Kevin Warnock

Entrepreneurship, ideas and more

Archive for the ‘Startups’ Category

I meet the Picatcha.com team at the University of California Berkeley Skydeck startup accelerator

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Picatcha.com team playing ping pong with a basketball. May 2, 2012, at University of California Berkeley Skydeck startup accelerator. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

Picatcha.com team playing ping pong with a basketball. May 2, 2012, at University of California Berkeley Skydeck startup accelerator. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

On May 2, 2012 I met with Satish Polisetti, Dhawal Mujumdar and Sean Carey of Picatcha.

Picatcha is a made up word combining ‘picture’ and ‘Captcha.’

Captcha stands for Computer Automated Public Turing Test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. Captchas were invented by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.

Even if you don’t recognize the word captcha, you know the test. Here’s an example of  Captcha used by Facebook [where I encourage you to subscribe to my posts]:

Facebook Captcha (from Flickr user Chance Abbatoir)

Facebook Captcha (from Flickr user Chance Abbatoir)

This Captcha was posted to the photo sharing site Flickr because the first word is difficult to read. You can see Flickr user Chance Abbatoir couldn’t make out the word and wrote wtf? in its place. Wtf is short for ‘what the fuck’ for my readers who aren’t familiar with this slang term.

This illustrates the problem Picatcha is trying to solve.

Regular Captchas similar to the example from Facebook here are too easy for computers to figure out. That allows bad guys to do things they should not do, like buy hot concert tickets as soon as they go on sale, bumping out actual people by overwhelming the websites where the tickets are sold, such as at TicketMaster and Live Nation. The ticket sites assume the buyers are legitimate because the Captchas are correctly deciphered. As a result, more concert goers have to buy their tickets at inflated prices on the secondary market.

Dhawal Mujumdar is Co-Founder and Engineer at Picatcha.com. Photo by Kevin Warnock May 2, 2012 at UC Berkeley Skydeck.

Dhawal Mujumdar, Co-Founder & Engineer

In response to such fraud against web properties, traditional Captchas are getting more difficult for humans to solve, such as the one shown here from Facebook. I suspect it says ‘N 1/4’ but I can’t be certain. Can you?

Computers and software are improving. There’s an arms race between conventional Captcha writers and the bad guys. The bad guys are winning.

Picatcha has a different approach.

Picatcha presents a challenge that’s currently difficult for a computer to solve.

The Picatcha twist is that users are asked to look at a set of images and identify the subset that matches a word. For example:

Picatch demo

Picatch demo

In this example the user has to click on the two middle pictures on the top row, and the second and last picture on the second row. Teaching a computer how to solve this puzzle is much harder than training optical character recognition software to decipher regular Captchas, according to Picatcha. Think about it from the computer’s perspective… the Picatcha way requires machine vision to identify arbitrary objects. OCR only has to deal with 26 letters and 10 digits. A computer trained to break Picatchas would have to handle a vast array of images, which could be crude line drawings up to detailed color photographs.

Picatcha does a lot of other things that make it more compelling than what I’ve so far described.

Satish Polisetti is Co-Founder and CEO at Picatcha.com. Photo taken at UC Berkeley Skydeck by Kevin Warnock May 2, 2012.

Satish Polisetti, Co-Founder & CEO

They allow customers to use images of their products in their picture captchas. Imagine how this would thrill consumer product companies. Imagine how personal this makes the test for users. Suddenly the access tests can become fun, not irritating.

You solve Picatchas by clicking or touching, not typing, making them much more friendly to solve from smart phones and tablets.

There’s extra tricky security happening under the covers, I was told, so this is not a quick programming project to duplicate.

Even more compelling is the Picatcha system can vary the images depending on who the user is. That’s right, the system can tap into your location and demographic data that Picatcha has access to via commercial ad serving services. This strikes me as a brilliant way to enhance user satisfaction and make it more likely they’ll sign up for or buy whatever is behind the Picatcha.

Sean Carey is Front End Engineer and Visual Designer at Picatch.com. Photo by Kevin Warnock, May 2, 2012.

