Episode #54: Deepak Gupta, an advisor in startups and venture capital in the Career Management Group at Berkeley Haas, joins us today to talk about the Berkeley startup ecosystem.
He shares how the startup ecosystem has evolved throughout the year, where students and alumni can find the resources they need and what they can do in order to build their startup companies and Haas’ mission as a leader in entrepreneurship.
He discusses cross-college collaboration as one of the key resources that students and alumni can tap into and also reaching out to other startup advisors and mentors via CMG/Entrepreneurship Center.
“The goal is to get the skills while you’re at Haas that even 5 years down, 10 years down when you’re ready to start a company, you know where to come, you know what resources you have.”
- Berkeley Begin
- Career Management Group
- CITRIS Foundry
- House VC
- Berkeley Entrepreneurs Association
[00:00:11] Sean: Welcome to the OneHaas Here@Haas podcast. My name is Sean Li and today I’m joined by Deepak Gupta.
[00:00:14] Sean: He is an advisor here in startups at Berkeley Haas, amongst many other things, such as an investor, a VC, a tech enthusiast, and more. Welcome to the podcast, Deepak.
[00:00:24] Deepak Gupta: Thank you, Sean. I appreciate you having me on.
[00:00:27] Sean: Deepak, I personally know you pretty well but can you share with our listeners a little bit more about your background?
[00:00:32] Deepak Gupta: I am passionate about entrepreneurship. I’ve been part of the Berkeley Haas family for the past five years. But you know, I’ve even mentored out in the CITRIS Foundry and Skydeck, so I know the Berkeley entrepreneurship ecosystem pretty well. But before we begin with what’s at Berkeley, just a few words with my own background and where I’m coming from. A typical Asian family that my dad actually migrated to the US in the 1960s. Thank you for the civil rights movement and what happened so that he could come here.
[00:01:07] We actually moved to Virginia and my dad did a lot of work in aerospace engineering. I spent the majority of my time in Virginia. I went to undergrad there as well as did a Masters in the state itself. And, my background actually was also in engineering, at the time bioengineering, but it’s a funny story that when I graduated in engineering, I did not want to do engineering.
[00:01:32] I wanted to do something else in life that I can’t see myself doing this. So, I got lucky one of the research projects that I did while I was doing my masters, someone actually had started a company on that. It was a startup out of John Hopkins doing CPR and trying to mechanically do CPR. So, I basically joined that company. And, within a year we basically lost funding and we had to close the company down. So, here’s this kid in Maryland and without a job. And, it was the mid-nineties at the time. And, I was like, okay, where do I go?
[00:02:15] So I said, huh, might as well move out to California. I had a buddy of mine who also did that from Virginia. So, next thing I know I’m sleeping on his couch, looking for a job, and for the next seven years I did different healthcare startups and I did different roles.
[00:02:32] I went into manufacturing, I did R&D. I also did sales and I did sales for about five years. And, during that time I learned a lot of stuff that I actually deal with issues in people right now. What I tell students that life is a journey of basically one thing after another, you’re always selling, right?
[00:02:57] You’re selling to your wife, you’re selling to your kids. You’re selling to your boss, you’re selling to clients. So, that trait is really important in life.
[00:03:07] So I went into business school thinking I wanted to get into venture capital. The next thing I know when I graduated, it was 2009, probably the worst time to graduate. And, you know, I did on-campus recruiting and all that good stuff and it just turned out to be a nightmare during that year.
[00:03:27] Luckily, I did do a summer internship which landed me a job at a venture debt shop in Palo Alto. And, I was actually lending to big companies at the time, Series C, Series D startups, which we were doing anything from $20 million checks to $40 million checks. Initially, it was in life sciences and then it turned out to be cleantech.
[00:03:54] They’re like, Hey Deepak, you’re a bio guy. You probably can understand cleantech. So, I went to cleantech, and then the last thing I started doing a lot of work in tech. And, in tech, you know, I was fortunate enough to work with companies like Box, Trulia, Ancestry, and writing really big checks at the time. When I left that, I actually joined another venture fund which was corporate venture, and go figure I was a guy in a bio doing a corporate venture for a bank and they hired me as a guy who could do a lot of work in big data and do a lot of work in, you know, payment side. So, I started doing early-stage deals, seed in series A, in that space. And, we were also an LP at 500 startups.
