Becoming an entrepreneur is often seen as something you either have a knack for or don’t rather than a skill that can be learned. Through the Berkeley-Haas Entrepreneurship Program, Rhonda Shrader, executive director, wants to help students learn to become entrepreneurs through leadership and educational opportunities across disciplines.

From Humble Beginnings

Shrader has firsthand experience when it comes to entrepreneurship and integrating this thinking into everyday life. She’s been a founder or early member of several startups in everything from biotech to retail businesses!

While she may have gotten her first step up in the world through her work with startups, she began her college career as a pre-med student. Throughout her time at Harvard, she worked four jobs, one of which later became the basis for a startup at MIT. Starting these businesses and hustling her way through college gave her an itch for entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking. Instead of returning to the lab for another four years of training, Shrader sought out ways to get into the world and begin helping people in the here and now.

Haas Becomes Home

While Shrader could see and visualize the science side of her startup, there was some finessing that needed to be done on the business side. To solve the problem, she enrolled in the MBA program at Haas where the dedicated and intentional focus of the professors caught her eye.

Professors in the program took time to talk to students and Shrader saw this as a hugely valuable part of the student experience and community. This first experience with intentional professors has colored her worldview and pushed her to be invested in the student community through her position at Haas today.

Entrepreneurship at Haas at the time that Shrader joined the program was taught through going into the class and leaving with a massive business plan. Since Shrader had been part of multiple startups, she knew from the beginning that those detailed and well-thought-out business plans tended to change almost immediately.

Instead of focusing her studies on entrepreneurship as a class, Shrader took classes in strategy and operations and game theory which changed her view of the world. By taking classes in things that she didn’t inherently understand, Shrader found her focus shifting and changing to better adapt to the ever-changing world of entrepreneurship.

Consult, Recruit, Repeat

Once she finished classes, Shrader became a consultant and worked with a boutique health care firm. Besides consulting during this time, she also worked within the realm of recruiting.

Her first assignment in this new venture was a women’s and children’s hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii. This was where her experience gave her the drive to work at specialty health care practices, especially children’s hospitals. Her next assignment in Minneapolis reaffirmed this desire and helped shape her overarching view of healthcare as a business as well as a community service.

These consulting jobs, especially with the move to Minneapolis, helped Shrader develop a process and ideology when it comes to streamlining the business of healthcare. While healthcare and hospitals offer a service, Shrader and her team worked hard to continue making rational decisions that benefitted the people being served and the hospital’s businesses’ interests.

Shrader realized not long into her time consulting in healthcare, that choices within individual institutions needed to be driven by overarching policy. Investing in technology for simple things like keeping patient records became a driving force for her work at Haas in commercializing the technology.

Student of Haas to Teacher at Haas

Like any good entrepreneur, Shrader saw a problem and developed a solution! The problem: students at Haas wanted to be part of a program called Lean Launchpad but there was only one class offered in the spring and each student needed an idea and a team.

There was an abundance of IP at UC Berkley with patents being filed and Shrader saw a way to combine the Lean methodology with the IP that was coming out of the labs. Within the past few years the new program that Shrader developed partnered with the office of naval research and the NSA to let students learn the Lean Launchpad method around their unclassified patents.

The class and program became known as Lean Transfer since the IP is transferred into the lean canvas model and then a new business is built around it by the students. Even if you have the best technology, the market may not care or other solutions are still satisfactory but the Lean Transfer class that Shrader teaches builds out a business model to get this new technology into the right hands.

The program started in the engineering department and was run by Shrader and a venture capitalist friend for several years and offered to students for free. Haas picked up the program last year and has been offering it in the fall for any interested students.

Solving Real World Problems: Haas Entrepreneurship Program and I-Corps

Entrepreneurship Program

Shrader’s drive to create real solutions to problems in business and science has brought her to a new venture. She and other teachers are currently running an entrepreneurship program at Haas where they direct 2200 students.

While the program is run through the student community at Haas, there is no funding from the institution. Shrader and her fellow teachers and program devotees are in the process of fundraising so they can create an endowment and hire more staff.

Six years ago when Shrader first came to the program, there were few real-world opportunities for anyone interested in entrepreneurship. Classes and clubs were offered but nothing spanned across all four programs and not everyone could participate. With Shrader’s program, students, faculty, and alumni all have the opportunity to put their ideas and business strategies to the test.

The program is open to anyone in the UC and this year has a lot of alum teams, proving to many that learning and growing don’t end when you leave college! To help facilitate learning and growing, the entrepreneurship program offers Mentor Hours for anyone looking to bend the ear of someone already in the industry.

For any alumni who aren’t part of the program yet, Shrader is always looking to leverage the expertise and advice of others. Alumni are invited to be part of the Mentor Hours program and share as much or as little time as they can to help others learn and grow.


Shrader and her teammate from Adeeba Fazil work with the National Science Foundation to create I-Corps at Haas. Through the National Science Foundation, I-Corps was given the grant to help train people in STEM tech to commercialize and expand their business effectively.

During their time in the program, students go through a basic course taught three evenings a month. This class requires that each participant goes through 15 customer discovery interviews which Shrader has seen in past experiences, shows whether someone is interested within that segment.

Once you complete this first program and you have an academic connection, you can graduate up to the national program which is seven weeks long, offers over a hundred interviews, and participants will receive a $50,000 grant for customer discovery. Alumni from Haas are encouraged by Shrader to apply to either be part of the teams or act as mentors for others.

Get Involved!

Alumni are a vital part of all the work Shrader is doing in both the entrepreneurship program and I-Corps.

While the programs are open to all students, faculty, and alumni, alumni have a unique opportunity to become mentors and help share their knowledge with the next generation of entrepreneurs. Alumni are also encouraged to donate to both programs to help continue the work that Shrader has begun.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

A program on its own isn’t nearly as effective as one with plenty of partners. Entrepreneurs are constantly on the hunt for quality partners and teammates who can help make their dream a reality.

Shrader has been working with and cultivating partnerships for years and when she speaks to students and teams about building up those partners and teams she focuses on the benefits to each party involved. Both parties need to see some risks and benefits when starting with a new enterprise.

When seeking out partners for her programs, Shrader is all about the benefits for the students. She saw a problem and went out of her way to solve it, creating practical programs for students in the process. The same thing applies to finding business partners. When you’re partnering with someone, you want to match the passion for passion according to Shrader and find someone as obsessed with the problem as you are.

Passion and Problem Solving Make the Student the Teacher

Rhonda Shrader has always had a passion for problem-solving and when confronted with unique issues, she’s always ready to think outside of the box when creating a solution. From her time in the MBA program to teaching and leading her entrepreneurship program at Haas, Shrader has sought out quality partners to make her ideas a reality.

But knowing about the programs is only half of the battle. Sharing your own experiences with entrepreneurship by commenting or speaking out about what you’ve learned is an excellent way to continue fostering quality community engagement. Shrader has been focusing on creating this community in person and continuing it online! By sharing your personal experiences, you may find yourself resonating with others and impacting students for the future!

You can learn more about Shrader and her programs at Haas by checking out her podcast episode!

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