UC Berkeley student-run organization aims to help undergrads launch startups

Carli Baker/Senior Staff
Sam Kirschner, along with three other UC Berkeley students, founded Free Ventures, a student-run nonprofit-incubator program for undergraduates who need a boost in launching startups.

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As many entrepreneurs have discovered, there is a huge difference between having an idea and making it a reality. Free Ventures is attempting to bridge that gap.

Founded by UC Berkeley students Sam Kirschner, Jeremy Fiance, Cameron Baradar and Kirtan Upadhyaya, Free Ventures is a student-run nonprofit-incubator program for undergraduates who need a boost in launching startups.

As part of the program, students take a two-unit DeCal course, a student-facilitated class. To participate in the DeCal, students form teams and submit their applications on the Free Ventures website.

The program will support six teams during the fall semester, with two to four students per team, and each will receive between $300 and $500 for its projects, depending on individual needs.

Although there are already a number of entrepreneurship clubs on campus, Kirschner and Fiance said they have noticed a significant gap in students’ knowledge of how to get their startup ideas off the ground. Free Ventures will provide access to mentorship and other resources for students who are in the early stages of creating a startup.

Fiance, co-founder of the UC Berkeley chapter of Kairos Society, a nonprofit entrepreneurial organization, and an active member of other entrepreneurial projects, such as Dorm Room Fund and Dropsense, said the inspiration for Free Ventures came from his own experience with startups.

“Oftentimes, I felt like working on a startup wouldn’t help toward graduation, even though I was learning a lot from it,” Fiance said.

The founders hope that by providing mentors, workshops and units for the program, they will teach students from all fields of interest what opportunities and resources are available to them to assist in creating startups.

Free Ventures will fund the teams with a grant received from Big [email protected], an annual campus competition that aims to encourage student innovation. Competing with 160 other student entrepreneurial teams at the 2013 competition, Free Ventures won third place in the Improving Student Life category, along with a $2,500 grant.

Students will have the opportunity to work with experienced venture capitalists, product managers and legal professionals to learn more about the process of launching a successful startup.

Kirschner, who co-founded the Design Engineering Collaborative, a student group that provides resources to students interested in design and engineering, said Free Ventures hopes to expand to support 12 teams by next spring.

Phillip Denny, manager at Big [email protected], said Free Ventures seeks to “catalyze the ingenuity and creativity of students” and inspire student innovation.

“(Free Ventures) is hoping to identify and support a growing number of UC Berkeley students that want to combine academic interests with their personal interests,” Denny said.

Jennie Yoon is the lead student government reporter. Contact her at [email protected].