Organization founded by UC Berkeley alums aims to encourage campus entrepreneurship

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Startup companies looking to find a foothold in the world of businesscan now look to the help of the Berkeley Angel Network, an organization dedicated to supporting and fostering entrepreneurship in the UC Berkeley community.

Founded last year, the Berkeley Angel Network provides companies started by UC Berkeley students and alumni with the opportunity to receive funding from investors. Catherine Chiu and George Willman, who both attended UC Berkeley, and Jerry Engel, the founding director of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, created the organization in an effort to help new companies share the knowledge and experience of UC Berkeley alumni.

“It was a logical extension of the support the university had given on campus,” Chiu said. “We wanted to harvest alumni with experience and knowledge to support entrepreneurship on and off campus.”

Companies interested in receiving funding can apply to the network on a quarterly basis. After a rigorous screening process, four companies are selected to present to the members of the network, who then individually decide if they want to invest in those companies.

To Engel, the organization is a way to encourage entrepreneurship.

“The Berkeley Angels Network is an important part of the Berkeley entrepreneurship ecosystem,” Engel said. “It provides opportunities for students and alumni to meet investors who have a special Berkeley affinity.”

UC Berkeley Haas School of Business alumnus Bhavin Parikh presented to the organization in the spring. As CEO and co-founder of Magoosh, an online test-prep company, he was looking for investors that were good fit for the company. The funding he received from two investors in the network allowed him to expand the company.

“Once we had capital, we were able to think about longer term,” Parikh said. “We now have a team of about eight employees and are able to make more strategic decisions.”

According to Chiu, the organization also wants to provide companies with access to investors who are willing to give time to actively mentor startup founders. As part of that goal, the organization has held numerous panel events and social functions at UC Berkeley’s Skydeck, an entrepreneurship center operated by UC Berkeley.

Some in the startup community say that one of the organization’s biggest advantages is the access company founders receive to the mentorship and advice of network investors, prominent UC Berkeley faculty and alumni.

Although he has not received funding from the network, Andrew Dunkle, CTO and co-founder of Go Overseas, a website that provides information on study-abroad programs, said the aid the organization provides can be the key to a company’s success. Dunkle said he saw meeting and networking with members of the Angel Network as especially valuable for new entrepreneurs.

“Everyone has this mentality to think of new and creative ways to solve problems,” Dunkle said. “If you have an idea, you can share it, get feedback, and if they really believe in it, a new company is born.”

Describing the Berkeley Angels Network as a startup company itself, Chiu said she is excited to see it expand in the future.

“Everything we have done so far exceeded my expectations,” Chiu said. “We want to make it bigger and better in every aspect.”

Contact Andrea Guzman at [email protected].

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