Launchathon Hackathon 2019

Members of the LAUNCH cohort and talented UC Berkeley students came together on the weekend of March 16-17 to participate in the two-day LAUNCHathon hackathon. The event presented an opportunity for students to work in a hackathon setting with real early-stage startups, as well as an opportunity for the teams in the LAUNCH cohort to find local talent and work on the tasks that each company needed to get done.

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Applicants described their specific skill sets, whether it be in web development, marketing, mobile development, film, or graphic design, and were matched with the needs of different LAUNCH teams. The newly-formed teams then spent the next 48 hours working on various projects, while also working towards completing their LAUNCH-A-BINGO cards, a card filled with fun tasks ranging from creating a secret handshake to getting a “Sorry, no” email from Elon Musk.

Mehek Mohan, co-founder of Clean Slate Diagnostics, a startup developing at-home STD tests spoke to the value of working with fresh perspectives and the work her team was able to accomplish over the weekend. “It was really nice having that perspective and that new feedback because when we were first explaining the company, there were a lot of things they didn’t understand, or wanted more clarification for. As we fleshed out the content over the two days, there was very clear communication and the final product was something that we wanted to see,” Mohan said.  

“We started filing the patent, we completely redesigned the device, and made it a very user-friendly, compact test that you can easily use at home. It was a really great experience to think through that whole process and go through the patent filing and understand what the different components of that was,” Mohan added.  

Between earning points from the bingo card, Kahoots done throughout the course of the weekend, and a final voting process at the end of the weekend, teams competed to receive the final prize money for their companies. The winners of LAUNCHathon and their respective prize winnings were BuildBlock (750$), Lifework (500$), and Callisto (250$).

“This is my first time doing a hackathon and I have to say, it was a wonderful experience being in a space that was so dedicated and focused towards a particular outcome… We have really been able to see a lot of ideas through ideation to an actual product,” Mohan said.



Inside Launch - Alumni Panel

Four LAUNCH alumni returned February 26th to speak to the current LAUNCH cohort about their experiences and offer advice. Jeremy Hammer from BearX, Chloe Alpert from Medinas Health, Moses Lo from Xendit, and Maria Artunduaga from Respira Labs took their seats on the panel and fielded questions from the crowd of members from various LAUNCH teams.

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The panel offered advice on a range of entrepreneurial topics, including speaking to investors, creating pitch decks, managing teams, finding strong talent, validating business models, and getting the most out of the LAUNCH experience.

Moses Lo, co-founder of Xendit, described the process of going through two pivots for his company before finding a sellable product focused on payment infrastructure on Southeast Asia. Chloe Alpert, founder of Medinas Health, a company already with over $5M in funding, spoke to the importance of business fundamentals and how the LAUNCH curriculum helped them build the foundation for the company. Maria Artunduaga, founder of Respira Labs, emphasized the importance of deadlines and the customer discovery exercises that LAUNCH focuses on for each team.

Jeremy Hammer echoed Artunduaga’s words, saying “it’s really tough to push yourself, as a founder, to do stuff on a timeline. You can sort of get lost in the abyss of just doing things or just feeling productive, but when you have some accountability, I think that really helps.” Hammer spoke to the value of having bimonthly meetings with LAUNCH staff and his peers listening in on his ideas.

“The biggest thing is, again, leveraging the people in the program right now. It’s really easy to just go your own way and feel like you’re doing it on your own. Being able to lean on the people in your cohort is really beneficial. To do that, you have to put yourself out there. You have to let people know what’s going on with your company, how you’re feeling, that’s fine. You have to get over that and just put yourself out there and I think you’ll benefit a lot more,” Hammer said.


Key Insights from LAUNCH winner Jobwell

Jobwell founders, May Lu, a Wharton MBA, Richard Lin, a CS student at Berkeley and Daniel Kent, a graduate student at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, won the 2nd place prize at the Launch Demo Day in 2018 for their job seeker platform. Daniel spoke with us about his experiences with the accelerator program and details some of the key impacts and insights below:

How LAUNCH Helped Us: Based on LAUNCH, we were able to follow up with many students who attended demo day and were able to understand what they thought was interesting vs. where the product could be improved. We had a lot of follow up from investors as well. We were also able to work with the team at Bee partners and won working space over the summer.

Lessons Learned From Launch: One of the most important things from the LAUNCH accelerator was the curriculum. The advisors were great in the sessions specifically around product market fit and market discovery by framing it as an empirical process with hypothesis testing  and validation. The other thing they really emphasized was to always be talking to your customers. Companies should talk to at least 10 customers per week.

