Launch Program

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.


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.