[00:04:45] So, I started working with 500 startups at the time, 2011, 2012, 2013, and during that time I started working with Dave McClure and we were analyzing companies and actually saying, okay, which batch, you know, at that time, accelerators were the rave, right? You had Y Combinator doing very well, 500 and during the second decade, it was more accelerators coming up.
[00:05:11] You know, you had alchemists, you had some other ones popping up here and there. What I really enjoyed was working with early-stage entrepreneurs. Realized that mid and later stage becomes like private equity or growth venture capital but early-stage you really get to shape the entrepreneur.
[00:05:29] You get to understand, you know, where they’re coming from and you understand, okay, why are they doing this, right? We try to see and I’ll talk about what’s currently going on at Haas. But we try to see if an entrepreneur’s coachable and how well can they execute? I think that’s a key in entrepreneurship.
[00:05:51] So, while I was doing corporate venture, I got approached by somebody who is working at Haas. I think he was working with Career Management Group at the time and he was telling me, Hey, CMG is looking for somebody who can come in and just be a mentor to entrepreneurs, to startups, as well as people looking for startup jobs, right. They have a question on seed, Series A, what’s the equity, you know, does this make sense. So, I’m like, why not? Let me actually throw my hat in the ring. And, it was a three-month project in 2014 and they basically wanted to ask students how I was performing. And, thank God I had some incredible reviews that I’m still here six years later. So, it turned out to be a great story in terms of that I started helping a lot of students who are either starting companies as well as just going through the process of finding startups and now even venture capital. Right? If you’re looking for jobs in venture capital or startups, you’re probably talking to me and at least getting my perspective. Everything I really tell students, it’s basically, I’m an opinion of one. And at Haas family, we have so many great mentors and so many great support people. Get as many opinions as you can. So, it’s not just one person telling you, okay, do this but try to make your own educated guess based on as many opinions.
Experience at Haas – Ebb and Flow for Students in Entrepreneurship
[00:07:30] Sean Li: To piggyback off of what you just talked about, in your six years of experience at Haas, I’m really curious to hear what you’ve seen in terms of the evolution of entrepreneurship at Haas,
[00:07:43] Deepak Gupta: I think entrepreneurship when I joined in 2014, 2015, we did have Skydeck, and then we could talk about Skydeck in a minute and how it has evolved, but entrepreneurship in general I see there’s a definite uptake of from 2014 to now. Meaning that even though in 2014 there were students interested in entrepreneurship, I think more and more are now focused on that as the years have gone by. And, we’re not just talking about full-time students. We’re talking about EW students, I even talked to alumni who are 10 years, 20 years outside of Berkeley Haas since they got their MBAs, and they’re like, you know, Deepak, I’m at Google or Cisco or wherever they are, they’re making good money but they’re bored, right? They’re like I need growth Deepak. I’m trying to figure out what is the next step. So, in a way, I have also become a coach, as a mentor, for people who have progressed in their career I could say. But coming back to your original point about entrepreneurship, I’ve seen students who are really committed to starting companies, and based on student loans or whatever the financial situation is, they actually go join a full-time job.
[00:09:03] Whether it’s at Facebook, Google, or wherever, but they don’t give up their entrepreneurship dream. So, they’re still working on their startups on the side and still trying to figure out, okay, what do I need to do to get into Y Combinator? What do I need to do to get a seed round of funding? What are the milestones I should be looking at?
[00:09:22] So, I think in that sense, I have dealt with alumni who graduated in 2015, 2016, that are still coming back to me and asking me those kinds of questions. That’s an incredible story as you see in terms of progression because now the objective is how do I connect people from the past and the present.
[00:09:43] People who are trying to build companies and people who are interested in building companies.
Post Grad Resources
[00:09:47] Sean Li: So, for alumni who are listening, how would you recommend them to go about finding some of these resources at Haas?
