Ep. #1157 - Academia and Startup Synergy
In this Startup Hustle episode, Lauren Conaway and Caroline Winnett, Executive Director at Berkeley SkyDeck discuss academia and startup synergy. Listen as they talk about how SkyDeck married innovation and infrastructure successfully at UC Berkeley. Caroline reveals how the world of academia connects with the startup ecosystem. They also discuss how SkyDeck helps founders connect with advisors and funding startups.
Covered In This Episode
The biggest challenge for early-stage startups is to address the chicken-egg of investor funding. Berkeley Skydeck is a startup accelerator that helps early-stage companies get off the ground.
Located at UC Berkeley, Caroline Winnet describes how Berkeley Skydeck promotes the unique marriage of innovation and infrastructure. It provides founders access to advisors, mentors, and funding to help them build their businesses.
Lauren and Caroline discuss moonshot thinking, encouraging founders to think big and not fear failure. This is reflected in the vibe at Skydeck, which Caroline describes as “vibrant and excited.” It focuses on startup ecosystem building, connecting founders with other entrepreneurs, investors, and mentors in the Bay Area. They also touch on Caroline’s role in this model of success, the future of SkyDeck, and more.
Early-stage founders can benefit significantly from this Startup Hustle episode. Jump in on this Startup Hustle conversation now.
- What is Berkeley Skydeck, and how does it work? (1:31)
- The unique marriage of innovation and infrastructure at UC Berkeley (5:18)
- The Venn diagram between academia and startup world (7:37)
- The vibe at Berkeley SkyDeck (10:21)
- Failure is not an option mindset (13:01)
- How Berkeley Skydeck fosters comfort with discomfort (14:43)
- Connecting founders to advisors (19:30)
- Finding money to fund startups (21:00)
- Moonshot thinking (26:28)
- Caroline’s role in creating this new model of success (30:10)
- The mission and purpose of SkyDeck (33:41)
- The future of Berkely SkyDeck (38:42)
- Startup ecosystem building (40:28)
- What is the weirdest thing Caroline has ever eaten? (42:21)
In the Venn diagram between academia and the startup world, there’s quite a bit of overlap because people are essentially doing the same thing, which is pushing the frontiers of knowledge and solve problems. So it’s it that the academics are at the beginning of that process, where they’re asking the questions that can lead to the innovations, and the startups are at the end of that process where let’s take that great knowledge and let’s implement it, let’s bring it to the world. And that translation from knowledge and research into solving problems in the world through a startup is something that Berkeley has intentionally made happen very, very, very smoothly. So you know, Silicon Valley, it exists because it was surrounded by a university, right? It’s no accident. Silicon Valley didn’t pop up somewhere where there weren’t any students or faculty.– Caroline Winnett
I believe that founders and entrepreneurs are absolutely problem solvers. That is the foundation of who we are. When people are like, who are entrepreneurs? I’m like problem solvers at our core. But at the same time, so many of us. We’re game changers. We’re changemakers. We’re world leaders, you know it when it comes to that innovative thought.– Lauren Conaway
So if you’re an entrepreneur, and you’re not doggedly determined to bring your idea to the world, no matter how, right? You might pivot. You might, you know, fail your business model, but you’re not going to fail changing the world. And those are the entrepreneurs that succeed. You have to have that absolutely bulldog will not stop at anything, mindset to succeed.– Caroline Winnett
One of the reasons that I love accelerator programs, incubator programs, like I love the support that they offer entrepreneurs, for sure. But I know that as an entrepreneur, myself, and you know, as a founder, that like, sometimes it’s a very lonely feeling. And so being able to even just see that other people are experiencing some of the things, seeing things that you experienced, like that, can be really powerful.– Lauren Conaway
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Following is an auto-generated text transcript of this episode. Apologies for any errors!
