How to Start a Startup @ Cal

By Ruochen Huang and Josh Ephraim  

Fall 2017

»» Introduction

Fueled by its close proximity to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Berkeley is host to many students who become involved with startups at some point in their time on campus.

UC Berkeley has produced over 880 companies and nearly 1,000 diverse entrepreneurs, 104 of those who are women, making it the top university for venture capital-backed entrepreneurs and tied in second place for the total number of women-founded startups, according to a widely-cited PitchBook report. Berkeley graduates have gone on to found highly valued and world-changing companies, such as Warby Parker, Apple, Intel, and Qualcomm.

But Berkeley is often a confusing place for the budding and uninitiated entrepreneur. Of course, a simple web search would point towards prominent startup programs like Skydeck and the CITRIS Foundry, but that’s only the beginning of what the Berkeley community offers.

This post is divided into three parts:

1- Involvement and Education

2- Support and Ideation

3- Funding Opportunities and Beyond

»» Part One: Education and Involvement

In our conversations and experiences, students have often expressed their desire to “work for a startup.” There are many ways to get involved depending on interests ranging from software development to business development and product design to management.

Still, other students want to create things and do good. These entrepreneurs often have big ideas but may be unfamiliar with how they can execute them.

There are numerous courses, programs, organizations, and work opportunities at Berkeley that can help guide students towards their interests.

Courses and Programs

Business Development and Entrepreneurship

The University offers numerous courses that cater to those interested in learning about entrepreneurship. Here are some select courses available through the Haas School of Business, Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, as well as other schools on campus:


 Industrial Engineering






Product Design

Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation – Part of the College of Engineering, the Jacobs Institute not only offers a range of interactive design courses specifically aimed at all experience levels and specialties but also is home to a Makerspace to help with prototyping and experimenting designs.

Some courses offered include:

Campus Organizations

Below are select organizations that allow students of all disciplines to get involved with startups:

  • Berkeley Entrepreneurs Association – helps members launch ventures through events and bring together the cross-disciplinary teams vital to a successful venture
  • DiversaTech – DiversaTech works with startups and other technology companies to help interdisciplinary students leverage their skills and talents in the industry
  • Sigma Eta Pi (SEP) – SEP is a co-ed entrepreneurship organization with hands-on experience with startups
  • Innovative Design – Innovative Design is an undergraduate creative organization that allows students interested in design fields to provide photography and design work for a variety of clients, including startups
  • Berkeley Innovation – Berkeley Innovation is a student-run organization with a focus on human-centered design work for clients
  • TAMID Group – a non-profit student organization that helps drive synergies between American businesses and the Israeli economy through pro-bono consulting for startups
  • Venture Strategy Solutions (VSS) – VSS is an undergraduate consulting organization that exclusively works with startups

Work Opportunities

There is no shortage of startups across a wide variety of categories in Berkeley that are constantly looking for passionate and hard-working students.

AngelList has a constantly updating job listing for Berkeley-based companies that may be looking for student interns of a variety of disciplines.

For students interested in working with startups at an advisory level, The HouseCITRIS Foundry, and SkyDeck are some incubator programs that will provide exposure to how startups work.

Connect With Other Entrepreneurs

Coffee chats are an invaluable way to get to know entrepreneurs around the Bay Area and to hash out some of your ideas and aspirations.

To find Berkeley-affiliated companies, check out BerkeleyBase, where we keep a running list of local startups and their funding information.

You can meet people anywhere, but the best way is to go to Demo Days and other events hosted around campus to see what your peers are working on. At BSC, we keep a constantly updated calendar of events around Berkeley.

Berkeley Innovators is also an organization that is part of the University Development and Alumni Relations team at UC Berkeley and works cross-campus to help facilitate connections between students, the university, alumni, and industry. They also spearhead the Founder’s Pledge, a running list of Berkeley founders committed to helping Berkeley entrepreneurs.

»» Part Two: Support and Ideation

So you have an idea. You’re excited and want to see what other people may think, and perhaps get a few other students on board with your idea.

What are your options? You can compete for prize funding, enter an incubator or accelerator program, and even make a prototype of your design —— all on campus.