Sean Carey, Front End Engineer & Visual Designer

I am impressed with Picatcha. So were the semi-final round judges for the 2011 University of California Berkeley Business Plan Competition, hosted by The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and led by Executive Director André Marquis. Picatcha competed in that competition in 2011 and advanced to the elite final group of eight teams [Note to the Berkeley Business Plan Competition organizers: Keep these links valid in perpetuity. Right now it appears only two years of winners are identified at your site. All winners and finalists back to the 1999 inception of the competition should be listed. Thank you.]. Picatcha collected a cash prize for their efforts. It’s very, very difficult to advance to the finals in that competition… I know as I was a semi-final round judge in that competition. I was not a judge for Picatcha, as I served on the Products & Services track, and Picatcha competed on the Information Technology & Web track. I did not meet the Picatcha team last year at the finals, as I was not yet a tech blogger.

Picatcha started as a school project for Co-Founders Mujumdar and Polisetti when they were students at the School of Information at University of California, Berkeley. They described their work in an attractive summary report. Their Advisor was Bob Glushko.

Picatcha is a hosted service, so its customers don’t need to install any software on their web servers. According to the front page of the Picatcha website today, the company has served up over four million access tests so far, on over 200 customer websites.

When I was meeting with Co-Founder Dhawal Mujumdar last week, he showed me the Picatcha implementation for a brand so famous you are all but certain to have heard of it if you live where their product is sold — M & Ms, the chocolate candy from Mars that melts in your mouth, not on your hands.

Picatcha is sharing office space with other impressive startups at Skydeck, the startup accelerator at University of California at Berkeley, in Berkeley, California USA. I met the Picatcha team after I informed Eliot Sun from Kloudless, Inc. that I’d like him to introduce me to another team, as I had time before my next meeting, and I wanted to be productive. I’ve wrote about Kloudless yesterday, May 7, 2012. I took the pictures for this post. Click on them to see them at full 21 megapixel resolution. There are many more good shots of the Picatcha team playing basketball ping pong in a public album on my Facebook page.

Picatcha.com team playing ping pong with a basketball. May 2, 2012, at University of California Berkeley Skydeck startup accelerator. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

Picatcha.com team playing ping pong with a basketball. May 2, 2012, at University of California Berkeley Skydeck startup accelerator. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

Meet Kloudless.com, a UC Berkeley startup that’s bringing order to your Gmail attachments

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Timothy Liu, Brian Tang and Eliot Sun - three of the four co-founders of Kloudless, Inc., May 2, 2012. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Timothy Liu, Brian Tang and Eliot Sun - three of the four co-founders of Kloudless, Inc., May 2, 2012. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

On Tuesday, May 2, 2012, I met with Eliot Sun, co-founder and CEO at Kloudless, Inc., winner of the IT and Web track at the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition.

Sun and his three co-founders, Timothy Liu, Brian Tang and Vinod Chandru, have built an impressive productivity utility for use with Gmail, Google’s web based email service. I didn’t get to meet Chandru, which is why he’s not pictured here, as I took all of these pictures. Click on them to see them full size.

Liu, Tang and Sun allowed me to photograph them in their corner cubicle of the University of California Startup Accelerator @Skydeck, commonly referred to around campus as simply Skydeck. Have a look at the sweeping view in the photographs here. That’s San Francisco’s skyline directly behind the heads of Tang and Sun. Click the picture and wait for it to load in a new window. Then click the picture again to see the full size version. You can clearly see the San Francisco Bay Bridge through the glass window.

Eliot Sun, CEO of Kloudless. Inc., May 2, 2012. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Eliot Sun

The Skydeck is located on the penthouse floor of the tallest building in Berkeley, at 2150 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, California USA. This building is at the the top of the escalator from the circular exit to the Berkeley BART station.

Kloudless is still in private beta, and I have not personally used the service. But Sun did give me a great demonstration of the working site.

Eliot Sun knew up front that I am a blogger and that I would write this post.

