Last week a team of Berkeley students took first place at the 8th annual BeAVC competition hosted at Stanford University. The event, which is a joint competition between UC Berkeley, Stanford and Santa Clara University, challenges teams of students to pitch existing startups to a panel comprised of some of Silicon Valley’s most prominent venture capitalists.
The winning team (tied for first place with another Berkeley team) was made up of Haas students Aliaksandr Hudzilin and Kevin Lee as well as Environmental Economics and Interdisciplinary Studies major Inga Chen. The team was kind enough to sit down with the Haas Blog and share their experience.
Our conversation began on the subject of preparation and what went into the creation of their winning team. For them, diversity of ideas was important. Not only did their team include a wide range of professional interests but their organizational backgrounds were also different. Aliaksandr is a member of Delta Sigma Pi, Inga belongs to Alpha Kappa Psi, and Kevin hails from the Asian Business Association. Their success is proof that there is value in inter-organizational collaboration.
The greatest difficulty faced by the team came with choosing the right company to pitch. They weren’t completely alone in this process; each team receives a mentor who is also an associate from a top venture capital firm. Eventually they settled on pitching Lithium Technologies, a social media company that specializes in online community building and providing innovative solutions to other businesses. Part of the team’s strategy in selecting a startup to pitch was to find one that was low risk and at or around the late-stage level of investment.
After talking about building their team and selecting their startup the team shared their thoughts on what classes students should take if they want to pick up skills useful for competing in competitions such as BeAVC. UGBA 115: Competitive Strategy was the first one that came to everybody’s mind and it was touted as a valuable foundation for anyone entering a professional competition. UGBA 196 an IT strategy course with a telecommunications and media focus along with mobile applications class IEOR 190E were also seen as an extremely vital link between theory and application. These courses are a great venue to meet other students with innovative, entrepreneurial, and competitive mindsets.
Classes weren’t the only advice the team was happy to share; they also put a few more tips onto the table for those who wish to know more:
- Find reliable teammates, while working with your friends is great, make sure that those on your team are able to pull their weight.
- Share the workload; ensure that everyone is taking on reasonable levels of work. Too much for some members can lead to burnout which could be costly come presentation time.
- Finding members with strong presentation and/or graphic design skills can give your team an extra edge over other groups.
- Present your information in a visual/graphic format when possible, the less text the better.
- When building a team look for diversity. Different skillsets and professional experience can help you cover all of your bases and make your presentation that much better.
Finally, the team shared their parting thoughts about the competition and how it relates to the future of Berkeley and the Haas School. To them the BeAVC competition was an opportunity to show Silicon Valley that Berkeley could be a major player in the tech startup environment, an area long dominated by Stanford. Victory to them means convincing venture capitalists to cross the bay and reach out to Berkeley students. While Berkeley does have its share of startup incubators (Venture Lab, FounderSchool, Skydeck) those resources are primarily accessible to only graduates leaving undergrads to struggle to find support for their ideas. Fortunately Berkeley students are making the most of what they do have, various entrepreneurship groups on campus, professional faculty and Hackers at Berkeley help to meet the needs of the undergraduates but more needs to be done.
The team hopes that by building a stronger entrepreneurship base at Berkeley students from across various disciplines will have an easier time collaborating and innovating. They also believe that more professional opportunities come with the promotion of entrepreneurship which will lead students to look beyond the common career choices of Accounting, Banking, and Consulting and bring more career paths to Berkeley.
As the interview drew to a close the team shared one last bit of advice to students: While it may be impossible to truly design your career as you go forward in life, if you base yourself on your principles, find something to be passionate about, always look for good people and opportunities, and take a proactive approach to life there is nothing that will keep you from being successful.