Berkeley SkyDeck holds virtual Demo Day for global startups, investors

Photo of Berkeley SkyDeck's Demo Day event
Kristen Tamsil/File
Unlike last year's event, which was held in person, entrepreneurs at Berkeley SkyDeck's 2020 Demo Day met with startup founders in Zoom rooms.

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Berkeley SkyDeck hosted its first virtual conference for investors Tuesday featuring its most recent remote cohort of 21 startups from around the world.

The entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas and plans, which ranged from artificial intelligence to bioscience innovation. After opening remarks from SkyDeck Executive Director Caroline Winnett and the startups’ presentations, investors had the opportunity to visit each company’s individual Zoom room to meet founders and ask questions.

“We recognized early on that startup founders would be concerned about their ability to fundraise while COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on the economy,” said Berkeley SkyDeck Fund founding partner Chon Tang in a press release. “To ensure our startups would have a leg up, we doubled down and have been working even more closely with them to ensure that they are getting strong access to top tier investors.”

Prior to this event, SkyDeck granted each startup $105,000 and access to advisers to help them grow their companies, according to the press release.

UC Berkeley professor of bioengineering Kevin Healy said his team is now in conversation with potential investors from the event. Healy pitched his company Organos, which he founded with UC Berkeley graduate Samuel Wall. 

Organos hopes to “de-risk” drug development and eliminate animal experimentation by replacing animal subjects with small tissue chips designed to quickly and accurately reflect human organs’ responses to new medicines in clinical trials.

“We decided on very short notice to compete and to join (SkyDeck) and it was a good decision,” Healy said. “You do give up some equity, but it was well worth all the VC connections and educational experience that you get.”

UC Berkeley alumna Sarah Placella presented her company Root Applied Sciences, which aims to cut down pesticide use in agriculture by alerting farmers of the ideal times to spray fungicide using in-field sensors.

Derrick Koenig pitched Ontopical, which is dedicated to bridging the information gap between business and government by allowing subscribers to easily search public records for information relevant to their companies.

“Just think about the power of knowing that your company, or something important to your company, was mentioned in three city council meetings this afternoon — letting you proactively get in front of the issues before they make the news,” Koenig said.

Other startups aimed to connect students with international education opportunities, place advertisements in live videos online using artificial intelligence and identify prescription errors made by medical professionals.

Winnett said though this cohort of startups is the first SkyDeck has mentored remotely, the 21 companies’ successes have exceeded her expectations.

“This year has been one like no other with many challenges, and I could not be more proud of our startups for their grit, determination, and perseverance to succeed,” Winnett said in the press release. “Major challenges force us all to be even more innovative and creative in the way we problem-solve.”

Contact Rachel Barber at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.