Kloudless is targeted towards users that receive a lot of email with important attachments. Emails that contain attachments fill up email storage far faster than emails without attachments. Search in Gmail does not look inside attachments, according to Sun.

What Kloudless does is hard to believe hasn’t been done before, as it’s brilliant.

Timothy Liu, CTO of Kloudless, Inc., May 2, 2012. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Timothy Liu

Kloudless has a plugin for Gmail that modifies the user’s options. A new option when one receives an email with an attachment is to move the attachment to that user’s account at either DropBox or Box, which are popular cloud storage services offered by two different companies.

If a Kloudless user directs the service to move the attachment file to DropBox or Box, the Kloudless service does so. What makes Kloudless deserving of winning competitions is that it remembers where it put the file. The next time the user views that email in Gmail, they won’t have the attachment directly available to them from Google. However, there will be a link to the file that is now stored in the cloud at either Box or DropBox. A file can be stored at both services at once, if the user so chooses.

Kloudless is storing the association between original email and the stored attachment now in the cloud outside of Google.

There is a screen in Kloudless where users can review all their attachments in a view that omits all the emails that did not have attachments originally. This condensed view is compelling, for its brevity. If a user finds a file they are interested in, that user can click back to the original email message that brought the file to them in the first place.

There’s a lot to like about the Kloudless business model. They are not a cloud storage provider, so they avoid having to store petabytes of data. They’re storing metadata, not attachments. Their own hosting costs should be moderate since they still have to pay for the bandwidth to move files around between Google and the cloud storage providers.

Kloudless is likely to be able to charge for this service, because it gives such useful control and quick access to users.

Users that embrace Kloudless are likely to stay customers forever, because if they quit the service, presumably they will lose their ability to associate their attachments with their emails, which could be painful.

Eliot Sun is a smart guy. He holds degrees in Mathematics and Economics as well as minors in Chinese and Latin, all from UC Berkeley. You don’t frequently find engineers that seriously studied Latin.

Brian Tang, Chief Scientist of Kloudless, Inc. May 2, 2012. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Brian Tang

Sun’s three co-founders Timothy Liu, Brian Tang and Vinod Chandru also all graduated from UC Berkeley. Liu is CTO, Tang is Chief Scientist and Chandru is Vice President of Engineering.

Sun also had the smarts to get his name as a domain name, which everyone should do if they can. There’s no better beach front real estate for your personal brand than your own name followed by .com.

Global Brain Corporation, a venture capital firm in Japan, invited Sun to attend their annual Global Brian Alliance Forum in December, 2011. Sun spent four days meeting with potential partners and one day at the Forum. Sun’s Kloudless presentation at the Forum was judged the best pitch of the event.

On September 22, 2011, Kloudless won first place in the Plug and Play EXPO at the Plug and Play Tech Center.

Including the IT and Web track at the Berkeley Startup Competition last month, that’s three wins in less than six months, and Kloudless hasn’t even launched yet.

Kloudless is a company to watch.

PS – I posted 16 more shots from my photoshoot with three of the four Kloudless co-founders to my Facebook profile, where you can subscribe to my updates. I had my studio lights with me as I was on my way to a photoshoot with model Annika, from my blog post about AlbertMing, an early adopter of Skydeck’s services that’s since moved to their own office space in Berkeley.

I met with startup advisor John Matthesen, mentor to HARBO Technologies in the 2012 UC Berkeley Startup Competition

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John Matthesen at University of California Berkeley School of Law, May 2, 2012

John Matthesen at University of California Berkeley School of Law, May 2, 2012

I enjoy blogging.

I am enjoying it more all the time for it affords me the opportunity to sit down and talk with interesting people.

When I covered the Berkeley Startup Competition (prior to 2012 known as The Berkeley Business Plan Competition) on April 26, 2012, I introduced myself to John Matthesen. Matthesen was assigned this year to mentor HARBO Technologies, which won the Energy and Clean Tech (archived version for use if previous link breaks in the future — 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition winners list) track of the competition with its innovative system to greatly reduce the environmental impact of oil spills in bodies of water.

