Launch 2019 Demo Day
The Spring 2019 LAUNCH program concluded last month with the bi-annual Demo Day. LAUNCH teams, mentors, and the entirety of the LAUNCH staff came together to watch final pitches from the 12 finalists. The finalists, competing for a total prize pool of $41,000, included Ogma Scientific, Clean Slate, Eat Makhana, Vested, Grido, Tannor’s Tea, StruDoc, Fruitful Health, Caldo, BruxA, SuiteSocial, and Callisto Rum.
Chloe Alpert, CEO of Medinas Health and one of the Demo Day winners in the Spring 2018 LAUNCH cohort, opened the event with words of advice for the entrepreneurs in the audience, emphasizing that “...if you’re competing on price, you’re not creating enough value” and that “...it takes many, many years to become an overnight success.”
Afterwards, the five judges (from left to right below) were introduced. Alirez Masrour, General Partner at Plug and Play Ventures, Noah Doyle, Managing Director of Javelin Ventures, Safa Rashtchy, General Partner at Think+ Ventures, Victoria Slivkoff, Global Head of Strategic Partnerships of UCOP, Rhonda Shrader, Executive Director, Berkeley-Haas Entrepreneurship, and Errol Arkilic, CEO of M34 Capital (not pictured), judged the teams on their product ideas, their business plans, and the quality of their pitch. Audience members could also rate pitches throughout the event to decide the “Audience Choice” winner.
Pitches ranged from explaining technology behind new processes, using new applications of old research, letting judges taste test new snacks or drinks, and selling them on the value that their idea brings to various industries and people.
Launch 2019 - First Place Winner
Vested, an SEC-registered investment advisor that allows global investors to invest in US stocks and ETFs easily and affordably, took home first place, along with the $25,000 prize.
Launch 2019 - Second Place Winner
SuiteSocial, a marketplace used to automate and scale influencer marketing and lower transaction costs for micro-influencer campaigns, won the $10,000 second place prize.
Launch 2019 - Third Place Winner
Clean Slate, a team creating an easily-accessible STD test for high school and college students, won the $5,000 third place prize.
Launch 2019 - Audience Choice Winner
Callisto Rum, a team creating a new rum for the nascent US craft rum market, won over the favor of the crowd and won the $1,000 Audience Choice award.
Thoughts from the Launch Teams
Eric Huynh and Darwin Arifin, both second-year Haas MBAs and co-founders of Vested, spoke to their experience in LAUNCH and how it has helped their success.
“Because of the weekly sessions, we’re able to meet with our whole group and get third-party feedback in terms of what we should be working on… I think it helps us keep in mental check… we built a stronger product and team just coming from these LAUNCH workshops,” Huynh said.
Hanz Carlson and Jenny Tian of Ogma Scientific, a team building high-throughput microbial solutions for industrial ecosystems, also described how they came together to form the team and their unique position as scientists working in the startup space.
“It’s just really valuable for me as a scientist to learn about business models, business canvasses, doing the customer discovery, going about getting a clear understanding about the size of the market that we were targeting, and the relationships that exist when chemical producers distribute chemicals to oil companies and how those relationships work. And now we have a much clearer picture in our role in that and we owe that to LAUNCH,” Carlson said.
Tian added that “the success of any business, especially startups, ultimately comes down to knowing your customer.” Turning an extremely specific solution into one that investors and clients would be interested in proved to be a unique situation for the team, but testing and understanding customers is one of the core focuses on LAUNCH.
“Scientists, in particular, we’re dreamers and we’re good at coming up with ideas, but applying that to actual business models and putting it into something that’s an actual viable product is a completely different thing,” Carlson said. “Don’t think that just because you have the right solution, that there is a customer to buy that solution.”
For Vested, they received value from LAUNCH through the structure and learning from their fellow cohort members. “It’s a great forcing function. You have to be there every week and also the LAUNCH curriculum is great because it always challenges your assumptions in a very granular manner. So we’re directionally correct, people want this, but in what type of platform? Is it passive or active?” Arifin said.
“I think that every team is a little bit unique and everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Just watching everyone’s pitches and watching everyone go through a process, you’re really learning and picking up things on the go,” Huynh said. “During one of the workshops, one of the guys was doing AB testing with the website. We didn’t know the website that they were using and we had never heard about it before and these are just things that you pick up along the way and if we weren’t in LAUNCH we wouldn’t have had that,” he added.
After graduating from LAUNCH and receiving a large chunk of money to continue their business, the Vested team is committing to their plan and looking to take it as far as possible. “Our main target is in India, we graduate in less than a month, so we’re just going to throw all our things into a storage room and move to India for a bit and really try to build this business out,” Huynh said.
As for aspiring entrepreneurs and people looking to join the Fall 2019 LAUNCH cohort, Arifin and Huynh had some words of advice.
“I think you never start with a business, you start with a project and you keep asking, “what are the 10 things that can kill me this next month?” and you keep eliminating those, and if that continues, then it becomes something more than just a project,” Arifin said.
Huynh, a seasoned entrepreneur, had some words of encouragement for those who might think the startup space is too daunting. “Don’t be discouraged. I’ve been in the startup space since 2011 and it’s an emotional rollercoaster, there are ups and downs. Sometimes you’re very emotionally drained, but I think you really have to have grit and just keep moving forward and there are happier days ahead.”
The 2019 Launch Team wants to thank every individual that contributed to making this program a success.
Launch Teams - Thank you to each of the teams for putting in the hard work each week, even when those customer interviews seemed so far out of reach!
Launch Staff - A big special thank you to Rhonda, Adeeba, and Annam for continuing to be Launch Champions as well as the Launch team that volunteered their time to make this program a success!
Launch Instructors - Thank you for sharing your wisdom each week with the Launch teams, Andre, Rhonda and Darren, we are looking at you!
Launch Community - Thank you to every one of the Launch judges, mentors, experts, volunteers, and other individuals who made this program possible.
Launch Sponsors - Thank you to our sponsors, without your financial support and expertise, Launch would only achieve a fraction of its potential.
Until Fall 2019, this is the Launch Team signing off - we’re already excited to see what teams apply next!