Startups co-founded by Berkeley business and engineering alumni illustrate the value of cross-disciplinary collaborations
To thrive in today’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, the business and engineering sides of a startup need to speak each other’s language— no small feat given how different the cultures of the two disciplines are. The companies here, all co-founded by Berkeley alumni, have reached that sweet spot where engineering and business work in harmony.
Christine Ho, BS 05, MS 07, PhD 10 (Material Sci. & Eng.)
Brooks Kincaid, MBA 11
Imprint Energy’s ultrathin, flexible battery, novel for using a rechargeable zinc polymer instead of lithium, is revolutionizing the wearable and Internet of Things markets, including wireless wearables, sensors, smart tags, medical devices, and more. In 2015, MIT Technology Review named it one of the “50 Smartest Companies.”
High school classmates Brooks Kincaid and Christine Ho reconnected in Haas’ Cleantech to Market course, where Kincaid was assigned to commercialize Ho’s battery technology. While Ho focused on science and experimentation, Kincaid, who has a bachelor’s degree in management science and engineering from Stanford, helped raise money, pursue licensing deals, and establish an intellectual property position and strategy. “I was able to talk the talk with investors, customers, and partners,” says Kincaid. “The large majority of our early conversations were with highly technical strategic investors and R&D engineers who worked at potential customer/partner companies. These led to development agreements that had important strategic and financial implications. Christine’s technical depth and leadership skills made these collaborations successful.”
Antoine Balaresque, BS 13
Henry Bradlow, BS 13 (Elect. Eng. & Comp. Sci.)
The Lily Camera is the world’s first throw-and-shoot camera. The waterproof, portable, easy-to-use drone takes HD pictures and videos (with audio) and flies itself using GPS and computer vision to follow whomever is carrying its small tracking device. Lily has already amassed $34 million in presales (at $899 per device) and will ship this year. Four of the company’s investors are Berkeley alumni.
Antoine Balaresque fell in love with computer science while at Berkeley and took as many classes as he could while pursuing his degree in business. He met Henry Bradlow in a class organized by the College of Engineering’s Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology. The two worked on a couple of projects together and after graduation, when Balaresque had the idea for Lily, the pair collaborated again to build the drone. One of Balaresque’s roles was to launch and market Lily. Though Balaresque isn’t as advanced a coder as Bradlow, the ability to navigate the worlds of both engineering and business proved crucial for Lily’s growth. “Business people and engineers often don’t understand one another. The culture of both disciplines is different,” says Balaresque. “I could speak engineering and that was extremely valuable.”
Jonathan Heyne, MBA 15
Armando Fox, PhD 98 (Comp. Sci.), Berkeley Professor
Mentive brings face-to-face learning to online courses by pairing small groups of students with knowledgeable mentors. Classes, offered in various time zones and languages, focus on programming and will later expand to more topics. While most online courses have completion rates under 10 percent, 75 percent of Mentive students successfully complete their courses. Mentive recently created an online coding boot camp for $229, compared to $1,000 to $9,000 for similar multiweek programs.
Jonathan Heyne conceived of Mentive during a Haas independent study and reached out to Berkeley Prof. Armando Fox, a thought leader in online education, for feedback. Together, they launched a successful pilot with Fox’s MOOC (massive open online course) on edX. They then welcomed a third co-founder, Mauricio Barrera. Working out of SkyDeck, UC Berkeley’s startup accelerator, the business and engineering sides of Mentive are closely integrated. “Generally, business needs or goals drive product design, which in turn drives the engineering work,” says Heyne. “However, limited resources and time constraints lead to constant communication between business and engineering in order to find the most cost-effective solutions to any issue we’re trying to tackle.” Several of Mentive’s mentors are Berkeley students or PhDs, and Haas alumni have helped with introductions to potential investors and corporate customers and partners.
Jason Bellet, BS 14
Tyler Crouch, BS 14 (Mech. Eng.)
Connor Landgraf, BS 13, MEng 14 (Bioeng.)
The Eko Core Digital Stethoscope amplifies heartbeat sounds while also allowing physicians to record, analyze, and share these sounds via smartphone or tablet, offering greatly refined cardiac diagnoses. Eko’s FDA-cleared and HIPAA-compliant platform is being used at over 400 institutions nationwide and by clinicians around the world, most recently in remote areas of Haiti thanks to a partnership with IBM and Partners in Health. The Eko Core was featured in Time as a Best Invention of 2015 and awarded the American Heart Association’s Emerging Technology Award.
Connor Landgraf devised the idea for a more precise stethoscope while a senior studying bioengineering at Berkeley. To turn his concept into a company, he knew he needed Jason Bellet’s business acumen and Tyler Crouch’s mechanical engineering skill set. The trio was a part of Berkeley’s accelerator SkyDeck, where they met investors and received advice about regulatory and financing issues. The business and engineering sides of Eko work in tandem at all levels—from product development to platform implementation to customer service, says Bellet. “As co-founders, Connor, Tyler, and I ensure that the feedback the sales team and I receive from our customers is funneled directly into improving our platform,” he says. “That’s why a founding team consisting of technical and business talent is essential.”