I met Matthesen while I was waiting in line to introduce myself to HARBO’s CEO Boaz Ur.

I told both Ur and Metthesen that I’d like to interview HARBO for my blog. Since HARBO has invented new technology, they’re not yet ready for press coverage, as they’re still working on the legal issues, Matthesen explained by email. But he said I could interview him individually so long as we didn’t discuss HARBO. Matthesen struck me as an interesting guy I should meet in any event, so I took him up on his offer.

I met John Matthesen for coffee at the trendy ZEB Cafe at the University of California Berkeley Law School at 2745 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, California USA. According to Matthesen’s website for his company Related Concepts, he helps companies with interim management, qualitative customer research, business process development, team building and coaching, and finally, board of directors / advisory boards. I confined my questions to his background and his work as a mentor.

We jumped around to a lot of topics, never really finding a theme for this post — it didn’t seem right to talk about the past companies he’s mentored for the Berkeley Startup Competition without getting the permission from those teams.

I do feel comfortable saying that two years ago Matthesen was mentor to the winner of the 2010 Products & Services Track, BrightSense, which, according the Berkeley competition’s website:

“… uses a novel patent-pending drug delivery technology to design customized whitening strips with peroxide dosages optimized for each user’s teeth.”

There is more information about BrightSense in the University of California 2010 Berkeley Business Plan Competition booklet.

Matthesen has been fortunate to advise two winning teams.

John Matthesen at University of California Berkeley School of Law, May 2, 2012

John Matthesen at University of California Berkeley School of Law, May 2, 2012

I asked Matthesen how he got to be asked to be a mentor in the Berkeley Startup Competition. He wasn’t sure, but speculated it had to do with his background at Sybase and Commerce One.

Matthesen was an early employee at Sybase, one of the early pioneers in the database market. Microsoft licensed Sybase to form the basis of Microsoft SQL Server, still Microsoft’s sole enterprise database product. Matthesen had worked in Information Technology role at a hotel in Hawaii, and the hours were brutal. The hours Sybase told its new hires they would be expected to work were long as well, but less intense that what he endured in Hawaii. Matthesen intended to stay at Sybase just 6 months, but instead stayed for 7 years, through their initial public offering of stock. Sybase today is owned by SAP.

After Sybase, Matthesen went to Commerce One, early enough to ride the first dot com boom up to its height, and for long enough to witness the carnage of the boom’s aftermath — another seven years.

After 14 years of intensity at Sybase and Commerce One, Matthesen was ready for a break, so he turned down an early job at Google, which sadly presumably cost him millions of dollars. Ouch!

I asked Mattesen if he knew David Henderson, but he didn’t. I hired Henderson to work with me for a little over a year at my first Internet company, Hotpaper.com, Inc., and his next job was at Commerce One.

While researching this post, I discovered that Commerce One is still in business, though it’s an invisible shadow of its former self. Congratulations to the team for staying in business given the turmoil along the way.

Matthesen entertained me with crazy stories of the stock price of Commerce One shooting past USD $1,000 per share and then collapsing to zero. Matthesen advised the Commerce One CEO to ‘buy something big’ of real value, but his advice was rebuffed. The companies Commerce One could have bought at the peak of its power as a public company are still large household names deeply embedded into the daily fabric of the planet.

Matthesen told me he managed his personal finances during that crazy boom time such that he could pay his Alternative Minimum Tax bill, when his colleagues and friends were going bankrupt over their huge AMT bills in the many millions of dollars.

Young entrepreneurs in today’s boom may not be familiar with how unfair United States tax policy was during the first boom. If one exercised stock options but didn’t sell the stock right away, there was a big risk that the stock would go down by the time you sold the stock. The AMT tax was applied to the paper gain you made when you exercised the stock, and if the stock collapsed before you could sell it, you still owed tax on the paper gain. Think of the devastation if you had a USD $100,000,000 paper gain and the stock dropped to zero before you sold it. You would owe AMT tax on the $100,000,000 even though you never touched the cash.

