Launch Program

Launch Demo Day 2019

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

Thank You!

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!

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Semi-Final Pitch Day

The Spring 2019 LAUNCH cohort gathered on April 12-13 for the second bootcamp of the semester. The teams spent Friday working on practicing and refining their VC pitches, attending lectures, and working with advisors. The teams then reconvened on Saturday to compete in the semifinals in front of a panel of judges comprised of VCs and angel investors to decide the finalists for Demo Day in two weeks.

Each team presented their pitch and were judged on their idea, their progress, and the viability of their product. The bootcamp also served as an opportunity for each team to get specialized mentorship from VCs and angel investors who have funded many startups in the past.

Pranav Sekhar and Brian Blumenfeld, co-founders of Quickscope, a curated E-sports highlight feed, talked about the value of working with the entire cohort and being able to listen to their pitches.

“It’s awesome. In one word, it’s so enlightening. You basically get to hear about all sorts of B2B and B2C company and learn about the differences in the ways that they approach the problems,” Sekhar said. “So with a lot of B2B companies, it’s like, look, we have this one customer and there are a lot of people like them and they face this one problem in their business. With a B2C company, it’s more about how to create value,” he added.

Blumenfeld, a 2015 Cal graduate in sociology, gave some advice to aspiring entrepreneurs. “Be forever humbled. You’re going to be constantly learning, you’re exploring a world on a blueprint and you’re trying to write it yourself. So be ready to learn and get hit in the face a few times, but action rules everything around us,” he said.

The 12 finalists will present their finalized pitches at Demo Day on Thursday, April 25th

The 12 teams that advanced to the finals to compete for the grand prize at Demo Day are (in no particular order):

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

  • Callisto Rum, a team developing a new rum for the nascent craft rum market

  • Vested, an SEC-registered investment advisor that allows global investors to invest in US stocks and ETFs easily and affordably

  • Clean Slate, a team creating an easily-accessible STD test for high school and college students

  • Caldo, a smart vending machine company with fresh meals using broth and water-based heating technology

  • Fruitful Health, a mobile-web application that allows patients and providers to easily keep track of their most up-to-date medication lists

  • BruxA, a team aiming to improve the treatment of sleep bruxism by providing a smart night-guard and mobile application to track nighttime teeth grinding

  • Ogma Scientific, a team providing high-throughput microbial solutions for industrial ecosystems

  • StruDoc, an AI App that identifies building damage

  • Tannor’s Tea, a direct-to-customer matcha company, creating a first-to-market sugar-free matcha concentrate as an alternative to coffee

  • Eat Makhana, a team creating a nutritious snack food from water lily seeds known as “Makhana”.

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

Inside Launch - Alumni Panel Part 2

Four more LAUNCH alumni returned on April 3rd to speak to members of the current LAUNCH cohort about their experiences and offer advice for their entrepreneurial journey. Karen Yee Taylor from onederful, David Rodriguez from Kiwi Campus, Orion Parrott from Lendsnap, and Austin Walker from Innovein answered questions about their own experiences in LAUNCH and their unique paths after leaving LAUNCH.

One focus of the panel was on understanding investors and what they want. Taylor, CEO of onederful, a software company with an API for dental insurance, emphasized the importance of using investors as connections, to look at who they’re involved with and leverage that to your advantage. She used the personal example of wanting to reach out to quip, a relatively popular electric toothbrush startup, and how she was able to immediately speak to the CEO through her investors.

David Rodriguez, Head of Business Development at Kiwi Campus, the startup that brought Kiwibots to campus also spoke about his own experiences working with a startup that relies very heavily on community support and student attention.

“We are building a logistic platform to deliver goods in a space, in a college space,” Rodriguez said. “In the end, we don’t want to be the people that execute it, we want to be the ones who made it possible in the first place and then told the community to take it and use it to some benefit.”

Rodriguez also explained facing challenges at Kiwi Campus and the key to dealing with a hectic startup environment. “I would say that in the end, mental toughness is number one. You need to be super adaptable, you need to be able to understand change and embrace change, and see that things are fragile and you really need to work a lot and put your mind and spirit into it.”

“You have to evaluate everything you do and understand how you bring your core value to your product at all times. It’s easy to get distracted… when you have the minimum quantity of success, many distractions will come to you. Sometimes they’re conferences, sometimes they’re calls with people, you need to focus on what’s important. If you let yourself go on things that are not important, you will lose momentum for many things, and those distractions will not be there for you when you’re not hot,” Rodriguez said.

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 - 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.


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.