Berkeley Founders’ Pledge Connects Cal Entrepreneurs, Makes Giving Back Easier

UC Berkeley is developing innovative ways to support its alumni entrepreneurs while making philanthropy a key part of the equation. 

With the backing of a group of founders and executives from companies like Cloudera, Warby Parker, Nextdoor, and more, the University has created the Berkeley Founders' Pledge, through which Cal alumni and faculty at startups make a non-binding pledge to support Berkeley upon a liquidity event, and stay connected to the campus ecosystem as their companies grow.

"The Berkeley Founders' Pledge offers the kind of philanthropic flexibility and targeted, effective involvement opportunities that resonate with entrepreneurs," explains Dee Dee Mendoza, former University Development and Alumni Relations Senior Director for Silicon Valley. "Our alumni want to be connected to campus, and they want to give back. We're making it easier to do both by acknowledging and adapting to the unique constraints of an entrepreneur's lifestyle." 

As part of the pledge, members are paired with a dedicated campus staff member to help navigate the large volume of recruiting, visibility, networking, and special experience resources across the university. 

For instance, Berkeley is turning its massive size--often a barrier to time-crunched and cash-strapped startups--into an advantage by organizing resources for easier access by Cal alumni- and faculty-founded companies.

Founders’ Pledge member and Twindom CEO David Pastewka ‘12 holds their core product, a 3D printed photograph created with the company’s proprietary software. Twindom’s three co-founders started the company as undergrads and are currently in residence at SkyDeck. Their unique offering will be available for purchase to graduates and their families at Berkeley’s commencement on Saturday, May 17th.

A new website, innovators.berkeley.edu, indexes dozens of relevant activities for entrepreneurs, investors and service providers, and industry. A section with resources for faculty interested in commercializing their research will debut in the fall.

Berkeley is also creating channels for students and alumni to connect to job opportunities. A new resume book accessible by pre-IPO companies whose founders and executives have Cal ties had nearly 1,000 participants at the peak of the recruiting season, and will return in the fall.

"I'm really happy to see Cal tapping into its entrepreneurial community. I value my education at Cal deeply, and I always planned to give back. When I learned that the pledge was flexible, and that I can stay closely involved with Berkeley in many different ways while I'm building Scripted, it was an easy decision to sign on," says Ryan Buckley '04, Co-Founder and COO of Scripted, a content creation firm backed by Redpoint Ventures.

The Berkeley Founders' Pledge is part of the University's move toward building a more cohesive platform around the campus' high volume of entrepreneurial and research activities, and closing the loop from student and faculty innovation (such as the technologies built by EECS Professor Joseph Hellerstein's big data startup Trifacta), to commercialization, and back to the University through industry partnerships and alumni support for core Berkeley programs. The depth, breadth and quality of the research enterprise at Berkeley is unparalleled, providing a potent foundation from which to serve the university’s public mission through innovation and technology transfer.

Successful Beta Period

Cellscope was spun out of Professor Dan Fletcher's research by Erik Douglas Ph.D. '08, and Amy Sheng MBA '13. With funding from Khosla Ventures, their vision to turn the iPhone into a cost-effective, time-saving, and accurate instrument for diagnosing ear infections illustrates how research at Berkeley is leveraged for greater impact.

Because of the campuswide reach of the Founders' Pledge activities, the program is in beta for the 2013-2014 academic year while the university tests its processes and features, and carefully manages growth. Members in the beta group come from companies with combined venture funding in excess of $1.6 billion.  A good chunk of that is thanks to Tom Reilly, CEO of Cloudera--the big data company with deep Berkeley roots that recently announced investments of $900 million from Intel, Google Ventures, T. Rowe Price, and others.

Other entrepreneurial leaders who have made the Berkeley Founders' Pledge include Dave Gilboa, who co-founded eyewear company Warby Parker; Charles Huang, a co-creator of the Guitar Hero game franchise; Gagan Biyani, Co-Founder and CEO of Sprig, and Co-Founder of Udemy; and Prakash Janakiraman, Co-Founder of Nextdoor, the private neighborhood social network that's in more than 34,000 communities nationwide--up from 25,000 just 5 months ago.

Campus startups are also involved, with several members of the Founders' Pledge coming from SkyDeck, one of five Berkeley incubators and accelerators, and home to 25 early stage companies. The advisory group includes Scott Shenker, a professor of EECS who co-founded Nicira, which was acquired by VMWare in 2012; and Andy Chou '99, whose company Coverity was acquired by Synopsys in February.

Says Chou, "As an entrepreneur there are so many demands on your time, and it can be hard to maintain a connection with Cal. The Cal team has done a great job of innovating new opportunities to participate and contribute back. I've really enjoyed reconnecting with the Cal community, and am grateful that I've been able to participate in the surge in enthusiasm coming out of Cal these days in the area of entrepreneurship."

 

To learn more or to make the Berkeley Founders' Pledge, visit http://founderspledge.berkeley.edu.