I haven’t paid much attention recently to this AMT trap, and I never got caught in it when I sold Hotpaper, as I never held options, just common stock.

I learned from Matthesen that the AMT trap in 2009 was partly fixed, retroactively. People who were ensnared in the early 2000s were able to apply for relief and get huge sums back from the United States Treasury.

I don’t want to take on the responsibility to accurately summarize the tax relief, so I direct you to this article on the subject.

I spoke with Matthesen for less than an hour, and mostly we shared war stories. After I interview Boaz Ur of HARBO, I’ll likely have more to say. Until then, have a look at the pictures I took of Matthesen at the conclusion of our conversation, above.

2012 Berkeley Startup Competition Finals at University of California Berkeley

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Kate Garrett, co-founder of Calcula Technologies, Grand Prize winner of the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Kate Garrett, co-founder of Calcula Technologies, Grand Prize winner of the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

On Thursday, April 26, 2012, I attended the Berkeley Startup Competition Final Awards Ceremony at the Anderson Auditorium on the campus of The Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. Here is the PDF format file of the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition Final Awards Ceremony program booklet that was handed out at the final awards ceremony.

There are many people mentioned in the booklet, like the Co-Chairs for the 2012 competition, Nick Nascioli, Adam Sterling and Tom VanLangen, as well as Lester Center Executive Director Andre Marquis and Haas School of Business Dean Richard Lyons.

Grand Prize winner Calcula Technologies at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012. Left to right: Nick Mascioli (co-chair of the Competition), Adam Sterling (co-chair of the Competition), Kate Garrett, Dan Azagury, David Gal, Buzz Bonneau, Tom VanLangen (co-chair of the Competition)

Grand Prize winner Calcula Technologies at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012. Left to right: Nick Mascioli (co-chair of the Competition), Adam Sterling (co-chair of the Competition), Kate Garrett, Dan Azagury, David Gal, Buzz Bonneau, Tom VanLangen (co-chair of the Competition)

I most recently wrote about the announcement of the finalists for this competition, which happened two days earlier, on April 24, 2012.

Calcula Technologies won the Grand Prize and the Life Sciences Track for their clever system that vacuums kidney stones out of a patient’s urethra in just ten seconds. According to the team’s presentation, doctors today let stones pass from the body naturally and often quite painfully unless they are larger than 10mm in diameter. Patients today are often in such agony that they visit the emergency room, which racks up hundreds of millions of dollars in charges per year. For the sub 10mm stones, doctors just write prescriptions for narcotic pain killers and send the patients home with the stones still on their excruciating slow path out.

In the future, when and if Calcula gets their system approved by regulators, patients could have a catheter inserted into their urethra and the stone could be sucked out in seconds, presumably at great relief to the patient. This work could be done at the office of a urologist, without surgery, and the Calcula team said there is already a prized and lucrative reimbursement code in existence in the insurance industry, so if they build this system, they will be able to get paid and make a profit. I can understand why Calcula Technologies won the grand prize. Kidney stones are no fun, I’ve heard, and this system seems very appealing. The team showed a video of a fake kidney stone being sucked out of a pig’s urethra in just 10 seconds. It was very impressive and very memorable.

First Place Energy and Cleantech winner Harbo Technologies at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

First Place Energy and Cleantech winner Harbo Technologies at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Kloudless, Inc. won first place in the Information Technologies and Web Track. I am going to be interviewing Kloudless, so I’ll save my remarks for another blog post.

First place IT and Web Track winner Kloudless, Inc. at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

First place IT and Web Track winner Kloudless, Inc. at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Like Calcula, Back to the Roots (2935 Adeline Street, Oakland California 94608 USA) won two awards. First, they won the Products and Services Track, and then, thanks to real time votes from the audience and viewers of a live stream on the Internet, they won the Peoples’ Choice Award.

I have written about Back to the Roots twice before.

I have one of their products at my house right now. It works.

