Kevin Warnock

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My memories of Priya Haji, who passed away at age 44 on July 14, 2014

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Priya Haji, Will Rosenzweig and Kirsten Saenz Tobey - April 11, 2014 at GSVC Finals in Berkeley, California

Priya Haji, Will Rosenzweig and Kirsten Saenz Tobey – April 11, 2014 at GSVC Finals in Berkeley, California USA. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

I am writing this piece with a heavy heart.

Priya Haji passed away July 14, 2014 at the young age of 44. She leaves behind a daughter under a year old and a son that is 2 and a half. Here are some news stories of her death: re/code, TechCrunch, Site Pro News, Palo Alto Online, The Non Profit Times. Here is the official memorial page for Haji. A celebration of Haji’s life will take place tomorrow, Saturday, July 19, 2014 at the Anderson Auditorium at the Berkeley-Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley, in Berkeley, California USA. Here is the Facebook page for the celebration.

I met Haji in 2005.

My Internet startup at the time was housed in the basement of the Bancroft Hotel in Berkeley, California USA. This basement was home to about six tiny startup companies at the time.

One day David Charron, at the time the Associate Director of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, brought by Haji and her business partner Siddharth Sangvi and assigned them to the cubicle on the other side of the partition to my right as I was seated at my laptop.

Sangvi and Haji were starting their company called World of Good in order to lift from poverty poor women that lived in the developing world.

When I met this dynamic pair, they had yet to sell anything to anyone, and yet Haji was already talking about building the brand ‘World of Good’ even though she didn’t have any customers and didn’t have the Internet domain address It seemed to me at the time that they were jumping the gun a bit to be talking about branding before they had anything to sell or any customers.

But Haji was emphatic she would build World of Good into a recognizable brand that would extend beyond the tags attached to each item.

I soon observed Sangvi and Haji develop into entrepreneurial stars.

Haji had laid the groundwork for her new venture by traveling for six months through multiple emerging countries, where she met with women that would make the products her new venture would eventually sell.

The basement of the Bancroft hotel (at 2680 Bancroft Way Berkeley, California 94704 USA) was subdivided into cubicles. There were no private offices. There was a windowless conference room that could fit ten people.

A later stage company, Iris A/O, occupied a third of the space. For that privilege, they paid rent to the hotel directly. All the other companies paid nothing thanks to the generosity of The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, at the time led by the Founding Executive Director Jerry Engel. The center is now known as The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship.

Since there was no warehouse space, the World of Good pair modified the broom closet to be their first ‘warehouse.’

I was there at this magic moment, since this closet was an arms reach from my desk. Sangvi just installed a padlock hasp to the door and frame, and the entire inventory of the company lived in this perhaps 6 square foot space for the first couple of months after Haji and Sangvi moved in to this makeshift startup incubator, officially called the Berkeley Entrepreneurship Laboratory. This space has since closed and been replaced by the shockingly upscale Berkeley Skydeck Accelerator that fills the penthouse of the tallest building in Berkeley.

Haji wisely chose to focus on physical retail sales to start, rather than Internet or online sales.

World of Good was founded on the principle of fair trade where the workers that actually made the products were paid a living wage for their country. This is in contrast to most businesses, where workers are paid as little as possible to maximize the profits for the stakeholders in the business.

What Haji recognized early is that fair wages mean products that are premium priced. She and Sangvi did not have the money to open their own upscale retail store or chain of stores, so Haji used her prodigious powers of persuasion to convince Whole Foods Market, an upscale organic grocery store chain in the United States, to allow World of Good to place their products inside Whole Foods stores.

Haji was intent on establishing World of Good as an identifiable consumer brand. She and Sangvi created an adorable kiosk from Ikea brand unpainted wood bookshelf units. Sangvi used an existing rather unknown decorative computer font to write out the World of Good company name, and the resulting charming logo endured I believe unchanged for years until the brand was eventually discontinued well after the company was sold.

By this time, I estimate World of Good had purchased fifty different gift items from women in countries such as India, Chile and Pakestan. The items included such impulse purchase items such as jewelry, coin purses, scarves and purses. Assembled together, the first kiosk was lush and inviting. It took up about two square feet of floor space, as these Ikea bookcases were perhaps the smallest and cutest they offered at the time.