Lauren Conaway 00:01
And we are back. Thank you for joining us for yet another episode of the Startup Hustle podcast. I’m your host Lauren Conaway, founder and CEO of InnovateHer KC. And today’s episode of Startup Hustle is powered by FullScale.io. Hiring software developers is difficult, but Full Scale can help you build a software team quickly and affordably. And they have the platform to help you manage that team. Visit FullScale.io or check out the show notes to learn more. All right, friends. So we have with us today, someone that I always get really, really excited to speak to women in the venture capital space. It’s not something that we see often enough. And our guest today Caroline Winnett is Executive Director of Berkeley SkyDeck. Just a storied that leader within the startup space, named in Forbes is a Top Five US University Accelerator SkyDeck. They offer hands on mentorship, and they have a lot of resources. They’re associated with academia. And I just think it’s so neat to hear about this initiative. And so Caroline, I’m so glad to have you here on the show. Thank you for being with us.
Caroline Winnett 01:14
It’s my pleasure to be here, Lauren. Yeah.
Lauren Conaway 01:17
Well, let’s, let’s go ahead and kick right into it. So I’m gonna ask you, you know, tell us about your journey. Tell us about Berkeley SkyDeck. Just fill us in, who is Caroline Winnett? That’s actually what I want to know. Who’s Caroline Winnett?
Caroline Winnett 01:31
All right, we’ll start we’ll start. Well, let me quickly say what Berkeley SkyDeck is, because it’s, it’s very cool, and very unusual. So startup accelerator and incubator are quite a large program, hosting between our four programs about 200, over 200 startups per year. Yeah.
Lauren Conaway 01:56
I don’t know if I knew that. That’s incredible.
Caroline Winnett 01:58
Yeah, it’s more like 250. A lot, right. And we have a dedicated Venture Fund, which we’ll talk about, because that’s exceptionally cool. Sure. And we move very fast. And we move our companies very fast and all that, however, and this is what’s unexpected. We are a UC Berkeley program. We’re not a separate organization partnering with Berkeley, we’re not affiliated with Berkeley, we are UC Berkeley. And that is the key to the magic of SkyDeck. I need to talk more about that?
Lauren Conaway 02:32
So let me let I’m going to interject here because one of the things that I find most interesting about Berkeley SkyDeck is that piece. And I’m going to be very honest with you, Caroline, when I think of academia when I think of universities, but I don’t necessarily think of innovative cutting edge leading thought around around innovation and startups. Is that kind of the typical, I guess, reaction that people have when you talk about this program of UC Berkeley?
Caroline Winnett 03:06
Yes, all the time. We get that all the time. I’ll say what I just said about SkyDeck being a Berkeley program, and someone will ask, so what’s your relationship with Berkeley? Because it’s so unexpected, right? At Berkeley, we are known for pioneering new ideas, for questioning the status quo, for being at the bleeding edge of thought. And SkyDeck is an example of that, where the university has created a startup accelerator with everything that that entails and all the frameworks we have around that. But we have kept that within the university. So we are a completely mission-driven organization we are, we are here to find innovative startups that will solve the world’s biggest problems, and tap into what is arguably the world’s biggest expert network. And that is the network of UC Berkeley alums around the world. Do you know how many of us there are?
Lauren Conaway 04:04
I don’t, I’m really curious to hear that. I love numbers, bring it on.
Caroline Winnett 04:09
512,000 of us, wow, you’re on the world, and generally pretty accomplished people, right? Who have their own networks. So if we added the networks of that network, in fact, that would be a fun study to do. It’s, it’s in the many millions of people and when we reach out to them, and we identify our startup as belonging to a Berkeley program, and helping Berkeley and I’ll tell you about the secret sauce we have, that the alumni network gets excited. How can I help? How can I participate in this this this great program that will not only help support startups, which is a really cool and fun thing to do. People really like to do that, but also help the university help this this wonderful public institution called UC Berkeley. So we’re not just getting people excited who are Berkeley alums. But we get lots of people excited. Yeah, who are maybe alums of some other university, but but recognize that we’re trying to do something that’s much larger than just finding startups and helping them? It’s.
