By Wendy Witherspoon
Imagine a Web tool that can provide personalized cancer treatment options based on a patient’s molecular profile, a social platform that allows borrowers to secure loans from friends, or an app that enables inspectors to produce reports right from the field.
Startup companies with innovations such as these are currently developing their products with assistance from nine Berkeley Law students who are members of the new chapter of InSITE: a prestigious national fellowship and mentoring program that partners graduate students seeking business experience with early-stage companies in need of pro-bono consulting.
The 16-year-old program, which was originally launched in New York, also has chapters at Columbia, Harvard, MIT, Georgetown and Stanford. The Berkeley Law chapter was co-founded last fall by Josh Ephraim ’17 and Haas Business School MBA candidate Gali Ross-Hasson.
After an extensive application process, InSITE fellows join consulting teams that work with selected startups seeking venture capital financing. Projects vary depending on the individual company’s needs, but in the past fellows have worked on marketing and brand development, consumer research, product development, pricing strategy and more.
“Berkeley Law has some incredible resources for students interested in working in technology, venture capital and entrepreneurship,” Ephraim said. “InSITE approaches things a bit differently, especially for law students. We aren’t advising our companies on specific legal issues—we’re approaching it from the business side, and I think that gives law students a unique opportunity to step into an entrepreneur’s shoes. By doing that, I think as attorneys we’ll be better advisors and thought partners for our clients.”
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in history from UC Berkeley, Ephraim worked for three years at IMS Consulting Group and at the accelerator StartUp Health. “I think what really interests me is the idea of helping to build something,” Ephraim said, “and these startups are building new and innovative things.”
After beginning coursework at Berkeley Law, Ephraim reached out to InSITE founder and chairman Paul Tumpowsky, who agreed that Berkeley was a ripe spot for a chapter.
“What’s attractive about Berkeley is that it has a great mix of graduate students across lots of different disciplines, which is also true of the other schools where we have chapters,” Tumpowsky said. “The quality of students is really important, and we want to be in places where there’s lots of entrepreneurial activity, so Berkeley is perfect for that.”
A unique opportunity
The Berkeley chapter is partnering with four companies this year: Kuveda Inc., a web tool for individualized cancer diagnoses; WeFinance Co., a social platform for money lending; Simple But Needed Inc., a suite of mobile and web tools for streamlining business operations; and Convo, an online tool for improving collaboration and communication in the workplace.
Katy McDonald ’17 has been working on the Kuveda team, researching the market in order to provide a competitive analysis and preparing for a half-day workshop with the company’s leadership to develop strategic positioning.
“I’ve really enjoyed collaborating with our clients because they’ve been so open to our input and concerns, and working with startups has provided the unique opportunity for us as students to contribute to the growth of emerging companies,” McDonald said. She plans to intern with Judge Nathaniel Gorton in the District of Massachusetts this summer.
Both Ephraim and Ross-Hasson point out the wealth of resources available at UC Berkeley for students interested in entrepreneurship, including the top-ranked Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, as well as the Haas Business Lester Center for Entrepreneurship, the technology incubator The Foundry and startup accelerator SkyDeck, to name just a few.
“Everyone in the industry knows that Berkeley is a hub for tech innovation, so it’s really ripe for programs like this,” said Ephraim, who has accepted a summer associate position at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, which serves as a legal advisor to technology, life sciences and other growth enterprises.
“InSITE is a wonderful program that makes nothing but sense: putting groups of students in project work with young startup companies. Everyone benefits,” Ross-Hasson said. Before enrolling at Haas, Ross-Hasson founded and ran her own startup in browser technology for five years.
“It’s something we here on the West Coast may take for granted at times, as connections to startups and entrepreneurship are both part of our academic DNA, but when you think about the context under which the program started—MBA and law students at top schools on the East Coast in the 90’s—it’s a game changer,” she said.
From a law student perspective, the program provides rare hands-on business experience, and the Berkeley chapter counts more law students among its members than any other chapter in the nation.
“I think it’s very important for a good lawyer to be comfortable dealing with their clients’ business as a whole as opposed to solely discrete legal questions,” Ephraim said. “For students at Berkeley Law, this is a unique opportunity to tackle business issues in the real world.”