Free Ventures at Berkeley

I was recently invited to judge at Free Ventures, student-run incubator for UC Berkeley entrepreneurs. The program just completed its first semester of workshops and mentorship, with 5 student teams accepted out of a pool of ~40. This past Monday was their Demo day, which allowed each group to present to a panel of judges and get feedback on how they can improve their product. 

Having been on the other side of this, I was really looking forward to the pitches and was thoroughly impressed by how well-prepared the students were – the coaching really paid off!

The Free Venture Fall 2013 startups were:

  • Supertag: a SMS API that enables users to use hashtags to hyperlink locations or other meta data. The judges were particularly interested in how this can help aging Telco’s bolster their SMS offerings. 
  • Lily: a quadcopter camera that autonomously tracks a headband to film a dynamic subject. Would loved to see a live demo of this, but I guess it wouldn’t have been a great idea to launch it indoors. Prototype is still a hack, but looks a lot like GoPro’s early days and I could see this getting really popular with extreme sport enthusiasts, but also amateur videographers and maybe even journalists. 
  • Fractal: dead simple platform that allows users to create mobile apps without knowing how to code. Geared towards small groups (ie. the Berkeley chess club) who want a mobile app that facilitates communication between club organizers and its members. Great idea, but in a very crowded space. Also, I’m not sure the needs of small interest groups would be better served by a native app vs. an HTML5 mobile website.
  • CloverInk: recruiting platform for startups and new grads. Again, in a very crowded space, but I liked their low-cost advantage and the signing bonus per hire. The pass-through bonus of $100 to the applicant will ensure that transactions are completed on the platform, but may also increase return customers on the applicant side. 
  • Clique: intimate “anti-social” network with 15-person limit. Loved the way they tested their initial idea (using private Twitter accounts) and the innovative shake-to-push-notification feature. Obviously reminded the judges of Path, but I think the 15-person limit makes much more sense than Path’s 150.

Overall, Free Ventures ran a tight ship and the quality of start-ups produced this semester bodes very well for the program’s future. Here’s the kicker – of all the teams that presented, there wasn’t a single female entrepreneur. I’m sure this wasn’t intentional, as the judging panel had a healthy mix of both female and male perspectives, but it does leave me to wonder if it was a result of selection bias or lack of female applicants.  

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