Student startups address global terrorism after Nice attacks

Jeremy Snowden/Courtesy

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Two UC Berkeley startups created by students present at the 2016 Nice terror attack — Archer and Startup With Purpose — aim to improve data accessibility and community-building in the fight against global terrorism.

Both student-run companies sprouted from the European Innovation Academy, a technology entrepreneurship program open to students worldwide. In the summer of 2016, students participating in the program witnessed the terror attacks in Nice, which claimed the life of a UC Berkeley student. Upon returning home, several participants launched startups to address the issues they witnessed abroad.

Archer is a nonprofit organization that develops data analytics tools to make information more accessible to the public. According to Archer co-founder and CEO Alice Ma, the company primarily focuses on making certain data sets accessible to human rights, corruption and terrorist finance investigators.

Ma said a general lack of understanding about who sees public and private data “requires a Cambridge Analytica for good,” which the company hopes to address.

“As the amount of public data is increasing exponentially in the world, it’s completely overwhelming for a human to make sense of it themselves,” Ma said. “How can a journalist or think tank — someone not behind government clearance — continue to understand what’s going on in the world?”

Archer is currently working toward becoming a profitable, full-time company, so that nonprofit clients can “get the most out of our services” and students involved can continue working after graduation, according to Archer co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Anjali Banerjee, a former Daily Californian reporter.

“We want to provide an outlet for talented engineers (and) individuals who feel that they want to contribute to geopolitics in a way that’s scalable and sustainable,” Banerjee said.

Archer’s 23-person team will be heading to Toronto next week to demonstrate the company’s products at RightsCon, the largest human rights conference in the world, according to Banerjee. 

Jeremy Snowden / Courtesy

Jeremy Snowden / Courtesy

Startup With Purpose, also a student-run nonprofit organization, gives youths from various countries — including the United States, Chile, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates — the chance to try their hand at entrepreneurship. According to Managing Director Henry Keenan, the weeklong program is based on the Berkeley Method of Entrepreneurship.

“The Berkeley Method of Entrepreneurship and the way it is taught … I believe is the best way to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation, initiate professional relationships, and help young people better identify their strengths and desired career paths,” Keenan said in an email.

Jarrett Wright, director of special initiatives for Startup With Purpose, described the program as a “startup accelerator” that teaches entrepreneurship through game play — participants attend a one-hour lecture, then play a game designed to teach an “entrepreneurial mindset” for the rest of the day. The first pilot program took place in January in Jordan. The program is scheduled to run in Jordan for a week in July, with another in Dubai shortly thereafter, according to Wright.

The classes are currently taught in English, but Wright said the company is working on translating the curriculum into Arabic. The team wants to see the program eventually “embedded” into the Jordanian high school curriculum. Wright cited the program’s emphasis on forging strong interpersonal relationships as one of the drivers for his personal involvement with Startup With Purpose.

“I think a program like this can only come out of UC Berkeley,” Wright said. “Tragedy doesn’t have to remain tragic. We take it by the horns and will do something about it.”

Revati Thatte is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @revati_thatte.