[00:09:55] Deepak Gupta: Currently, as you might know, I’m part of the Career Management Group and the alumni are exposed to what’s going on in the career management group. And, I think in terms of resources, either through the alumni office or through CMG, they can definitely contact me. And then I think, unfortunately, it just comes down to the alumni when they are at that mental state, Hey, I need to reach back out to Haas and I need to figure out what is my next career move or what should I be thinking about? And then they go through CMG or they go through the alumni office and they unfortunately or fortunately they stumbled on me and it’s been that way historically. I hope this podcast kind of change that and you know, people know about me and they can say, even they’re thinking about starting companies or they’re just thinking about a career change, startups, whether it’s FinTech or, you know, AI, or whatever, they could actually come out and just talk about it.
[00:10:57] Sean Li: And you know, that’s something I didn’t even think about. That we would have these resources or we’re continuing to have resources post-graduation. Especially, you know, for me, I’m leaving school and there’s a lot of excitement around obviously graduating and potentially connecting with the school and alumni network.
[00:11:18] But I imagine once you’re out of school, you get busy starting your career, working on some idea, and you forget that the school has all these resources to offer still. And it’s amazing to hear that, you know, you are still available as a mentor for alumni who may be interested in starting their own business, joining startups and, um, and just helping us navigate this landscape.
[00:11:41] Deepak Gupta: Absolutely. And, sometimes you forget about what resources you could tap into, right? So, I think I would tell the alumni, even if it’s not me, to go to the Berkeley entrepreneurship center and trying to understand what are the resources from alumni and mentors that they can tap into there as well.
[00:12:03] So, I think for Haas alumni is we want to support throughout your journey and figure out what makes sense for you in terms of your choice.
VC Angle – Alumni as Investors
[00:12:13] Sean Li: Let’s look at the other side of the coin of entrepreneurship now. The VC investor or angel side. And, I bring this up on the alumni podcast because there may be alumni out there listening that are in the later stages of their career, right? They’re established executives. They might be retired. They may be looking for ways to diversify their investments. How can alumni or how can the community help support and foster more entrepreneurship at Berkeley and really provide the proverbial deep pockets for entrepreneurs to be able to pursue what they’re passionate about?
[00:12:51] Deepak Gupta: Absolutely. From an investor standpoint, there are a lot of resources. But if you’re going after investments, there are two reasons you’re going after investments. A, you want a return in your money, right? You want to spend $1 and make $10. Or $5, whatever your investment goal is. Second, you know, you are actually giving back to the university.
[00:13:16] You’re like, I’m an alumnus, I want to help my fellow students, fellow alumni, to figure out what their entrepreneur journey is and am willing to provide mentorship as well as money to get them to achieve their goal. So, there are two sides to the coin. In terms of the entrepreneurs’ system and venture capital since 2013, 2014, it has definitely changed a lot from a VC standpoint. You can see there’s Skydeck, of course, everyone has heard of that, but the CITRIS Foundry also came out in 2013.
[00:13:52] Uh, the house fund or the House VC also came out 2015, 2016. So, you could see all these different funds as well as accelerators actually popping up in the last five to ten years. The critical part is, whenever an alumnus is looking at different avenues, they need to understand, okay, what are the returns and how am I really going to help the students?
[00:14:22] So, in terms of involvement, whether your House or Skydeck or CITRIS Foundry, and I don’t want to forget LAUNCH because that’s very dear to us as well as at Berkeley Haas. But the LAUNCH and the CITRIS Foundry, I seem to find in terms of development, really early. So, these people are coming with an idea and going through an educational process because we are an education institution to develop a startup in a very systematic way to a certain point. And, whatever that point is for some investors, that’s a great point. There’s a team. There’s a product-market fit. Let me go invest right now. For others, they want to see revenue and they want to see some kind of growth. And, that might not be LAUNCH or it could be LAUNCH.
[00:15:12] It could be further up the road, upstream Skydeck or CITRIS Foundry, or House Fund. It is a very broken system. There’s a lot of different pieces on the university. One of my favorite websites is called begin.berkeley.edu. And on this website, you can actually go through and find a lot of the resources and a lot of the, basically, landscape of Berkeley in general and what’s going on in Berkeley as a whole. You can see roadmaps, you can see different classes that are even offered, and you can see the news and events. Things like that. So, in terms of getting an entrepreneur or even alumni, just to see what’s going on at Berkeley, I think it’s a great resource to actually go into begin.berkeley.edu and just understand the landscape, understand what’s going on in general.
