Startups find success on UC campuses, report finds

Tube Mogul/Courtesy

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In 2007, when Brett Wilson started TubeMogul, a web advertising company, in a basement next to Caffe Strada, he knew that he’d have UC Berkeley to thank if it ever got big.

The company, now listed on the NASDAQ index and predicted to bring in over $200 million in revenue this year, is one of the 622 active startups from University of California schools, 440 of which brought in $16.2 billion in revenue according to a study by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

“There’d be no TubeMogul without Cal,” Wilson said.

The Emeryville-based company started as a winning idea for a business plan competition when Wilson was an MBA student at the Haas School of Business. Its first investor was a classmate at the school.

Wilson called UC Berkeley the “perfect incubator for innovation,” and said that the unique culture of challenging the status quo made it a special place.

The study, commissioned by the UC Office of the President, found that companies started by UC faculty, staff and recent graduates and headquartered in California support over 140,000 jobs, while adding $20.1 billion to the California economy. In total, all UC startups — including those no longer in existence —  attracted $16.3 billion in venture capital funding since 1968.

Sean Randolph, senior director of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, said that these startups are direct products of UC schools. In collecting the data, Randolph and his colleagues only included companies started by UC faculty, staff or by recent graduates within one year of graduation.

“In a great many cases, they are also using technology that was created on the campus,” Randolph said. “I wouldn’t say that if there wasn’t a UC, they wouldn’t be there. Maybe if they went to USC, they would have started something, but that’s not the question we’re asking.”

The nine-month study was commissioned by the research innovation and entrepreneurship department of the UC Office of the President and cost $119,000, according to university spokesperson Claire Doan.

Over the past few years, campuses across the UC system have developed startup incubators and accelerators to boost the growth of these companies.

In 2012, the Haas School of Business, the College of Engineering and the campus vice chancellor for research partnered to create Skydeck, which offers free downtown Berkeley office space to startups and connects them with advisors throughout the tech industry. The study claims that these incubators, often located on or near campuses, become focal points of local and regional innovation ecosystems which help these companies thrive.

While TubeMogul may have begun with some tables and chairs in a basement, the resources available to potential startups at UC Berkeley have expanded greatly.

Rhonda Shrader, director of Berkeley-Haas Entrepreneurship and contributor to the report, said that programs like Startup Marketplace, which matches MBA students interested in science with appropriate faculty at UCSF, help entrepreneurs navigate the intense startup culture at the school.

“Entrepreneurship is a team sport and you can’t do it by yourself,” Shrader said, but she was confident that startups will continue to see success at Cal. “When you put smart people together, they’re going to do amazing things.”

Austin Weinstein is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @aweinstein5.