I recall hearing reports from Haji that the products started flying off the shelves once the first kiosk was placed in the Berkeley Whole Foods. Over time, the metric that stuck in my head was that World of Good was selling $5,000 per square foot per year from its World of Good kiosks in Whole Foods stores, but Whole Foods itself only managed to sell $1,000 per year per square foot. So World of Good’s products were outperforming Whole Food’s traditional offerings by a giant multiple.

Whole Foods was naturally ecstatic, and eventually World of Good installed kiosks in hundreds of Whole Foods stores, including in Fort Collins, Colorado, where my brother Andrew Warnock and his family live.

I liked Priya Haji a lot, and we became good friends.

She had a drive beyond most entrepreneurs I meet. She was bold. She was fearless.

I heard almost everything Haji said during the hours we were both present during the year plus that we shared office space. She was just over the five foot tall cubicle wall, and there was no sound isolation, so I heard every call she made. Haji made a lot of phone calls.

She decided she wanted help from the World Bank, and she contacted this huge International organization and actually was able to speak with the President, though not on the first attempt of course.

Haji wanted to ensure that World of Good would continue indefinitely to help the poor women she cherished and admired. She planned for her own exit from the company, and knew that future leaders of her venture could curtail her economic generosity. So she attempted to structure things so they could not be unwound after her exit. Sounds impossible you say?

What she did was set up two companies — World of Good, Inc., which was a for-profit so-called C corporation, and World of Good Development Organization, which was a non-profit so-called 501(c)3 corporation. She arranged ownership so that the non-profit owned 10% of the stock in the for profit company. This way, even if the for profit company were acquired, the non profit would have a significant equity stake that could not be voted away or taken away.

The non-profit World of Good Development Organization funded projects such as helping to build schools in developing nations. The organization’s marque good deed was to create the Fair Wage Calculator, a website where workers could learn about fair wages and better appreciate their fairness even though currency translations make such comparisons problematic, particularly in the developing world where there are so many currencies that may not be as easily valued as the world’s major currencies. Here’s an article that suggests the World of Good calculator is now maintained by Fair Trade USA and Good World Solutions. I recall Haji saying the calculator found a new home, but I can’t recall who she said took over the project.

Haji was proud to tell people that her pair of Good companies was the first such pairing of a United States for profit and non profit company. She was proud to have thought to do this, and was happy others have gone on to set up the same structure for their ventures.

I remember Haji showing me the thick binder of documents she kept on her desk that represented her efforts to establish this unusual structure.

This structure had practical value, even in the early days when there were low sales and presumably no profits.

World of Good planned Internet sales after establishing itself with retail sales, but World of Good did not own the coveted matching domain name

Someone else owned that domain, but was not using it for a website. This owner wanted USD $10,000 for it. That was more money than the entire capitalization of the company at the time, I suspect, since they started operations well before raising any money.

But non-profit companies can accept donations, and such donations are tax deductible to the donors. So Haji arranged for the owner of to donate the desirable domain name to the non-profit. The seller got a valuable tax deduction, worth real money, and the for-profit company got to use the domain name for its for profit activities. I don’t know the details of how this was accomplished, but it probably involved the non-profit renting the domain to the for profit, which, if true, would have had the lovely side effect of getting money into the non-profit to use for the philanthropic activities that entity was set up to accomplish.

Getting the domain name without spending a dime of cash was pretty clever, and is illustrative of Haji’s creative thinking.

As far as I know, World of Good didn’t even have a lawyer through all of this company formation and domain name acquisition, because one day at lunch at Freehouse Berkeley next door to the entrepreneurship lab, Haji asked me for an attorney recommendation. I recommended my attorney, Eric Jensen. I met Jensen while he was a summer associate at the law firm Cooley, LLP. We have been friends ever since, and Jensen represented World of Good and later SaveUp, Haji’s next company after she sold World of Good.

Haji and I didn’t talk much during the work day, since we were both very busy with our ventures. But we would talk on the phone nearly every night of the week for over an hour, usually late at night around or after midnight.