Lauren Conaway 05:18
So let me let me tell you, I’m going to, I’m going to tell tell on myself just a little bit. But when I was deciding on colleges and applying to colleges, and trying to figure out like that next part in my life, I actually, I did a campus visit at UC Berkeley, because I just loved hearing about how innovative it was, and how, yeah, you tend to attract people who are at the cutting edge and the interest that intersection of innovation and infrastructure, which is so interesting, because that’s what I feel like maybe the academic piece brings, like you have backing and you have programs, and you have students who are who can be dedicated to R&D, and you have just a lot of potential for collaboration and shared resources in a university environment. But with that very, again, innovative kind of entrepreneurial mindset related to SkyDeck, is that what you’re finding that there’s this kind of really unique marriage of innovation versus Innis infrastructure?
Caroline Winnett 06:25
Yes, absolutely. And so we talked about the giant talent network that’s outside the university, the half a million of us Berkeley alums. But in addition, we tap into the on campus talent, 45,000 students, very smart.
Lauren Conaway 06:42
I was counting them in there, too. You have a talent pipeline, a robust one to pull from and you don’t, you don’t often see that, you know, in places that are outside of environments where that kind of innovative thought is fostered. So let me ask you this. One of the things that I find super, super interesting about this partnership partnership, is that like a good it well, it’s not even really a partnership, because it is a program of UC Berkeley. But this marriage, how are you making it work? Talk to us about how you are connecting the startups that represent Berkeley SkyDeck, the part of your portfolio companies, how are you kind of imbuing them with that academic focus, while at the same time helping them to retain what makes them uniquely startup?
Caroline Winnett 07:37
So as it turns out, in the Venn diagram between academia and startup world, there’s quite a bit of overlap, because people are essentially doing the same thing, which is push the frontiers of knowledge and, and solve problems. So it’s it that the academics are at the beginning of that process, where they’re asking the questions that can lead to the to the innovations, and the startups are at the end of that process where let’s take that great knowledge and let’s implement it, let’s bring it to the world. And that that translation from from knowledge and research into solving problems in the world through a startup is something that Berkeley has intentionally made happen very, very, very smoothly. So you know, Silicon Valley, it exists because it was surrounded by a university, right? It’s no accident. Silicon Valley didn’t pop up somewhere where there were there weren’t any students or faculty. It came to be around Stanford, and also near Berkeley, and University of California, San Francisco. This was we were all part of Silicon Valley. But many people don’t realize is Silicon Valley grew up where it was strictly because there were students and faculty there inventing cool stuff. Yeah. The reason Silicon Valley is where it is.
Lauren Conaway 09:04
We see this happen time and time again, where we see concentrated geographic innovation hotspots, innovation districts that are centered around large, large universities, significantly, universities, but in particular, the universities that have like they tend to tend to have that STEM focus have like, yes, one of the things that we’ve noticed in doing top startups episodes, Matt and I always kind of marvel at the fact that when we go to from city to city and we highlight the startups there, there’s always kind of a vibe or concentration. So like for instance here in the Midwest, we are known for AgTech and we’re known as being we have a significant Animal Health Corridor, right? When you go out to Seattle, which is where you know Microsoft is and you know, all of these large tech giants, you we see a lot more like AI very deep tech focus because those are the not only are the was the thought processes that you engage in from day to day, but you also have that talent pipeline that people who are familiar with that technology who are immersed in it. So it’s really interesting. You see, each startup community have its own vibe. And so now I have to I have to ask, what is the vibe of Berkeley SkyDeck?
Caroline Winnett 10:21
I love that question. It is one heck of a vibe. Yeah. I feel a lot of things in my life, including run several startups. And I’ve never been in a place that is more vibrant, more excited, more. Let me see how I can creatively make something be born and go into the world. Then Berkeley Skydeck. And, and it’s, it’s because we are at Berkeley. So that’s a general Berkeley vibe. Right? So part of this great Berkeley vibe, but also
Lauren Conaway 10:58
Definitely has a revolutionary legacy. Like these are, these are not just people who are learned, although they are. These are also people who are kind of shit disturbers. Oh, yeah, exactly. Questioning the status quo interrogating our own biases, like writing, not just academic change, not just innovative change, but also cultural change.
