On April 22nd, 2015, Alpha Epsilon Zeta (AEZ) hosted its 3rd Annual Innovate@Berkeley Startup Expo at Hotel Shattuck, in the heart of bustling downtown Berkeley. Three years ago, Innovate was started by AEZ alumnus Sameen Karim, with the goal of showcasing all the entrepreneurial talent that the city of Berkeley has to offer. With each iteration of Innovate, AEZ has sought to take the event to the next level and put on an even higher quality experience, especially in terms of the startups and speakers in attendance.
AEZ is a multidisciplinary professional fraternity, whose brothers’ majors span several different disciplines. Core ideals are professionalism, brotherhood, and unity. Founded in 2003, AEZ has grown substantially, with more than 100 active and alumni members; AEZ prides itself in their close knit alumni network. As an organization, AEZ works to bring a business focus to all disciplines and strives to stay engaged with the professional world through an annual PRF, where industry speakers are invited to speak as part of a panel. Innovate has become one of AEZ’s trademark events, and seems to have resonated with the Berkeley entrepreneurial community.
One of the most encouraging aspects of Innovate this year was the diversity of the crowd drawn in. The hundreds of attendees that came out were represented by a healthy balance of industry professionals and students. Even the students themselves were a diverse collection of individuals, with majors ranging from business and economics to political science and anthropology. The crowd ultimately reflected the outcome of one of the major objectives for the event: to be able to unite the broader Berkeley community on the basis of their interest in entrepreneurship and innovation.
Innovate began as a startup fair, with each of the 28 participating startup companies showcasing their products and ideas in individual booths. Upon entry, every attendee received three tickets to vote for their three favorite startups participating in the fair. The company with the most votes would earn the People’s Choice Award. While the attendees floated around the room, a panel of judges listened to and evaluated the pitches of the ten startups that were selected for the pitch competition.
As the startup fair wrapped up, Innovate transitioned into a panel discussion, titled “Lessons from the Top: Building Products for the Masses.” Moderated by AEZ alum Arjun Arora (Co-Founder of Immediately and Founder of Retargeter), the discussion revolved around the notion of scalability in a business. The speaker panel consisted of of Jack McCauley (Founder of Oculus VR), Sumaya Kazi (Founder and CEO of Sumazi) and Jed Katz (Partner at Javelin Venture Partners). Through their experiences starting companies and seeing them grow, each of these speakers provided tremendous insight to how scalability in a business can be achieved, tying their ideas to their personal experiences.
The event finally concluded with an awards ceremony, where the three winners from the pitch competition were honored. Transcense, a company that’s developed a mobile application that transcribes conversations as they happen in real-time, took home the top prize, while Via Analytics, who hope to revolutionize the public transit system, came second. Rounding out the top three was Kudo3D, a startup that produces 3D printers. The winners of the People’s Choice Award to universal acclaim was Chai Guys, a startup founded by Berkeley students Rohan Agarwal and Anand Lakshminarayan that produces authentic Indian chai.
Innovate gave AEZ the incredible opportunity of interfacing with a number of industry professionals and the unique chance to learn more about the entrepreneurial subculture. Such a massive event required tremendous planning and foresight, but having orchestrated the event before, we felt well-equipped to handle the challenges that inevitably arose. For our organization, hosting Innovate was a special experience and we were thrilled to be able to hold such an event for the UC Berkeley and Haas community.