Haji started including me in her family events, and I was so privileged to get to know her extended family, including her uncle, Arjun Divecha, her aunt Diana Divecha, their children Mia and Zai, and Priya’s parents Karim and Asha Haji.

Eventually, after many meals, hundreds of hours of talking, and many family events, Haji casually said to me that we were dating, even though we never kissed or even held hands. It is one of my biggest regrets in life that I thought of her as only a friend, and from then onward our friendship slowly unwound nearly completely. In recent years, we only saw each other sporadically about once a year. This year I saw her at the day long event that marked the finals for the Global Social Venture Competition, in April, where Haji was one of the keynote speakers. I photographed Haji at that event after her presentation in Anderson Auditorium. That photograph is at the top of this post. I uploaded the picture at full resolution. To see the full size version, please click on it and allow your browser to load the full size 22 megapixel version. Then click again to see the image at full size. This picture shows how beautiful and vibrant Haji was, and it’s one of my favorite pictures that I took of her.

For years I anguished about my friendship with Haji dissolving.

I would have loved for her to be my wife had I felt that way about her, and I suspect she would have agreed had I asked her during the peak of our friendship.

Her family was so incredibly nice to me that I felt like part of the family already.

And what a family Priya had…

I can say with authority that her family is one of the most impressive I have met.

The Divecha children were particularly impressive at ages 13 and 16. Zai Divecha, the 16 year old, made a sleek and modern gun metal grey rocking chair in her high school shop class that had all of the fit and polish of something from the very high end furniture gallery Limn. Arjun Divecha was investing billions of dollars in emerging markets, according to news accounts I found while writing this article. As a fascinating side note, Zai Divecha now designs and builds exotic and sumptuous furniture, according to her website I found today at I wrote the sentence above about Zai’s furniture making in high school before I did a search on her today and found that she’s making her livelihood as a furniture designer and maker. Her sister Mia is a PhD student in Chemistry, according to Mia’s website I found today at

I shared office space with World of Good for over a year. Then both of our companies moved into a warehouse near the 580 freeway in Berkeley, far from the UC Berkeley campus.

My company stayed in the new warehouse a few weeks, and then we moved back to the entrepreneurship lab. We didn’t know it at the time, but there was an steel works emitting allegedly toxic fumes just eight blocks away. It was far enough away we didn’t see it, but as we were moving in, if the wind was right, there was an odor like burning plastic or rubber. I didn’t know the source until some protesters came by with flyers and introduced themselves. They were trying to rally support to get the city of Berkeley to clamp down on the factory and force it to install fume scrubbing filters. It was then that one of my employees reminded me he had been having trouble breathing since we moved offices. I did some web research and was alarmed. I asked David Charron if my company could move back to the entrepreneurship lab while I leased some space closer to home in San Francisco, where I lived and continue to live. Charron allowed our immediate return. Thank you David. I wrote in 2011 an extensive blog article about Pacific Steel.

After the move to 10th Street in Berkeley, Haji and I stopped talking regularly. She got even busier.

World of Good took off like a rocket.

Even though they leased several thousand square feet, they outgrew the space in just months and moved to Emeryville, California, which borders Berkeley. They leased a huge warehouse I estimate filled half a square block. World of Good started buying ocean shipping containers full of product at a time, and had two forklifts to move the approximately 5,000 Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) around the giant space. I toured the space several times, and seeing conveyers and forklifts and Costco warehouse store sized shelves stacked high was impressive.

Times were sweet.

Last I heard, before the first location move, World of Good bought products for X dollars and sold them for 2X dollars. Their customers, the retails stores, then sold them for 4X dollars. These numbers are golden if you can maintain them at scale. I believe it was these metrics coupled with fast sales growth that allowed World of Good to close three rounds of venture capital investment. Venture capitalists are picky, and rarely do they invest in fair trade companies importing luxury gift items.

But then the Great Recession of 2008 hit in September, 2008.