Caroline Winnett 11:22
And personal change, right? How can I develop into someone who can really do something that is unique and meaningful in the world? Yeah, that that is very much part of Berkeley. It’s not, it’s not just let’s go into the lab and tinker around. But let’s go in the lab and tinker around and take that result and make and bring it to the world? And have it really make a change that is for good. This is Berkeley and that just perfectly is the startup ethos.
Lauren Conaway 11:50
Yeah, for sure. Because we’re not just I believe that founders and entrepreneurs are absolutely problem solvers. That is the foundation of who we are. When people are like, who are entrepreneurs? I’m like problem solvers at our core. But at the same time, so many of us. We’re game changers. We’re changemakers. We’re world leaders, you know it when it comes to that innovative thought. And I think it actually kind of, actually, I’m going to ask you, so one of the reasons that I think that’s the case is because I think about the entrepreneurial mindset, which is very much a in addition to being a problem solver, you’re all set, you have to be creative, resourceful, you have to be so dang persistent that people think you’re an idiot. And I mean, and so so you have all of this, these ethos, and all of these ethics and all of these traits, kind of coalescing in these individuals. And so it stands to reason that, in addition to that problem solving piece, like, we we have the lens to make great systemic deep world change, right?
Caroline Winnett 13:01
Yes. And you you have to push really hard to get over one of the world’s most powerful forces, which is inertia. So even though you have a great idea, and a great solution, and a great team and a great technology, you hit up against that wall of inertia, and you really gotta push. So I’m glad you brought that topic up. Because I have with me, my favorite mug, which has the saying that I think embodies one of the most in character, important characteristics. And it’s the NASA slogan,
Lauren Conaway 13:34
Failure is not an option. That is a great mug, by the way.
Caroline Winnett 13:39
Fail. So if you’re an entrepreneur, and you’re not doggedly determined to bring your idea to the world, no matter how, right, you might pivot. You might, you know, fail your business model, but you’re not going to fail changing the world. And those are the entrepreneurs that succeed, you have to have that. Absolutely bulldog will not stop at anything, mindset to succeed.
Lauren Conaway 14:05
Yeah, well, is there so I’m gonna recall that that Thomas Edison gem, you know, I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. And I think that’s just a reframing of exactly what you’re talking about. The fact is, I have not failed, failure is not an option. Failure is an opportunity, and we just kind of need to change our relationship to it. Right? So how does Berkeley Skydeck foster that, that comfort with discomfort, that ability to accept failure as a stepping stone? How do you foster that within with the companies that you work with?
Caroline Winnett 14:43
Yeah, so so most important, you you set up a program like SkyDeck with people who have been through that themselves. So most of us at SkyDeck, including myself, have been through the entrepreneurial journey. And then very important to gather like minded people. So the one of the most important things we do is have a space full of entrepreneurs who are all up there pushing against that giant wall of inertia. And they, they support each other, they see each other, they see each other, fighting those same fights and and creating those same solutions is critical for humans to feel like, I am part of a group of people. And we’re all trying to do this together. Here’s my problem today, let me go back to this vendor over there might be in a totally different industry, but we have we have similar challenges. So, they they feel empowered. And they can learn from each other. That’s very, very important.
Lauren Conaway 15:39
Yeah. Well, and I love that because so you were talking about the commonality that you’re finding, and one of the reasons that I love accelerator programs, incubator programs, like I love the the support that they offer entrepreneurs, for sure. But I know that as an entrepreneur, myself, and you know, as a founder that like sometimes it’s a very lonely feeling. And so being able to even just see that other people are experiencing some of the things, seeing things that you experienced, like that can be really powerful. However, the real reason that I actually love this geographic proximity of founders, I love it, because because of the differences, because when you are talking to people who have no conception of what you’re doing, I mean, as a founder, you’re in it every day, you’re looking very close. And you tend to look very granularly at a problem, right? Sometimes having people who are familiar with your journey, but not the minutiae of what you do can offer a whole new perspective, that new lens on what you’re doing. And so like, I’ll give you, one of the examples, friends that I can think of is, you know, a whole bunch of archaeologist found a bone and it had 28 tick marks on it. And all of these archaeologists were looking at this bone, and they were trying to figure out what it was used for, and they couldn’t figure it out, couldn’t figure it out. And finally, they invited a woman historian to come and take a look. And this woman was like, well, it’s 28 days, they were counting menstrual cycles. And what you needed was you needed that woman’s perspective to come in and introduce a whole totally, totally new concept based on their own experience and their own their own lens. Right? And I feel like so often, that’s what incubators, accelerators, like, the so often, that’s what they do they offer you the opportunity to see what you’re doing through somebody else’s lens.