Peoples' Choice winner Back to the Roots at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Peoples' Choice winner Back to the Roots at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Back to the Roots collects used coffee grounds from coffee houses like Peet’s Coffee and mixes it with a ‘secret sauce.’ The combination is boxed up and sold at over 1,000 stores in the United States, including at Home Depot and Whole Foods Market. A consumer buys the cardboard box and partly opens it, exposing the insides. The consumer then mists the contents of the box with water using an included spray bottle. After ten days of twice daily misting, the consumer harvests a bountiful crop of oyster mushrooms that have grown directly out of the side of the box. Once one side has been used up, the consumer opens the other side to repeat the growing cycle for a second harvest.

Elevator Pitch winner Nanoly at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Elevator Pitch winner Nanoly at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

That story has been told thousands of times, including on the CBS Evening News, an influential national newscast in the United States.

During their public presentation, the Back to the Roots team disclosed future plans that I find fascinating. Since this event was public and was streamed live to the Internet, I feel that it’s OK to write about what I learned, as there were no statements that anything said was to be considered secret.

Haas School of Business Dean Richard Lyons speaks at the Berkeley Startup Competition Finals, April 26, 2012. Photograph by Bruce Cook.

Haas School of Business Dean Richard Lyons speaks at the Berkeley Startup Competition Finals, April 26, 2012. Photograph by Bruce Cook.

The box contents will soon include vegetable plant seeds, and the rest of the box and liner will be biodegradable. Currently, the box is lined with what looks like conventional plastic. My box is from November, 2011, so things today may be different. In the future, or perhaps even already, the box will be lined with either nothing or something else that’s biodegradable. Perhaps what looks like conventional plastic to me is really biodegradable plastic, like some plastic trash bags are made of.

Venture capitalist Michael Berolzheimer, of Bee Partners, attends the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012. Berolzheimer also leads the Haas Founders group that I am a member of.

Venture capitalist Michael Berolzheimer, of Bee Partners, attends the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012. Berolzheimer also leads the Haas Founders group that I am a member of.

Why do this?

Once the box is biodegradable and contains vegetable seeds, that means that after the two mushroom harvests the box can be planted in dirt for ’round three’ of production — vegetables. The mushrooms came from the waste stream from coffee houses. The round three vegetable garden will come from the waste stream of the mushroom garden.

This is beautiful.

Networking hour prior to the Berkeley Startup Competition Finals, April 26, 2012

Networking hour prior to the Berkeley Startup Competition Finals, April 26, 2012

What’s coming down the road from Back to the Roots?

I am overjoyed to report the answer may be affordable aquaponics kits.

Kevin Esse at networking hour prior to attending Berkeley Startup Competition Finals, April 26, 2012

Kevin Esse at networking hour prior to attending Berkeley Startup Competition Finals, April 26, 2012

I have written before about my love for aquaponics.

Aquaponics is food production gardening enhanced by growing edible fish in symbiosis with vegetable plants. Both parts of the system are made more productive by the presence of the other half. Fish poop gets converted by bacteria into rich fertilizer. The fish grow faster because the plants keep the fish tank cleaner. It’s a great growing system that I feel should take over the world on such a scale that every person has their own system at home.

I am too busy in life to advance this dream, but the team at Back to the Roots has time and energy and market traction, so I think they would be ideal to push aquaponics to a large audience. I am so excited about this that I have already offered to tell the company everything I know about aquaponics free of charge to encourage them to get this to market.

I suspect they plan to start with small, under USD $100 demonstration kits. This in my mind is the way to start.

Tom VanLangen, right, Co-Chair of the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Tom VanLangen, right, Co-Chair of the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

I bought my startup supplies for my aquaponics system from The Aquaponics Source. This online retailer sells complete systems, but the price is too high for people to buy casually, at over USD $1,000. I believe a profitable sub $100 kit could be sold, as what’s required is similar to what’s inside a Mr. Coffee brand coffee maker — two water containers, a pump, a heater and some electronics to coordinate the steps. I can get a nice computerized Mr. Coffee coffee maker for about USD $25 from Amazon, so even in the smaller quantities a demonstration aquaponics system would sell in initially, I think it can be done.