Like many businesses selling luxuries, World of Good stumbled. They raised their last round of funding, about a million dollars, in a Series C round that was smaller than the earlier rounds. This round closed after the start of the Great Recession, which showed investors believed the company could survive even in spite of the severe gloom hanging over the world economy at the time. Haji told me on the phone this would be the last round of financing, and I took that as a sign that things were going to be OK and that company was about to be self supporting on profits going forward.

Then one day, I got an email from Haji asking me to give my vote to allow World of Good to be acquired. I had written an investment check to the company back when we were all in the entrepreneurship laboratory, so that’s why Haji asked me to sign papers. Of course, I agreed. My stake was tiny, so my input was not the determining input. I knew that if Haji said the company needed to be sold, there was no other option to keep thousands of workers busy and making money. Haji did not disclose the details of what happened in her emails to me. If I had to guess, the company was in danger of missing payroll, and no new investment funds were readily available.

While I know the purchase price, it was never published, so I will not publish the price. I caution you to not draw any price conclusions from what I have written here. The price was more than fair from what I know from what Haji directly said to me.

The company was sold in two pieces — the brand was sold to electronic commerce giant eBay and the wholesale operation was sold to GreaterGood/Charity USA. The official press release follows my article, and you can read it here at the source. I mirror the news below since at some point the link will stop working, while this blog will be online in one form or another indefinitely.

I never learned the inside details of what happened to World of Good. The investor emails did not disclose what really happened. Haji offered to meet me in person to tell me what happened, but I never got around to taking her up on that offer. I figured they hit tough times because of the Great Recession and let it go at that. I understood.

I did not want to embarrass Haji by insisting she tell me precisely what happened. I assume she was heartbroken, distraught and frustrated. The Great Recession hurt many people, including me, so I understood.

I have no reason to fault Haji’s leadership, as I know the pressure venture capitalists place on founders to grow and take risks. Even if Haji and Sangvi had wanted to go through Chapter 11 Bankruptcy prior to raising the Series C round, to shed the lease on the huge warehouse and scale operations way down until the recession ended, I doubt the investors would have approved. Professional venture capitalists have a ‘swing for the fences’ mentality, and hunkering down for years to weather a recession is not something I believe they advise or support.

The math behind World of Good was favorable, and customers liked the offerings. There were long lines at the annual warehouse sale they held each Christmas. I bought a shopping bag of product as holiday gifts each year, and I still have half a shopping bag of items on hand, with tags still attached. I still give World of Good gifts today as a result.

Had the Great Recession not hit, I am confident World of Good today would be a thriving specialty brand, with goods for sale directly online and in stores in tens of thousands of locations. I believe Haji, Sangvi and the later third co-founder David Guendelman would  have increased sales by now to hundreds of millions of dollars.

While eBay did eventually retire the World of Good brand, the eBay website continues to host a store,, where thousands of hand made items made by poor women in the developing world are sold. You can see the notice eBay published about the name change if you access the store via this link: by eBay. Note the pop up notice only apparently shows up the first time you click this link, not every time.

Here’s a story about how restrained Haji could be when she believed such restraint was warranted.

I remember that in 2005 she faced the loss of $15,000 with remarkable poise. At the time, her company had not raised much money, perhaps a few tens of thousands of dollars in total from family members.

World of Good won the USD $25,000 grand prize in the Global Social Venture Competition.

World of Good weeks later the $10,000 second place prize in the Berkeley Business Plan Competition. The grand prize amount was $25,000.

Haji later learned that the judges in the later competition voted to award World of Good the grand prize as well, but that they were persuaded to instead flip the first and second place winners so that World of Good would not win two grand prizes. No company has ever won two grand prizes in these competitions.

Many founders would have raised a stink upon learning they had lost out on a much needed extra $15,000 because of outside influence in the judging process. But Haji just shrugged the whole thing off with not even a hint of ill feelings.

I know the specifics of this story directly from Haji, and I have never shared this story in public before, and I had not planned to. But it’s such a perfect story to illustrate Haji’s ability to remain cool under pressure. She needed that money, but she did not, to my knowledge, make any attempt to collect it by complaining to the administration at the Haas School of Business which hosted these two business competitions.

Priya Haji knew how to select her battles well, and how to win friends and influence people.

