LAUNCH Startup Accelerator Takes Flight

by Jamaur Bronner & KC Simon, LAUNCH Marketing Team

If there’s one thing we’re sure of after kicking off UC Berkeley’s startup accelerator’s 2015 program, it’s that LAUNCH is not your grandma’s startup accelerator.

LAUNCH is the next evolution of the bPlan competition, a Lester Center outfit that hosted talented teams in their infancy, including the likes of TubeMogul (now a public company valued at over $370 million). In its new form, LAUNCH serves as a startup accelerator with a competition component, equipping market-tested companies with the tools necessary to move from validated to fundable. LAUNCH is a highly selective program open to any team with at least one UC-system affiliated student, faculty, staff member, or alumnus, that has performed extensive customer interviews and created a business model canvas to validate their idea’s market potential.

Sixteen teams began their LAUNCH journey Feb. 5 – Feb. 7 at the kickoff reception and bootcamp at SkyDeck in downtown Berkeley. Here’s what it looked like:

Thursday evening: Teams, mentors, sponsors, the LAUNCH executive committee, and faculty gathered for the first time at SkyDeck for a welcome reception.

Friday: After an introduction to the curriculum from Lester Center Executive Director Andre Marquis, each team gave a 10 minute presentation of their business, covering market sizing, customer identification, product validation to date, and a business model canvas. Teams received live questions and feedback from faculty members Marquis and Rhonda Shrader (LC Associate Director) as well as written feedback from their peers. After lunch, teams had a chance to meet with their mentors to discuss presentation feedback and next steps.

In the afternoon, Executive-in-Residence David Riemer spoke about what makes an entrepreneur’s story great, and Andre continued the curriculum with a session on Strategy and Metrics that matter.

Saturday: As a result of the previous day’s storytelling sessions, each team crafted one minute pitches that succinctly captured their company’s offering.  Teams also identified their one metric that mattered and the hypotheses they were going to test in next week’s customer interviews.

For some, this year’s LAUNCH program is a reunion.  Moses Lo, co-founder of xendit.co, was last year’s LAUNCH co-chair and is now one of the 16 teams competing for a spot at the finals.  Moses has devoted the second year of his MBA to building the innovative payments company Xendit, and has found that this year’s LAUNCH program has provided new perspectives and valuable insights for his team.

LAUNCH boot camp was a great start to the competition.  I really appreciated the constant feedback from the faculty, mentors and other startups within our cohort.  For Xendit, we’ve gone back to iterate on our storytelling, have a clearer initial beachhead market and are challenged to really solve a customer’s emotional problem.”