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Berkeley Supports It Startups High Atop the Campus

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Berkeley Skydeck

Members of Healthylabs, which creates social networks for patients with chronic diseases, at the University of California, Berkeley's Skydeck.

Credit: Peg Skorpinski

High above the University of California, Berkeley campus, in the tallest building for miles around, IT entrepreneurs are being given the opportunity to grow their startups in a new venue—the four-month-old Skydeck startup incubator/accelerator.

At a university known for doing things differently and in its own way, UC-Berkeley has dedicated 10,000 square feet of premium penthouse office space—with 360-degree views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge—to supporting and mentoring IT-oriented startups.

"What distinguishes us from other startup accelerators and other university incubators in particular is the deep integration of Skydeck with the research, education, and service programs of our three chief collaborators—UC-Berkeley's College of Engineering, Haas School of Business, and the Vice Chancellor of Research's office—as well as the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab," says Michael Cohen, interim director of Skydeck and previously head of the UC-Berkeley Office of Technology Licensing.

The collaborators each have their own accelerator programs that attract students and alumni who are launching companies. Entrepreneurs apply to Skydeck through those programs and are vetted by the programs' corresponding faculty and industry advisors.

The competition is said to be heavy. The only spinouts accepted are those with great technology, as well as compelling, scalable business models, says Cohen. They are generally accepted for one academic year and are mentored and monitored along the way by faculty and industry advisors.

"Those startups that are accepted get not just free office space but also the expertise and resources that we infuse into the mentorship program," adds Cohen. "We overlay a mentor network, a funding network, and our faculty monitors the startups' business plans and their progress as they evolve and eventually graduate out of the Skydeck."

The idea for Skydeck began to emerge about a year ago as campus leaders saw the advantage of having a central location for the sprawling research university's entrepreneurial activities.

"Every year from 10 to 20-plus companies grow from research at Berkeley, but we haven't done as good a job as our neighbor on the peninsula at getting the word out," says Ken Goldberg, a professor of engineering at Berkeley and co-founder/CTO of Hybrid Wisdom Labs, a startup currently in residence in Skydeck.

"Skydeck permits us to share resources and be around other entrepreneurs with whom we can share ideas. And," he adds, "it's a magnificent address; you can bring clients and
prospects and possible investors and really impress them with this prestigious location."

Ten-month-old Hybrid Wisdom Labs currently has four clients—the U.S. State Dept., General Motors, Unilever, and Humana—for which it creates custom versions of its patented collaborative filtering algorithm. [See video.]

"We are applying ideas from robotics to organizing large volumes of human responses in social media," he explains. "We call it ‘next-generation brainstorming' and we're in discussions with a number of organizations and companies who want to use it."

Two of the other startups in Skydeck include:
Kloudless, a Web site that supports full text search of Internet Cloud-based files, including Google mail, Box, Dropbox, and others.
Healthylabs, which creates social networks for patients with chronic diseases. Its first network is Crohnology, which connects patients across the globe who have Crohn's or Colitis. Patients can share their treatment histories and learn from the experiences of others.

While Skydeck houses just 10 startups comprised of about 40 people, Cohen anticipates that, within a year, it may be possible to expand the program to perhaps dozens of startups and entrepreneurs in residence.

"We have the capacity," he says, "and lots of interest to pursue that vision."

Paul Hyman is a science and technology writer based in Great Neck, NY.



Hi there, I am not a business student or faculty at your school but at some other school. Is your startup platform restricted only to ur campus students or to others too who have appealing startup idea but lacks infrastructure>?
Sudhir Singh

CACM Administrator

Dear Sudhir Singh,

According to the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, "To join Berkeley Skydeck, each company must apply and compete for a spot in the UC Berkeley Startup Accelerator, 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. Affiliates of the Berkeley Postdoctoral Entrepreneurs Program also have access to the new space."


My company, Go Overseas, is in the Skydeck as well. We love it!

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