Even in her private life, Haji was great at seeing around corners. To illustrate, when we were watching the Michael Douglas and Sean Penn movie The Game at my house, she predicted the dramatic ending, an ending that caught me by surprise the first time I saw it. I recall being amazed that she predicted so accurately what was about to happen next. The Game is a suspenseful movie, and I don’t believe most people predicted the ending.

Priya Haji was a star.

Hundreds of thousands of other words have been written about Haji. She’s been interviewed on television many times. She has been profiled in widely circulated newspapers and magazines. She has spoken at hundreds of events. She had thousands of friends, including over 1,400 on the current market leading (in the US) social network Many other memories will be shared. This is not an obituary for Priya. I so far have left out that she received her undergraduate degree in pre-med and religious studies from Stanford University and received her Masters of Business Administration degree from University of California, Berkeley. She founded Free at Last while at Stanford to help battered women in East Palo Alto. She started with her doctor parents a medical clinic for poor people in Texas when still in high school. She started another venture capital financed startup called SaveUp after World of Good ended. She worked at that company until her passing this week. She had two lovely children, a girl and a boy. She left a sizable mark on the world, and she will be missed by thousands and thousands of people.

Priya Haji was one of the most important people in my life for over a year, and I cried when I heard about her death. I will miss her. I write this post with great fondness and admiration for a life well lived, and a soul beautifully nourished and expanded to the point she touched so many more people than most people can even dream of.

I love you Priya.


Press release announcing sale of World of Good:

World of Good Inc. Sells Brand and Related Assets to eBay; Wholesale Division Acquired by GreaterGood/Charity USA

World of Good Brand Continues to Represent Sustainable Shopping and Market Access for Global Artisans Through E-Commerce

EMERYVILLE, Calif. – February 25, 2010 – World of Good Inc., a five-year-old social venture that connects artisans from developing communities with mainstream retail markets, announced today that eBay has fully acquired its brand and related assets. World of Good Inc. also announced that GreaterGood/Charity USA has acquired its wholesale division and line of designer, Fair Trade products which will be re-branded, while existing relationships with retailers and artisan partners will be maintained. The terms of the transactions were not disclosed.

eBay’s acquisition of the brand results from a two-year long collaboration between the two companies that led to the development of by eBay, the world’s largest multi-seller marketplace for socially and environmentally responsible shopping. The transaction reflects eBay’s growing commitment to engaging consumers to affect social change through sustainable commerce. It also represents World of Good’s commitment to creating the greatest market opportunity for small, Fair Trade and environmentally responsible producers around the world. The online marketplace hosts hundreds of sellers, with tens of thousands of sustainable products from 85 countries.

“We are excited about the opportunity to scale the World of Good mission to an unprecedented degree through eBay,” said World of Good co-founder and CEO Priya Haji. “Also, we are confident that GreaterGood will be an excellent steward of the retail partnerships we’ve built and will continue to grow Fair Trade through mainstream retail channels.”

GreaterGood’s acquisition of World of Good’s wholesale division reflects its growing Fair Trade business, including its Global Girlfriend apparel line. Since 2004, World of Good has developed extensive retail product lines for partners like Whole Foods Market, Hallmark and Disney, among others. GreaterGood will continue to work with the same retail partners and artisan groups in order to grow market access for small artisan suppliers around the globe.

World of Good was founded in 2004 by U.C. Berkeley’s Haas Graduate School of Business MBA’s Priya Haji and Siddharth Sanghvi with the mission to help small artisan producers improve their livelihoods by providing them with access to mainstream retail markets. The company has impacted more than 40,000 individual artisans across 70 countries by connecting them with millions of U.S. consumers. Haji also founded World of Good Development Organization, a sister non-profit focused on improving the lives of low-income women in the developing world. In December 2009, the Development Organization was honored by The Tech Museum of Innovation for its Fair Wage Guide, a free, open-source platform that calculates fair wages for artisans around the world and specific to their locations. The organization will continue its work to create technologies and tools that help companies ensure fair wages to informal sector workers.

Robert Chatwani, Director of eBay Global Citizenship said of the acquisition, “We look forward to this next step in our commitment to building an integrated, sustainable shopping experience within the eBay marketplace and are dedicated to applying our reach, resources and business model to create a positive impact for people, the planet and communities throughout the world.”