Caroline Winnett 17:33
Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, one of the most important things we do is we, we simply connect our founders to our advisor network. So we have about 500 volunteers, many of them Berkeley alums, but some of them not awesome, volunteered to support our startups pro bono while they’re in the program. And that matching process is at the core of what we do, because you’re, you’re a young company, right, and you need someone to get to know your company, and give you that perspective and track you during the six months, they’re in our program. And so we spend a lot of time making sure you, this founder that needs to know something connects with this expert who knows that or has some kind of experience. And that’s one of the most important jobs that an accelerator does. It’s very, it’s very, it’s a lot of manual labor, you must know the startups, you must know the founders, and you must know your network. And it’s not something you can build quickly. And it’s not something you can build without a sense of purpose. Right? So we have a very powerful sense of purpose at SkyDeck. Because we are Berkeley, and so that, as I mentioned earlier, gets everybody excited. And so we can tap into these, we have extraordinary advisors who have been themselves very successful entrepreneurs who are, who are executives at very large tech companies, and they sit down with our companies and and guide them.
Lauren Conaway 19:02
Yeah. Well, that’s incredible. So when you are, when you’re trying to kind of throw these people together and encourage these bonds and relationships, what are what kind of secret sauce are you looking for? You said secret sauce? And we’re gonna come to that? Because I don’t know if what I’m asking you is what you were talking about. Like, what kind of methodology or what kind of synergies are you looking for when you’re looking to connect your founders with this outside community who can support them?
Caroline Winnett 19:30
Yeah. So let me talk to you about how we do it and what we’re looking for. So how we do it is a lot of speed dating at the beginning of the program, right? Just a lot. Organize sessions where we pre select advisors and startups to meet with each other. They do a brief meeting. There’s eight of those for our our cohorts. So a lot of that, but at the end of that process, there’s a two sided matching where the startups say, Hey, these are the top Top Five advisors, I want to work with an advisor say these are the top five, five startups I want to work with. There’s a lot of overlap, we match them. So it’s a very labor intensive process, and yields a great set of matched three key advisors with our startups. Yeah. What the what we tell the startups to look for is one of two things, someone who’s an expert in your industry and can provide great connections really good deep expertise. Someone who’s been through the startup journey, who can just generally help you with that process. And someone and these can be three different people or combinations, someone who’s just really excited about you and your company. They are going to cheerlead you, who’s going to tell you what you need to know, very bluntly, when you need to know it, someone who’s really going to support you. Yeah. And so they get a nice mix. Let me tell you about our secret sauce, because that is a very important point.
Lauren Conaway 20:56
I need to know. Yeah, you’re very elite here.
Caroline Winnett 21:00
Yeah, we gotta get there. Okay, here it is. So as a Berkeley program, the University of California at Berkeley doesn’t do venture capital. Right. So when I first got to SkyDeck, I said, Hey, we, we need to fund startups, if we’re going to accelerate them, let’s start a seed fund. And the university cannot do that because of how we’re set up as a public university. Okay, fine. So I had to get creative problem, of course you did. Right constraints create new new solutions. I found somebody and I said, Hey, Shawn, he was one of our advisors. And I thought he was the right guy. I said, Shawn, I want you to start a venture capital fund. Invest in all the startups in our accelerator track. And I want you to donate half of the fund profits back to UC Berkeley. And he said, Oh, that sounds fun. That sounds like a little part-time fun, you know, little, little baby fun. Get some Cal alums to give us some money, you know, go Bears. So, it blew up in the best way. Everybody got excited. The fund quickly, quickly morphed into a serious Seed Fund. Fund one was closed at $23 million. started investing in the program. Fund two when that was raised fun one results. Were looking so good, that fund two closed at 60 million. Wow. So instead of Shawn and just doing something part-time, he now has a team of six people. And we’re just getting started, right?