Advice for the Incoming LAUNCH Cohort:

Be present and ask a lot of questions. Get to know your other cohort teams as much as possible since you are all going through similar things in your companies at the same time. Other Launch founders have been extremely helpful with sharing resources and we still talk on our slack channel to this day. For companies entering the LAUNCH accelerator or planning to apply, reach out to LAUNCH alums because we want to help other UC startups succeed.

Top resources that has helped you on your startup journey:

  • Investors and accelerators

  • Book recommendations- Venture Deals by Brad Feld

  • Free Tools- Website builders like WIX, have a lot of flexibility and can get you started quickly. Also Survey Monkey to set up ongoing email lists and Typeform to capture customer insights.  


Inside Launch - Class 2 - Customer Research

LAUNCH teams gathered last Wednesday for their second class on consumer research. Teams presented updates on their work from the past week to their peers and fielded questions from the audience about their businesses. The focus of the week was on understanding customers and conducting customer interviews to create a “persona” for each startup’s target audience. The definition of customer ranged anywhere from nonprofits to startups to Berkeley students, and each team engaged in a feedback-driven discussion on how to hone in on that target.

Mahmoud Hamsho, co-founder of Roadmap, a smart product roadmap service for design and technical projects and one of the teams in the current LAUNCH cohort, said, “LAUNCH has definitely helped us understand what we need to take out of interviews. We did some light interviews at the end of last semester and we could tell the difference between what we did then and what we’re doing now.” Hamsho said that LAUNCH taught the team how to ask the right questions and the importance of the persona, as they “realized how important it is to have a persona because then you can take that persona to the next interview and see if this persona is a recurring thing, or if there is a new persona that is popping up.”

Hamsho and his Roadmap co-founders, Neha Mittal and Conner Hunihan, are all students at the UC Berkeley School of Information. According to Hamsho, the three had been looking into a problem that Roadmap is trying to solve since the end of the fall semester, but the company really only started at the beginning of LAUNCH. Still, Hamsho is optimistic about the team’s growth with the help of his peers in the cohort.

“I really do think the mentorship and the peer feedback is so essential. What you can easily fall into is having this echo chamber, and if you’re just working with two or three people… you’ll go like ‘Yeah I heard the same thing, this is so great.’ Once you’re in these rooms where people don’t really know the product, what you think you know, they kind of start questioning. LAUNCH is amazing in providing the resources and the community to help…I’m not saying it’s necessary to break people’s hope, but you have to be realistic. They tell you that you’re on the right track, but also to think about looking here,” Hamsho said.


Medinas Health: A LAUNCH Success Story

We caught up with Medinas Health CEO Chloe Alpert to talk about the progress the company has made since graduating the LAUNCH program last year and her key learnings thus far.

Medinas has big plans to dramatically reduce waste in the US healthcare system by creating a reseller marketplace for hospital and healthcare equipment. They believe this is a 700 billion dollar opportunity and investors are buying in to the Medinas mission as well. Since launching in 2017, they have done 1 million dollars in sales and have already helped hospital clients save millions of dollars. They were one of the one of the winners of the LAUNCH Demo day last Spring and also participated in Y-Combinator’s accelerator program that same year.

Chloe breaks down her lessons learned from LAUNCH and her advice to the upcoming LAUNCH cohort below.  Pay attention, this company just won 1 million dollars in January at WeWork’s Global Creator Awards Finals and has already raised an astonishing 5 million dollars pre-Series A!.

You have founded a few companies already, what motivated you to participate in the LAUNCH program?

I have done LAUNCH twice; first with another company in 2014 and then again in 2018. The first time I did LAUNCH, I had no understanding of what a venture backed company looked like. LAUNCH prepared me. The second time around was humbling for us. We thought we already knew everything that would be in the curriculum, but we got lazy and LAUNCH pounded us again with the fundamentals. For instance, we had done a landscape, but we hadn’t updated it in six months. The LAUNCH program held us to task by reminding us to talk to twice as many users as we normally do and constantly re-address our strategy.

Three key lessons learned?

People need to get down to one sentence about what their company does. Great businesses have focus; if you have too many “ands” in your mission statement, your business isn’t going to get off the ground. LAUNCH helped give us a framework to say “no” to things.

Stack rank the pains of your users to help you make decisions.  

Starting a company has become “very cool” these days, but it is also a lot of hard work. It is very useful to have a group of supportive peers going through similar problems as you are while building your company.