“GreaterGood is excited to grow the retail partnerships that World of Good built and to continue to help small artisan and Fair Trade producers reach these important retail channels,” said Stacey Edgar, founder and president of Global Girlfriend and director of the GreaterGood Wholesale Division.

About eBay:
Founded in 1995, eBay Inc. connects hundreds of millions of people around the world every day, empowering them to explore new opportunities and innovate together. eBay Inc. does this by providing the Internet platforms of choice for global commerce and payments. Building on this positive foundation, eBay’s sustainability efforts harness our technology and reach to extend this positive impact into vibrant, sustainable commerce experiences. Our sustainability portfolio includes, the eBay Green Team, the eBay Foundation, eBay Giving Works and MicroPlace.

About GreaterGood/Charity USA:
The GreaterGood Network of websites (including TheHungerSite, TheBreastCancerSite, TheAnimalRescueSite, Global Girlfriend, and others) offers the public a unique opportunity to support causes they care about through a free daily click and Gifts that Give More™ (100% of these donations go to the cause of the patron’s choice).  The GreaterGood Network’s online stores offer more than 3,000 Fair Trade items, with up to 30% of the purchase price going to charity. In fiscal year 2009, the GreaterGood Network gave more than $3 million to more than 50 charities around the world.

Media Contacts:

Lonnie Shekhtman, World of Good

Annie Lescroart, eBay
(408) 376-7458,

Rosemary Jones, GreaterGood/Charity USA

Here is Priya Haji’s bio from the website, as of July 18, 2014:

Priya Haji

Co-Founder • CEO

Priya is the CEO and co-founder of SaveUp; she has been a serial social entrepreneur since age 16; she is committed to building innovative companies that benefit people. Her most recent venture World of Good, an on-line retail marketplace and wholesaler of sustainable goods, was acquired by eBay in 2010. The brand creates market access for women artisans in 55 countries around the globe through partnering with brands like Hallmark, Disney and Whole Foods. Prior to that she co-founded and led Free at Last, which became a national model for substance abuse treatment and HIV/AIDS intervention for African Americans and Latinos while serving 3,000 people per year in East Palo Alto and raised more than $20M in special investments. Her first start-up was a free clinic in Texas with her Dad. Priya graduated undergrad from Stanford University and has an MBA from Berkeley.

Here is the text from the Priya Haji entry from the Haas School of Business newsroom, mirrored here in case the original link is ever broken:

Serial Social Entrepreneur Priya Haji, MBA 03, Passes Away

July 18, 2014


Haas alumna Priya Haji, MBA 03, the co-founder of Free at Last, World of Good, and SaveUp, passed away unexpectedly on Monday, July 14. She was 44.

Born in Detroit, Haji earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies and pre-med at Stanford. After earning her MBA at Berkeley-Haas, she pursued her vision of improving economic opportunity and equality by co-founding three companies.

Free at Last is a national model program for substance abuse treatment and HIV/AIDS intervention in the African American and Latino communities. Under Haji’s leadership, the company served 3,000 people per year in East Palo Alto and raised more than $20M in special investments.

World of Good, a retail marketplace and wholesaler of sustainable and fair trade products, improved the lives of thousands of women artisans in 55 countries. It was acquired by eBay in 2010.

SaveUp, where Haji was serving as CEO at the time of her death, is the nation’s first rewards game for saving money and reducing debt.

Haji fully embodied the Haas School’s Defining Principles, especially Beyond Yourself as she was a consistent contributor to the Haas community. Haji shared her wisdom and insight at various events, most recently by delivering a keynote address at the Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC) in April 2014. Haji won the GSVC competition in 2005 with her startup World of Good. She also inspired students and served as a mentor for the Young Entrepreneurs at Haas (YEAH) program.

“Like many other Berkeley MBAs in the past decade, I was so inspired by Priya’s vision and leadership,” says Ellen Martin, MBA 07, who met Haji when she served as her Berkeley Board Fellow for World of Good. “She really pushed us all to approach entrepreneurship—not just social entrepreneurship—in an entirely different way. We owe her a huge debt of gratitude for that.”