Continued Discussion of Resources
[00:16:10] Deepak Gupta: I don’t know who launched this, but this has been run for one year and this is actually an evolution of different websites. There was one started a couple of years ago and we were trying to get a consortium of different players at the university. And, I think that’s still going on in terms of each school, sending a representative, for example, engineering school, computer science school, Haas school, and we get together once a month. And, we’re trying to unite in terms of what we have in entrepreneurship and what’s going on.
[00:16:46] Sean Li: This is amazing that the university put this website together, to show this roadmap, because I think even as having been an entrepreneur myself, I came into school, really not knowing how to navigate all the different resources that are available. It does feel like sometimes it’s a little all over the place because there is Sutardja Center that I heard about.
Haas as a Leader in Entrepreneurship
[00:17:13] Deepak Gupta: Yeah. So, Haas is actually on a mission and I think they’re doing the fundraising currently. I’m not sure where they’re are in their fundraising goal but this could be more towards Dean Harrison and she could probably address this. But the idea is that we are trying to get a building or get some kind of a separate location where we want to build an entrepreneurship center within Haas. And, this center would be exactly how you could think of it, right, where the alumni, where the mentors, where the student entrepreneurs can come in and find resources to actually build startups.
[00:17:56] Right? Whether they go into to Launch, whether they go into to Skydeck, whether they go into Foundry or House VC, Haas is trying to build something that is incredibly strong for entrepreneurship. I mean, you go back in time, you realize entrepreneurship started at Berkeley Haas in 1970. We actually had an educational program for this.
[00:18:19] So it makes sense for us to take leadership in entrepreneurship again and bring something such as what Dean Harrison and the group at Berkeley Haas is thinking is trying to create an ecosystem where students, alumni, as well as anybody interested in entrepreneurship can come and just understand what we’re doing at the business school.
[00:18:45] Sean Li: And, I think what’s interesting is that the business schools should lead this initiative for the rest of the school because we have so many brilliant minds here and sometimes, they need the partnership on the business side. And, you’re absolutely right, this is something that is so critical for Berkeley Haas, you know, because before it was just in my opinion, based on what I’ve seen, it was just, you know, BEA, right, Berkeley Entrepreneurs Association, and that’s run by students. And, because the students are constantly rotating every year, then you are dealing with, at least I was dealing with huge gaps in information because some students one year might be really knowledgeable about the ecosystem here.
[00:19:30] And, then another year maybe not as much and not to anyone’s fault. It’s we need a, as to your point, an established source of truth, almost for entrepreneurship.
Coming Back to Entrepreneurship Part 2
[00:19:43] Deepak Gupta: Yeah. That is something unfortunate. And, that we’re trying to change because I tell my students, whatever you’re getting educated on at Berkeley Haas doesn’t mean that you’re going to go join a startup right after business school or you’re going to start a company right after business school.
[00:20:01] The goal is to get the skills while you’re at Haas that even 5 years down, 10 years down when you’re ready to start a company, you know where to come, you know what resources you have. I think that’s a really important message to give out to our alumni. They need to understand, Hey, we support you throughout your journey.
[00:20:24] And, our objective is to actually help you develop whatever company you’re trying to develop. So, it could be a coffee shop, it could be something that’s small but the idea is it’s yours. It’s an entrepreneurial journey that you have decided to take, right? So, it’s not that you need to create another Facebook but it’s like what skillsets and what resources do I have to make sure my business is successful?
[00:20:52] Deepak Gupta: One great initiative, by the way, we did talk about BEA and I do want to bring something up and we do have the support of just not Haas but other schools as well. We started something called the StEP program and this is pre-LAUNCH, but the idea behind the StEP program is, Hey, you have an idea, you apply to this program, and then we will actually guide you to a certain point where you can learn what is product-market fit?
[00:21:21] What is the pitch deck supposed to look like? What kind of financial terms should I be discussing with when I am raising money, right? So, this is for everybody.
