Guide to Berkeley Ecosystem

Odds are you’ve walked through Sather and at any given time there were at least 8 different people trying to give you their organization’s spiel. Arms outstretched, they chorus: “Would you like to join ABC?”

We’ve been there. And we remember the sensory and auditory overload that accompanies walking through Sather during the first week of the semester. There’s a whole host of student organizations at Berkeley but deciding which ones to apply to is always hard. The incredible variety also doesn’t make navigating the ecosystem easier at all.  What’s easy to spot, however, is the strong undercurrent of entrepreneurship that flows through campus — be it through incubators, student-led VC funds, or even design and consulting organizations. The spirit of innovation is definitely hard to miss on the Berkeley campus.

In continuing to foster that same entrepreneurial spirit, below is a rundown of organizations we’d turn to in the Berkeley ecosystem, from student clubs that will equip you with the skills needed to code/design/build models to incubators and VC funds that will help you navigate the labyrinth of getting funded and launching.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll accompany this initial list with a deep dive into each organization, trying to understand what their secret sauce is and distilling down everything anyone needs to navigate the collection of Cal clubs quickly.

Student Groups

  • Blueprint, a group that provides software pro bono for nonprofits and promotes the use of technology for social good.
    • In the past they have worked with 1951 Coffee, San Francisco Art Institute, and Veterans 360, among others.
    • They’re currently working with We Care Solar to build a low-bandwidth mobile app for the health workers; Mee Panyar to build a mobile app for local technicians to help maintain decentralized solar mini-grids, among others.
    • Blueprint has been consistent in helping cultivate software talent for several years now and serving as the outlet for people to use their technical know-how to make tangible impact.
  • Berkeley Innovation, a human-centered design consultancy.
    • Some of their past clients include Burt’s Bees, Patagonia, and Ford.
    • Not only do they work with firms on projects ranging from digital products to experiences but also actively make an effort to make design more accessible to all through their annual Human Centered Design conference and through educational initiatives like the HCD decal and public workshops.
    • We’re font of them for all they do to tear down the barriers to entry for design. (We couldn’t resist; get with it.)
  • Venture Strategy Solutions, a start-up consulting organization.
    • Some of their past clients include Niantic, Lime, Figma, and Pollen.
    • What makes them unique is their focus on entrepreneurship and early stage startups. As the only startup focused consulting club, they’ve sure been one of the leaders in cultivating founders as well as a spirit of innovation within Cal.
    • Consulting for a hyper-growth startup is definitely one of the best places to look for inspiration in your own entrepreneurial journey.
  • Blockchain at Berkeley is a blockchain focused R&D and consulting organization.
    • What started out as the world’s first undergraduate university-accredited blockchain course grew into an organization of early-adopters and BTC enthusiasts alike. Since then, they’ve gone on to launch 3 more courses on crypto, blockchain tech, and blockchain development.
    • They actively work toward building Proof-of-Concepts for the most innovative blockchain use-cases; educating the masses on emerging use-cases along with using design to make the space seem less daunting to new entrants.
    • They’re also jointly responsible for the Berkeley Blockchain Xcelerator, a blockchain focused incubator to further build the ecosystem at Cal.

Hackathons/Competitions

  • CalHacks is the world’s largest collegiate hackathon.
    • It typically runs over a weekend and is open to students from any university. It also runs Cubstart, a program for new hackers, and its Fellowship program for teams that are selected to continue building their projects with mentorship, equity-free grants, and workshops from the brightest minds in entrepreneurship and engineering.
    • In the last year, they’ve experimented with hacknow, a global online hackathon to develop novel solutions to COVID-19 as well as hackmonth, a program focused on a month of guided building from the ground up.
    • We love their focus on building and how they break the barriers to make hackathons a welcome experience for beginners, too.
  • Pear Garage is Pear VC’s community to foster the best engineering talent in the nation.
    • Garage helps you build on your project and pitch to the Pear team through a series of workshops with operators and engineers aimed at cultivating engineering talent while teaching you the basic blocks of company building.
    • Pear is committed to finding category-defining ideas and investing in students as evidenced by almost half their investments being in student-led companies.

Incubators

  • The House Fund is a pre-seed and early stage venture capital fund investing in the Berkeley community.
    • It was founded by Jeremy Fiance, a Cal alum himself, and has now grown to a team of about 10 people, most of them Cal alumni themselves.
    • They’ve mainly invested within the industries of Consumer, Enterprise and AI through the likes of Superhuman, Dyndrite, and Eko.
    • One of their core offerings, [email protected], focuses on creating partnerships with the best AI researchers in the world to pair university-led research with the possibilities of starting up, creating an incredible foundation for AI-focused startups to succeed at Berkeley.
    • BTF also call the House home. (Yes, we hate ourselves for making this joke.)

Funding

  • Dorm Room Fund is a VC firm focused specifically on investing in student-run startups.
    • They are supported by First Round Capital and we like them because of their comparatively smaller check sizes (ave. 5-10 investments at $50k vs. 1-2 investments at $500k.)
    • Additionally, they run the Female Founders Track, a program for female identifying entrepreneurs to continue building their venture, as well as The Blueprint Project, a 6-week masterclass to create a community of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students who want to break into venture.