Haji’s honors include being named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum; a Social Innovation Leadership Award by the World CSR Congress, a non-profit organization whose annual conference celebrates corporate social responsibility; and inclusion in GOOD magazine’s GOOD 100, a list of people driving change in their communities in creative and inspiring ways.

“Priya was such a vibrant force in life—undaunted by challenges, willing to give voice and energy to her ideals and vision,” says Haas Lecturer John Danner, who taught Haji in his “Workshop for Startups” class where she co-developed World of Good. “What a profound loss first to her family but to all of us as well who were touched by her example.”

Haji is survived by two young children: a two-and-a-half-year-old son, Zen, and an 11-month-old daughter, Omi; her parents, Karim and Asha Haji; and a sister, Amina.

A celebration of her life will be held at Haas in the coming weeks. Details will be published as they become available. Friends are encouraged to share memories on a Facebook memorial page:

The Priya Haji Memorial Fund has been established to honor her inspiring life and will support an MBA student focused on entrepreneurship and social innovation. Donate at

– See more at:

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

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:


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

Food Entrepreneurship: Surviving the Recession – Strategies to Remain Profitable in Hard Times

without comments

Networking hour at the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, September 22, 2011. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

Networking hour at the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, September 22, 2011. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship has been hosting The Entrepreneurs Forum for about 20 years. I have been attending the forums for about 19 years. I have written occasionally about some of the events, such as when the finals for the Berkeley Business Plan Competition are held.

I have never tried to simply write about each forum to spread the word about what goes on there. I am a big fan of the forum, and I like to blog, so you would think it would have occurred to me to blog about each forum. But I didn’t think to start regular blogging about the forum until yesterday afternoon, hours before the forum last evening.

I brought my Canon 5D Mark II DSLR camera and shot some stills and video. I uploaded the stills at full resolution. Click once on a picture to present it alone on a webpage, and then click a second time to enlarge the picture to full 21 megapixel size.

Cupcakes by That Takes the Cake cupcakery, 2271 Union St., San Francisco, CA

Cupcakes by That Takes the Cake cupcakery, 2271 Union St., San Francisco, CA

The title of the forum this month was Food Entrepreneurship: Surviving the Recession — Strategies to Remain Profitable in Hard Times.

Here’s the description of the event from the website of the forum:

“The Bay Area is home to many innovators in the food industry. Each year, new food start-ups crop up at the ready to take their products to market. It is a notoriously competitive industry, made more difficult in a down economy. Come hear from Noah Alper, the Founder and former CEO of Noah’s Bagels, and in-the-trenches executives of food companies as they discuss lessons learned in the challenges of a down market and how their companies have responded to them.

The evening will also include a special networking hour, prior to the panel, featuring displays from some of the Bay Area’s most beloved, as well as up and coming food companies including 18 Rabbits Granola & BarsAlicia’s Tamales Los MayasBridge Brands ChocolateCasa de ChocolatesFavaSlow Girl Foods and Sukhi’s Gourmet Indian Foods. [note I removed one of the companies linked to from the forum website because there appears to be a technical problem that needs to be fixed before visiting.]”

This session sold-out Andersen Auditorium last year and is not to be missed for anyone interested in the business of food!”

There were perhaps a dozen food businesses in attendance. To promote their products, each business set up a table in the Bank of America Forum, the large lobby area outside the Anderson Auditorium where the forum programs are usually held. The food was delicious and photogenic.

The panelists Bob Burke, Joel Gott and Noah Alper were engaging and entertaining. I learned a lot about the restaurant business, a business I knew little about before this forum. The panel was moderated by Greg Beattie, a Partner at MBV Law.

I was surprised to hear Burke give what I thought was a good word for Groupon, a company I don’t think much of. He said it’s expensive but it drives instant traffic into restaurants.

All the panelists were very bullish on social media. Burke said traditional media like print and radio has mostly been supplanted by social media. Burke advises some fancy restaurants. I was surprised social media is now so important to costly restaurants.