[00:21:33] But again, it’s a resource that we just started about a year and a half ago, which has been a very tremendous success. Even if you see companies that are coming out of a LAUNCH or Skydeck, they might have started in StEP and they’ve gotten to a certain level after they’ve come out of StEP.
[00:21:51] Sean Li: I see, thank you so much for sharing that. I add to that point, what are some other resources, or what advice you can give our listeners?
[00:22:00] Deepak Gupta: You know, one of the other resources that we can provide to our Haas alumni as well as Haas students is maybe look at other schools. And, I think it’s good to look at the CITRIS Foundry, which is based in the engineering school, but even the law school.
[00:22:18] I mean, the law school has done an incredible job in entrepreneurship. And they actually have it on their website, a database of all the startups that have come out of Berkeley, as well as all the resources that are available at Berkeley. So, one is begin.berkeley.edu, which we already spoke about, but the other resource I tell people and, you know, type law Berkeley entrepreneurship in your Google tab and that’s the first website that actually comes up. And, on the right side, if you look at the resources, startup, and database, you can get all the information that, you know, you need and just to help you out for your entrepreneurship journey.
[00:23:03] Deepak Gupta: Yeah. And that’s something that even alumni, I really want you guys to go and look into that because there could be even free legal advice or it could be also, Hey, let me look at stuff in the design club that’s based in the engineering school or whatever, you know, you have free resources that you can tap into, right?
[00:23:27] There’s just so much stuff going on in Berkeley. It’s very important that we collect all this information not just for the current students but for the alumni as well.
Entrepreneurship Mentors via CMG/Entrepreneurship Center
[00:23:39] Sean Li: Deepak, I do have to ask, are you the only entrepreneur advisor, are there other mentors, through CMG, available?
[00:23:50] Sean Li: In case you get overloaded with requests?
[00:23:54] Deepak Gupta: Currently, I’m the only person at CMG that is doing this but I will tell students and alumni to also go to the entrepreneurship center at Haas. I think that’s one of your main gateway as well in terms of entrepreneurship and what’s going on at Berkeley. That program is run by Rhonda Shrader.
[00:24:17] And you could actually get on the mailing list for Rhonda Shrader where every week she says, here mentors that are coming this week to help you through your startup journey. So, I think, you know, having a lot of other resources other than me, is there at Haas.
[00:24:37] I think we just need to figure out, you know, when this alumni or student comes to me, what are they looking for? And sometimes I can direct them to the right resources.
[00:24:48] Sean Li: We covered a lot of stuff. I think begin.berkeley.edu is amazing by the way. I’m so happy to just even find this. I didn’t know about this.
[00:24:58] Deepak Gupta: Well, you’re welcome. I mean, one thing is, our entrepreneurship center is definitely growing. There is a lot of information and we are definitely on level one in terms of helping students, whether you’re through engineering school, Haas school, or law school. Our objective at Haas as well as Berkeley is how to grow entrepreneurship.
[00:25:19] If you see education 5 years down or 10 years down, in 20 years down, I think entrepreneurship is going to be a very major component in this. So, we like to continue and be at the forefront of that.
[00:25:34] Sean Li: Wow. That’s great. I’m excited.
[00:25:38] Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today, Deepak, and sharing all your knowledge and wisdom. If students and alumni want to reach out, please look for a Deepak Gupta through our career management group and book a time with him there. We’ll also link in the episode, some of the resources Deepak shared such as the begin.berkeley.edu website, and also the law school entrepreneurship resources link.
[00:26:02] Thanks again for coming on the podcast and we hope to have you on again soon.
[00:26:06] Deepak Gupta: Thank you. I appreciate it, Sean.
[00:26:07] Sean Li: Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the OneHaas podcast. If you enjoyed our show today, please remember to hit that subscribe or follow button on your favorite podcast player. We’d also really appreciate it if you could give us a five-star rating and review. You can also check out more of our content on our website at Haaspodcasts.org. That’s Podcasts with an S at the end, where you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter and check out some of our other Berkeley Haas podcasts.
[00:26:36] Until next time. Go Bears.