Advice to the upcoming cohort of LAUNCH founders:

Use these accelerators as part of your fundraising strategy. The VC decision making process at early stages is largely based on limited data, signaling effects and some emotional decision making. If you can become a top company at one of these accelerators (e.g. LAUNCH, YC, 500 Startups), you can have some signaling effects with investors who are worried about missing out on the next rocketship.

Use data to help them back up that emotional decision making. Make sure you prepare a diligence package that pattern matches a company much further along which signals that you have it together and that you are a legit company. Show that you have a product roadmap, a well thought-out business model, proper accounting, legitimate sales data, and certificate ledgers.

Go the extra mile and do the work. If you have a Series A level deck as a seed stage company, you are more likely to have investors take notice and take you seriously.


LAUNCH 2018 Winners: Where are they now?

Twenty three teams went through the LAUNCH accelerator program last year. Some went on to participate in YCombinator, others sought out further funding from VC partners. While we will be providing updates on many of our LAUNCH companies on this blog, we wanted to start off by profiling last years’ winners:

  • 1st Place:  DataAgora, winner of last year’s $25,000 grand prize, is building a secure, online marketplace for buyers and sellers of big data.

Where are they now:

Ashwinee Panda, CEO of DataAgora, is completing his junior year as an engineering student at UC Berkeley.  Since winning the LAUNCH Accelerator competition last year, DataAgora’s team has focusing on customer acquisition and has since contracted with five B2B customers. “We are working on getting a small group of fanatical customers so we can get good feedback from them on how to evolve the product” reports Panda.   

  • 2nd Place:  Jobwell, a tool that helps organize job searches and provides virtual coaching for users.

Where are they now: Jobwell, founded by May Lu, a Wharton MBA, and Daniel Kent, a graduate student at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, has continued iterating on its product since the Demo Day last April by speaking with hundreds of customers to shape the product features and roadmap. They are also a part of the Dorm Room Fund portfolio and the Hotdesk program at SkyDeck.

  • 3rd Place:  Medinas Health, a marketplace for surplus medical supplies.

Where are they now?

After raising nearly $5M in funding, Medinas Health CEO, Chloe Alpert, and team have on-boarded healthcare organizations (e.g., hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, vet practices, and nursing homes) and product suppliers (e.g., original equipment manufacturers) to their marketplace.





Introducing the 2019 Launch Cohort

The 2019 LAUNCH Accelerator kicked off with inspiring messages from  keynote speaker, Amit Tewari, Co-founder MoData, and pitches from the 20+ companies participating the Spring program. This year’s launch cohort is incredibly diverse and spans across a number of different industries.  Meet the 2019 participants below:

2019 LAUNCH COHORT

2019 LAUNCH COHORT

Y-LECTRY is a parking and charging station for the first and last mile of electric transportation. It aims to provide an eco-friendly parking and charging solution for electric rideables.

Hex Five Security is the creator of MultiZoneTM Security, the first trusted execution environment for RISC-V.

CrossCampusXC is an online marketplace community for Berkeley students, who may safely sell and buy products from one another on campus, allowing for better, faster, and safer transactions among students.

StruDoc is an AI App that identifies building damage.

Vested’s mission is to democratize investing. Vested is an SEC-registered Investment Advisor that allows global investors to invest in US stocks and ETFs easily and affordably.

Fruitful Health is a mobile-web application that allows patients and providers to easily keep track of their most up-to-date medication lists across clinical encounters.

The Ninja Co. is an add-in for Excel that helps ordinary people become Excel ninjas.

Oki installs soundproof karaoke boxes in airports, shopping malls, and other indoor public spaces with high traffic. Oki boxes charge customers by minutes of usage and aims to make karaoke as personal, engaging, and convenient as possible.

Caldo builds and operates smart vending machines that assemble customized, fresh ingredient meals via a fully-automated, low-footprint, 24-hour POS that utilize broth and water-based heating technology.

LeapBox teaches children by transforming classrooms into giant interactive video games. LeapBox creates a gesture/movement based-curriculum. It uses projects to turn walls into screens and deep-learning-enabled gesture-recognition sensors to capture the physical activities of children.

Tannor’s Tea is a direct-to-customer matcha company. The flagship product is a first-to-market sugar-free matcha concentrate. Its matcha concentrate provides a healthier alternative to coffee.

Dine is an equitable marketplace for micro-enterprise food production. It enables at-home chefs to share the food they love with their local community and gives you the opportunity to taste the world around you.

