Haas Newsroom

March 1, 2012


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Pamela Tom

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Open for Business: UC Berkeley’s New ‘Skydeck’ Incubator-Accelerator Inspires Startup Companies to Reach Markets Faster


Perched in the 10,000 square-foot penthouse of downtown Berkeley’s tallest building, Berkeley Skydeck may have the best 360-degree views in the city, but it’s what is happening inside this new start-up incubator-accelerator that will change the way emerging startups scale up to succeed.


The Berkeley Skydeck start-up accelerator is the genesis of new collaborations between the University of California, Berkeley business and engineering students, professors and scientists, Bay Area entrepreneurs, investors, innovators, the city of Berkeley, and local business leaders.


Every year close to 20 companies are founded based on innovations and people from the campus and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL), and the Berkeley Skydeck was established to incubate, accelerate and expand this startup pipeline.


“This initiative is a perfect fit for a campus that is deeply engaged with and concerned about real-world challenges. We have long needed a space to help support the activities of the campus’ many outstanding entrepreneurs,” explains Graham Fleming, UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Research.


A collaborative effort between the College of Engineering, the Haas School of Business and the Vice Chancellor for Research Office, Berkeley Skydeck is the campus’ first interdisciplinary startup accelerator-incubator complementing existing spaces run by departments and research institutes.


So far, nine start-up companies have taken residence at the Berkeley Skydeck. Each team is at a different stage of rolling out, but the goal is the same: to develop new products and services for the marketplace. Visits by industry leaders and venture investors to the Skydeck will help strengthen mentoring networks and establish meaningful industry connections early on. The progress of student-led companies will be monitored by UC Berkeley faculty against key milestones established in advance. The goal is to ensure that their startups develop scalability and drive their products and services to market faster than if attempting to grow on their own.


It’s already working.


Mitch Gordon, CEO and co-founder of GoOverseas, a community driven website that provides resources and reviews for travel and study abroad says being a part of the Berkeley Skydeck helps him attract key student talent from UC Berkeley.”Skydeck also gives us credibility when speaking with potential investors and clients because of the university’s stellar reputation,” says Gordon.


Recent Berkeley graduates Sean Ahrens and Will Cole built on their programming backgrounds and Ahrens’ own experience with Crohn’s disease to start HealthyLabs, which builds peer-to-peer networks for people with chronic medical conditions.


“Moving to Skydeck has been an incredible win for us,” says Ahrens. “We’re a block away from the best university in the world. And we’re working on software that has the potential to revolutionize the healthcare industry by empowering patients. We couldn’t ask for anything better.”


The startups incorporate a mix of UC Berkeley faculty, postdocs, students (undergraduate and graduate) and recent alumni with companies fundable within six to nine months. To join Berkeley Skydeck, each company must apply and compete for a spot in the UC Berkeley Startup Accelerator (UCBSA), sponsored by the business school’s Lester Center for Entrepreneurship, or the Venture Lab competition at the engineering college’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (CET). Affiliates of the Berkeley Postdoctoral Entrepreneurs Program (BPEP) also have access to the new space.


Teams include: Kloudless, HealthyLabs, GoOverseas, Building Robotics, GoMake.it, Hybrid Wisdom Labs, InSituGen, Intelligent Obstetrics, and Picatcha. More information on the inaugural Skydeck teams may be found on the Berkeley Skydeck website: http://skydeck.berkeley.edu


Berkeley Skydeck’s campus-community partnership aims to support local economic development. The Berkeley Skydeck launch received a $50,000 grant from the Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund to help support the facility’s infrastructure. The Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL), the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Business Association and the City of Berkeley Office of Economic Development are also partners in the Skydeck effort.


The pipeline of startups graduating from Berkeley Skydeck and spreading across downtown Berkeley, West Berkeley as well as the rest of the East Bay Green Corridor is also expected to enhance the City of Berkeley’s economic vitality, according to Michael Cohen, Skydeck’s executive director.