Lucian Mihailescu of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory attends the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Lucian Mihailescu of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory attends the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

I love advising startup companies, and I would particularly like to advise about aquaponics, even though I know relatively little about the subject, since I’ve only built one demonstration system so far. My system was a modest success for I grew the largest and sweetest tomatoes I have ever eaten.

Jake Gentling at the networking hour prior to attending the Berkeley Startup Competition Finals, April 26, 2012

Jake Gentling at the networking hour prior to attending the Berkeley Startup Competition Finals, April 26, 2012

HARBO Technologies won First Place in the Energy and Cleantech track. I introduced myself to co-founder Boaz Ur and mentor John Matthesen after the conclusion of the event. The company is working on something I find impressive and interesting. I have made arrangements to interview the team, so I will hold my remarks until after that interview.

Carlos Penzini of Viacom at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Carlos Penzini of Viacom at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

My friends at Modify Industries took home a USD $1,000 prize for coming in second place in the Products and Services Track. This outcome was inevitable, and I predicted it accurately the moment I saw Modify was competing with Back to the Roots. Back to the Roots simply has had much more commercial success so far. While Modify has sold between 10,000 and 100,000 watches to such companies as Google and Hewlett Packard, they haven’t yet cracked the retail store market, and they haven’t been on the evening television news. It’s rare for a company to be so far along like Back to the Roots, but still be eligible to compete in the Berkeley Startup Competition. In all other years where there was a Products and Services Track, Modify probably would have won that track. I pay attention to these things because I was a judge for this competition for the eight years through 2011. This year I mentored the team University Gateway, which did not make it to the finals since Modify and Back to the Roots filled up the Products and Services Track.

Modify gave an impressive and bold presentation, where they outlined a dream for their enterprise far bigger than time pieces. They probably adjusted their pitch to compete with Back to the Roots. But they forgot to show their product in action amid all the grand dream spinning. How so? They forgot to personally show the audience how to change a watch element from one silicone strap to another. This is worth showing at every pitch for it’s compelling and like nothing I’ve seen in the watch business. No tools, no training — 10 seconds and you have an all new look.

Bruce Cook covering the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Bruce Cook covering the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Finally, I want to give some space to my friend and fellow photographer Bruce Cook. I’ve known Cook since nearly the inception of The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. He’s a fixture at all sizable Lester Center events. He has his own photography business, Bruce Cook Photography, and is not a University of California employee. I can’t recall there ever being a different photographer for a Lester Center event. The picture above is of Cook standing under the video light in Anderson Auditorium. The picture below is of Cook taking a picture during the networking hour in the Bank of America Forum, the large gathering area just outside of the Anderson Auditorium. Cook took the picture above of Dean Lyons speaking to the audience. Thank you Bruce!

If The Lester Center is reading this, may I suggest that you contact Cook and work out a deal where his vast library of photographs of Lester Center events over the last twenty years can find a permanent home on the Lester Center website and in the University library system. Cook has photographed some of the most important figures of our time, and the tremendous majority, over 99%, of his photographs have not been published. I think these photographs should also be published on Facebook so that it’s easy to crowd source the identification of the people in the pictures, via the Facebook tagging system. Once the faces are tagged, then the captions on the Lester Center website can be updated to reflect the identities of those pictured.

Why do this?

The Lester Center and its events are documenting history. It’s that simple. Bruce Cook has a treasure trove of historic pictures that few have ever seen.

As an added bonus, publishing and captioning Cook’s 100,000+ pictures will boost traffic to The Lester Center’s website, as people search on Google and similar sites for the many luminaries Cook has photographed. The search engine optimization benefits to posting these pictures will probably overshadow every other single project you could undertake.

This is my idea alone.

Cook did not plant this, suggest this or hint at this.

I’ve been thinking about this for years now, and here seems like a fine place to promote the idea.