BuildBlock, Korea’s first blockchain-based platform that tokenized the right to invest, aims to simplify and lower the entry barrier in the real-estate market for investors.

Callisto rum is developing a new rum to meeting the growing needs of the nascent craft rum market in the US.

Suite Social is the marketplace to automate and scale influencer marketing. Suite acts as a “market maker” for influencer campaigns, lowering transaction costs that occur when orchestrating a micro-influencer campaign.

BruxA aims to improve the treatment of sleep bruxism by providing a smart night-guard and mobile application to track nighttime teeth grinding.

Focys machine learning engine monitors eSports gameplay to provide key performance insights and automatically presents highlight-worthy moments to share with the streamer’s audience.

Clean Slate is an inexpensive, real-time, and non-invasive point-of-care device that makes Chlamydia and Gonorrhea testing readily accessible to high school and college students.

RoadMap is a workflow management platform that minimizes the time and cost to organizations to outsource projects. By breaking projects into semi-automated, structure tasks, the platform ensures accountability and high quality project results.

LifeWork is on a mission to make freelancing a sustainable career choice for all people.

Grido is a network of e-scooter charging docks placed at small businesses and private residences on city blocks.

Compassionlit provides treatment to jaundiced newborns who are susceptible to brain damage and even death without proper treatment or any treatment at all.

Makhana creates delicious and nutritious snack food from water lily seeds or Makhana.

Ogma Scientific provides high-throughput microbial solutions for industrial ecosystems.

Insights from 2018 LAUNCH Demo Day Grand Prize Winner, DataAgora

DataAgora won the first prize at the LAUNCH Demo Day last Spring and has since received funding from Dorm Room Fund as well. DataAgora sells its decentralized machine learning platform to data scientists across various segments in the IOT space and healthcare.

What was the impact of getting the $25K prize money?

It allowed us to focus more on customer acquisition and flying around the country to pitch our product. Getting to meet potential customers face to face has helped us understand how different types of customers want to use the product. We want to increase the amount of data going through our network by 100X.

What have they learned from the LAUNCH accelerator on their startup journey?

The LAUNCH program teaches you how to look at your business and understand whether you are going in the right direction.  We pivoted halfway through LAUNCH due to the lessons from LAUNCH. For startups, it takes a lot of time and effort to go after one customer in one particular sector. You need to figure out how badly these segments want to use this product. You also need to understand who you are pitching to and what purchasing decisions they are responsible for. We ended up shifting who our target customer was by finding out who the key decision makers are for our product.  

Advice for the incoming LAUNCH cohort:

As a full time engineering student at Cal and CEO of this startup, I spend all of my time either going to class or at work. In fact, our entire team is balancing work and school, but everyone is hungry and concerned with scaling.  Having a clear mission that you are working toward makes it easier to make those sacrifices.

Secondly, develop a customer interview pipeline and interview process to talk to customers with interview scripts. Knowing what specific questions to ask and how to get the most out of the conversation with the interviewee will help you develop a model to understand how your customer behaves.


LAUNCH - THE UC STARTUP ACCELERATOR THAT IS TAKING BAY AREA STARTUPS FROM CONCEPT TO FUNDED VENTURES

Founded by Haas students Melissa Daniels and Keval Desai in 2000, Launch is UC Berkeley’s first accelerator program and, for the past 21 years, Launch has supported hundreds of entrepreneurs in launching new ventures. Every Fall, University of California startups are invited to participate in University of California’s LAUNCH program. During the Spring, accepted startups are given access to 3 months of mentoring, Lean Launchpad education, and other resources to turn their early stage startup ideas into fundable companies. In fact, companies that have completed the intensive LAUNCH program over the last few years have raised more than $37 million in venture funding and have secured investment from prestigious programs such as YC and SkyDeck. Last year’s winners went on to interview with top investors such as The House, 500 Startups, and Andreessen Horowitz.

LAUNCH is run by UC Berkeley Haas MBA students, undergrads, and group of successful entrepreneurs and investors.  The LAUNCH program culminates in a Demo Day where we give away tens of thousands of dollars in prize money to winning teams. UC’s LAUNCH accelerator program will continue to make an impact on the Bay Area startup ecosystem as the next cohort is set to kick off in January 2019.

If you are interested in being a sponsor of the LAUNCH accelerator program or learning more about participating next year, send us an email at launch@berkeley.edu and follow us for updates on LinkedIn and Facebook.