UC Berkeley Student Entrepreneur Success Story: Do The Hustle

Baseball season is a distant memory, but the inspiring story of the Oakland A’s improbable late season rally lives on. A lingering tribute in downtown Berkeley reminds me daily that hustle (aka getting it done, no matter what) isn’t just for sports teams.

We see scores of amazingly talented students in the Lester Center. One in particular, though, embodies the very best qualities of entrepreneurial hustle. Zachary Zeleznick is currently a junior majoring in bioengineering. He caught the entrepreneurial bug after attending his first hackathon–Health 2.0 Silicon Valley–as a sophomore. He teamed up with some undergrads along with a UC Davis psychiatry resident.   He explained, “Empowering patients was the hackathon theme and I was really passionate about it, so why not compete?”

Prior to the hackathon, the team met a couple of times for ideation and had a “decent” plan. “Forty eight hours later, the judges were amazed by our scrappy team competing against established start ups. We came with nothing, were all students and took first place in the empowering patients health track along with the grand prize.”

Part of the prize was presenting at the healthcare industry’s top conference, Health 2.0, allowing for introductions to industry thought leaders and potential users.  Using the product validation and feedback gained at the conference, the team built out a prototype via a quick Indiegogo campaign. “It was unbelievable that we had a product so quickly. That kind of experience cannot be learned through a classroom…it changed my life. As soon as we concluded the Health 2.0 preso, I knew this was something I wanted to do.”

Instead of savoring that first taste of victory, Zeleznick immediately started reaching out to VCs, angels and anyone else who would listen. “I felt naked…I had no experience about what happens next. It was a whole new path with a blank canvas– I didn’t know what was supposed to happen next, but I knew we needed money. “

Although it didn’t work out with the initial product and company, Zeleznick wasn’t deterred. “I understood that I lacked experience and needed skills, so I went on an exploration.” This involved going to more hackathons and health tech events, offering to code in exchange for learning product design, UX and product management.

During his quest, he identified other needs and started seeking out solutions.  His first initiative was to set up and host a health tech demo day to showcase prototypes developed in the bioengineering capstone design course. “I realized there’s a gap where so much work is done, but there’s no process to go from prototype to market.” The success of demo day led to organizing a speaker series on med tech innovation.

“I kept seeing products that would never see market and wouldn’t be solving real problems and needs. The Snapchats and Instagrams of the world were taking college students by storm and great products being left on the shelf.”

After repeatedly hearing from students with successful prototypes “I don’t know what to do next,” Zeleznick and friends spent some time hanging out at SkyDeck to perform a competitive landscape and identify core needs. The team concluded that an on-campus incubator for health tech startups was the way to fill the gaps.  Thus, Catalyst@Berkeley was co-founded by Zeleznick, Taner Dagdelen, Ashish Nag, Sivan Marcus, Deepika Bhatnagar, Ori Hoxha.

The team faced a huge hurdle in getting the word out and generating buzz for the launch. Without funds for a pricey PR team or media campaign, Zeleznick simply picked up the phone and sent emails to pitch his story directly to reporters. VentureBeat scooped it up and you can read the full story here.

After launching in September, five teams joined Catalyst@Berkeley (an accept rate 20%) and have built “nearly functional prototypes, enough so that they’re able to start the relationships with investors, recommenders and influencers in the health tech space.” Catalyst@Berkeley is excited to unveil what the teams have been able to accomplish in a few short months. See for yourself at their Open House on December 10 from 5-7 PM at Sutardja Dai Hall, 3rd Floor.

Identifying a need and filling it is the entrepreneurial way. Doing it as a student while connecting different disciplines and rounding out your skill set—a priceless hustle.