Perhaps the most famous panelist was Noah Alper, the founder of Noah’s New York Bagels, which he built into a chain of 38 stores before he sold them in 1995 for USD $100,000,000.00. Noah’s Bagels is an institution in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live.

Alper warned against giving out free product to drive store traffic. He said Noah’s Bagels tried that once and their stores were overrun with guests for the day of the promotion. However, he said traffic died back down to exactly normal just a few days later. The result was they had given away a ton of bagels for free with nothing much to show for it.

Gott said that the employees his businesses are able to hire during this recession are truly outstanding compared to during the original dot com boom in the late 1990s. He said they get stacks of resumes from great candidates. He said employees in San Francisco cost him 5% more than elsewhere, a figure I was surprised by since the City requires restaurants to provide sick days and health coverage, unlike almost all other jurisdictions in the United States.

Noah Alper, founder of Noah's New York Bagels, September 22, 2011. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Noah Alper, founder of Noah's New York Bagels, September 22, 2011. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

I met and spoke with the founders of two of the exhibiters:

Arcelia Gallardo - chocolatier and owner, Casa De Chocolates, September 22, 2011

Arcelia Gallardo - chocolatier and owner, Casa De Chocolates, September 22, 2011

Casa De Chocolates — Arcelia Gallardo, chocolatier and owner —

I was drawn to Gallardo’s chocolate display by the sparkly sheen of the shiny smooth half spheres of rich chocolate. The sparkles were reminiscint of metalic automobile finishes — I’ve never seen such beautiful chocolate before. I spoke for a few minutes with Gallardo, and she told me how she got into the chocolate business. Sadly, I didn’t write any notes, and over the excitement of the rest of the night I forgot what she said. Here’s what the ‘about us’ page of her company’s website has to say about Gallardo:

“Arcelia Gallardo, owner and chocolatier, is passionate about pre-Columbian culture, chocolate and food. She started the company after graduating from UC Berkeley while working at the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Pasadena and has received training from world renowned pastry chefs Ewald Notter and Andrew Shotts. She was also a chef instructor at the Summer Cooking Academy in Los Angeles where she taught children and teenagers to work with chocolate.”

Derrick Jones, founder of cookie and truffle company Derrick Sky, September 22, 2011

Derrick Jones, founder of cookie and truffle company Derrick Sky, September 22, 2011

Derrick Sky — Mr. Derrick Jones, owner — (note that you must prepend ‘www.’ to or the website won’t load)

Derrick Jones started Derrick Sky in 2009 after he almost died due to his undiagnosed food alergies. I tried all of his company’s products on display without knowing the story behind them. The products were apparently all vegan, delicious, inventive and scrumptious. It turns out they are perfect for those with allergies. I normally avoid gluten free products since I’ve assumed they sacrifice taste. But Jones’ products were really tasty, and I wasn’t aware I was eating something special for those with restricted diets.

The food at the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum is always delicious

The food at the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum is always delicious

The Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum is captured to video by a professional videographer. The full video is typically posted to the Lester Center website a couple of weeks after each forum. The official videos don’t include two key parts of each forum — the networking hour and a sequence of short ‘elevator pitches’ called ‘the numbers.’ I made a recommendation last evening to the videographer that he begin taking video of the elevator pitches. I think these pitches are part of what makes the forum special. I am fond of these pitches because I was a ‘number’ in early 1999 and I raised money for my first Internet company as a direct result of that pitch. I think these pitches should receive a wider audience than just those in the room, which is why I have decided to capture and publish them until the forum itself takes over, if ever. Note that I will be very upset if these videos are ever used to get somebody in trouble. The Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum is a small gathering of smart people. If people ask for something in a pitch, please don’t give it to them casually. Investigate carefully, and be sure to comply with rules of the relevant authorities, such as the United States Securities Exchange Commission. By posting this clip and ones like it in the future, I do not intend to make any public offering, and I do not intend any harm to any presenter. I do not know any of the ‘number’ presenters.

[Note: I am a member of the Advisory Council for The Entrepreneurs Forum but I am writing here as a private citizen. The views I express here are my views alone, and I do not represent the Advisory Council, The Entrepreneurs Forum, The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship, the Haas School of Business or The University of California.]