Written by Isabella Sabri; Photo by Kevin Chan
Every morning, Douglas Hutchings arrives at the SkyDeck building in Downtown Berkeley and attends a stand-up meeting in which team members give a blurb about projects they are working on. Afterward, Hutchings heads to a table in the common area overlooking the UC Berkeley campus. A self-described caffeine addict, he often settles down to work with a Diet Coke.
The SkyDeck building is home to approximately 20 cohorts and 80 hot desks, which cycle in and out in 2 separate term periods of six months each. Cohorts and hot desks both have opportunities to meet with potential investors.
According to Hutchings, the startup grew out of NASA and is headed by professor Alice Agogino. Agogino is on sabbatical and is taking time to focus on Squishy Robotics, which is a common practice for professors in the engineering department, Hutchings said.
Squishy Robotics aims to create technology that aids first responders in disaster relief, such as drones that depose robots with sensors that aid in disaster rescue. The team aims to increase the speed at which drones deploy the sensors as well as create high-resilience capabilities.
Hutchings says that though he cannot commit to saying how close the team is to completing the project, the team plans to use feedback from first responders by November. He added that hardware startups take much longer to launch than software startups, which constitute the majority of the teams at SkyDeck. The Squishy team has been working for at least three to four years on research and has spent the past few months building the hardware.
According to Hutchings, being in the Bay Area is beneficial to startups. With Silicon Valley nearby, the Bay Area has come to the forefront of technology in recent years. For this reason, fire departments in the Bay Area use drone technology more often than those in other regions. First responders in cities such as Sunnyvale and Alameda use state-of-the-art technology.
Hutchings also says there are many benefits to being connected to UC Berkeley. He said that once a startup starts growing, the team needs a place to be as well as connections.
“Most of us did undergraduate work here, so we have strong connections to the university and the ability to pull interns from the engineering department,” Hutchings said.
Jeremy Hammer, a transfer student and senior in the Haas School of Business, is the founder of Bear Founders, a platform to connect individual startups to resources using a single platform.
“We’re trying to be the red tape that connects everything on campus. Clubs and individual students are brought together at bearfounders.com,” Hammer said.
Open exclusively to Berkeley students, the startup now has more than 2,200 profiles and has seen a 20 to 30 percent increase in users this semester. Students with a berkeley.edu email can sign up and create a profile, including details such as relevant coursework and availability. From there, users can view job openings, message other students and browse Berkeley-based startups.
When Hammer began doing research, he was surprised that a platform like Bear Founders didn’t exist. Most people, he said, were using Facebook. Hammer is also a Fung Fellow — a campus-based fellowship that provides funding for project teams connecting wellness and technology.
Hammer says he prioritizes his work at his startup. He says the experience of working on the startup has been more meaningful than his academics. He hopes to recreate and establish the model for Bear Founders at as many campuses as possible. He says the startup is already in touch with five other schools.
Though Hammer says he thinks that UC Berkeley is more “robust” in terms of the resources available to students involved in startups, he said he feels that other campuses are catching up.
“There’s a wave of entrepreneurship across campuses, and I think they’ll follow in Cal’s footsteps,” Hammer said.