  • The Berkeley Challenge – Hosted by Pear VC, this competition has a prize of $250,000 in seed financing for the company that shows the most promising idea. Sign up here for the 2017 competition.
  • Big Ideas @ Berkeley – This is an annual competition where students can submit proposals for their ideas across a whole range of categories, such as global health and social change.
  • Berkeley Cleantech University Prize (CUP) – Open to undergraduates and graduates, this program provides for specialized topics focus on “cleantech entrepreneurial training, focused mentoring and access to prototyping by providing access to expertise and facilities throughout the UC Berkeley Innovation Ecosystem”.
  • Cal Hacks – This is an annual hackathon where students from all disciplines are welcome to build and compete on everything from hardware to apps.
  • Global Social Venture Competition – Provides entrepreneurs with mentoring, exposure, and funding to transform ideas into businesses that will have a positive impact.
  • Bay Area Innovation Corps – This initiative helps entrepreneur teams develop a scalable business model, with successful teams receiving grants for prototyping and development.

Incubator and Accelerator Programs

  • The House – Founded in late 2016, The House has two incubator resources: The House Founders and The House Residency. The House Founders is a program for student founders to turn a project or idea into a venture-backed business. The House Residency is a support platform built to provide Berkeley students, faculty, and alumni with what they need to turn a startup into a scalable, venture-backed business.
  • SkyDeck – SkyDeck is an incubator program for UC Berkeley startups that provides workspace, unique programming, speaker series, and mentorship.
  • CITRIS Foundry – The Foundry provides funding, resources, and mentorship to startups developing disruptive solutions for society’s pressing needs
  • LAUNCH – A competition turned accelerator program, LAUNCH aims to transform nascent startups into venture-backed companies. This is a 3-month program aimed to help scale startups and pitch them to VCs.
  • Free Ventures – This program provides resources, mentorship, and workspaces to help Cal students pursue their ideas by giving them course units to integrate building out their idea into their school schedule.
  • Catalyst @ Berkeley – This is a health tech incubator that helps the Berkeley community to solve pressing problems in the medical field, and to support healthcare innovations.
  • Moonshot Accelerator – four-month-long pro-bono accelerator program focused on early-stage Indian tech companies breaking into the United States tech scene
  • The Batchery – This is a Berkeley-based seed incubator that provides courses, workspace, mentorship, and other resources for early-stage startups.
  • Berkeley Ventures – This is a for-profit incubator that seeks early stage startups and provides them with mentorship, workspace, and networking.

Prototyping Your Idea

  • Makerspace – For students and entrepreneurs who seek to prototype and fabricate their innovations, the Jacobs Institute offers a variety of resources. A Maker Pass allows for semesterly access to 3D printers, soldering irons, CAD/CAM software, laser cutters, and everything in between.
  • CITRIS Invention Lab – Located in Sutardja Dai, the CITRIS Invention Lab provides equipment, parts for purchase, and training to help makers produce physical iterations of their ideas.

»» Part Three: Funding Opportunities and Beyond

So now you have many of your peers and others within your industry on board with your idea. However, now you need some funds to help scale your idea.

Fortunately, Berkeley not only has an expansive network via the firms on Sand Hill Road but also boasts a strong local and specialized network aimed at student entrepreneurs.

Pre-Seed and Seed Funding Opportunities

  • Dorm Room Fund – This is a nationwide network that is backed by First Round Capital with the purpose of sourcing and investing in student startups.
  • The House Fund – Based in Berkeley, The House Fund invests in nascent Berkeley-affiliated startups.
  • Berkeley Angel Network – This is an angel investment group consisting of Berkeley-affiliated alumni and faculty created for the purpose of encouraging and investing in Berkeley startups.
  • Berkeley-Haas Dean’s Seed Fund – this award provides $5,000 grants and office space to early-stage startups for teams with at least one Haas student.
  • Berkeley Crowdfunding – Students, staff, faculty, and researchers can list their projects here to raise money to fund their ideas.
  • Student Technology Fund – This funding gives up to $5,000 for student technology projects.


Many Berkeley-affiliated startups go on to participate in more national accelerators and incubators, such as Y Combinator and 500 Startups. At this point, you should have a wide network of mentors and peers who support your idea. The next step will be to use the experience and skills that you honed within the Berkeley community to spread your venture as widely as possible.

»» Concluding Thoughts

Berkeley is privileged to not only have smart and talented individuals working towards creating solutions, but also the adequate resources and network to support these ventures. One of the biggest challenges for Berkeley students has always been finding the right resources and mentorship that cater effectively towards what each student wants to build.

Connections made in college are extremely valuable, and at Berkeley, our peers are some of the best in class.