camera resolution of 21 megapixels. Click on them to see the full size versions.