I believe I have shared this suggestion with Jerry Engel when he was Executive Director of The Lester Center, but that was only in passing at a hectic Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, not a written proposal such as this one.

Please consider this official advice, and let me know when I can blog about the happy news. Thank you.

Bruce Cook, the photographer for The Lester Center events, covers the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Bruce Cook, the photographer for The Lester Center events, covers the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

I introduced myself to all the finalist teams except AdrenaRX. I believe the members from that team departed before I had a chance to find them.

I offered each of the eight finalist teams except for Modify and Back to the Roots the opportunity to be interviewed by me for a future blog entry. Two of the teams have contacted me to schedule an interview. Four teams have not yet contacted me.

I know the Modify and Back to the Roots founders, so I did not offer to interview them. This was not meant as a snub — I simply forgot to offer in my excitement of congratulating them. Both teams are doing so well they don’t need my blog coverage, but if they would like more in depth stories, I am happy to meet with them. Just send me a message. I am on Facebook and easy to reach. I have turned on the ‘subscribe’ feature, so everyone reading this is invited to subscribe to me on Facebook. You may also sign up with your email address to receive updates to this blog, in the upper right corner of this page.

All the pictures I presented above except for the one by Bruce Cook are also on my Facebook page in this album. If you know these people, particularly the people in the shots with the giant checks, please tag them on Facebook so I can update the captions here with the names. All my pictures on Facebook are public, so if you tag someone there, I consider those names to be public, and on that basis I will update the captions here.

The sponsors for the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition include:

Gold level:

Claremont Creek Ventures
DCM
UM

Silver level:

Javelin Venture Partners
Lowenstein Sandler
Mintz Levin
Mohr Davidow
Morgan Stanley
Morgenthaler Ventures
Morrison & Foerster LLP
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati PC

Individual level:

Kevin Warnock

There were possibly other individual sponsors. No individual level sponsors were listed in official materials this year, a departure from past years.

The  Executive Committee for the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition:

Co-Chairs

Nick Mascioli
Adam Sterling
Tom VanLangen

Judging & Sponsorship

Robbie Allan
Jane Buescher
Vivien Leong
Larry Pier

Marketing & Events

Stephanie Knoch
Krishna Shah

Mentorship & Events

Amara Aigbedion
Hrishikesh Desai

Program Manager

Kirsten Berzon

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.

mexican.vc Demo Day startup pitches, March 16, 2012

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On March 16, 2012 I attended the first Demo Day for Internet startups funded by the new venture capital firm mexican.vc. I wrote a blog post that night about the very exciting event. I also wrote a separate post about ClasesD, the only one of the seven startups that I missed interviewing on Demo Day. Finally, I wrote a post showing the very impressive demo Manolo Diaz gave me of Trash Chaos, one of the top educational games on the Apple iPhone and iPad App Store.

Today I present what will likely be my final post on this Demo Day.

I captured video at Demo Day of the startup pitches. Prior to the start of the pitches, I had asked for and received permission from mexican.vc General Partner Santiago Zavala to take pictures and blog about the event.

I forgot to explicitly ask for permission to capture video, so I have been reluctant to publish this video.

Thankfully, yesterday, I asked another General Partner, David Weekly, if it would be alright to publish this video, and happily, he gave me permission, with enthusiasm.

Celeste North, co-founder of NuFlick.com, at mexican.vc Demo Day, March 16, 2012

Celeste North, co-founder of NuFlick.com, at mexican.vc Demo Day, March 16, 2012

Lisa Seeman (left), General Partner at mexican.vc, at mexican.vc Demo Day March 16 2012

Lisa Seeman (left), General Partner at mexican.vc, at mexican.vc Demo Day March 16 2012

Cristina Randall, co-founder of Conekta.mx, at Mexican VC Demo Day March 16 2012

Cristina Randall, co-founder of Conekta.mx, at Mexican VC Demo Day March 16 2012

Dave McClure and Lisa Seeman at Mexican VC Demo Day, March 16, 2012

Dave McClure and Lisa Seeman at Mexican VC Demo Day, March 16, 2012