Lauren Conaway 22:43
I love that so much because it speaks to another journey and the entrepreneurial way where it’s like sometimes the because this is what happened with me an innovator sometimes it’s not even so much an idea as it is the universe just smacking you in the face and saying like, Hey, this is the thing you’re supposed to pay attention to.
Caroline Winnett 23:02
Yeah, you’re it’s coming at you.
Lauren Conaway 23:04
Yeah, no, I love it. It’s kind of like a freight train. But like in the best way possible, right? No, I love that so much it well. And you’re absolutely right. So so the other day I was on social media. And one of my favorite founders, she’s a very dear friend of mine. Her name is Karla McKinney. And she’s writing. She is a woman of color. And she often shares about her journey in finding venture capital funding. And I think we all know that it’s really, really hard for women of color to find funding as a startup founder. So she’s posting on LinkedIn, I want to say, and she said something along the lines of, you have to stop giving us access to capital, you actually have to start giving us capital. At some point, people just have to give us money. And I’m like, you know, that’s true. And I love the fact that you were so cognizant of that, like, hey, if we’re gonna give all of these startups tools that they need to succeed, but the resources that they need to thrive, one of the things that we also have to do is give them the number one barrier, and the number one challenge in being a startup founder, which is finding money to fund it. Right? Like it was that kind of the thought process that you were running through.
Caroline Winnett 24:21
Exactly. And, and university, you know, to their, our credit, you know, yeah, there was there was no model for this, right? So for sure, we had a heck of a lot of discussions with lawyers, too. And they had to think of a lot of creative solutions to set this up. So that it fit with our public university, not for profit, regulations and status, which we did. And, and we’re off and running. And so, you know, now when, you know, I mentioned we call these Berkeley alums and we say, hey, you know, can you talk to a startup and here’s, here’s what we say, if we have a startup and by the way, the founder didn’t necessarily go to Berkeley, we draw founders from all over the world, right? So under some area, any country imaginable. And we say, Hey, here’s a startup. Will you talk to them? By the way, if they succeed Berkeley benefits financially.
Lauren Conaway 25:17
Caroline Winnett 25:18
People love that.
Lauren Conaway 25:19
Caroline Winnett 25:20
They love that. How can I can help Berkeley just with my time?
Lauren Conaway 25:23
Well, and your kind of turning the the typical academia, one of the academia funding models on its ear, because you, we talked so much about donors from universities, but in reality, you have removed the middleman. Sort of?
Caroline Winnett 25:40
It’s an entirely new model for funding education. And it’s not so on Berkeley campus alone, several other what we call carry share funds. So, you know, the fund profits are called carry. And so there are a number of other funds have popped up. And I think we now have about 250 million under management around the different funds. SkyDeck fund is about 85 million and the other funds, you know, add up to about 250 million all sharing carry. And imagine what will happen when we get to a billion in assets under management, management, sharing carry. And so this is what what we like to say this is our moonshot, right? Our slogan is, you know, we’re visionaries take flight. Bring us your moonshots.
Lauren Conaway 26:27
Moonshot thinking. For our global listeners, really quickly, moonshot thinking is the kind of big ideas and like the really scary intimidating, like the crazy things, right, crazy ideas that nobody thinks that you can pull off. But when you pull them off, they are so wildly satisfying, and so change making and there’s so much potential. So that’s what moonshot thinking is. Really quickly, I want to introduce you all to some other moonshot thinkers. And I’m going to talk to you a little bit about Full Scale, finding expert software developers doesn’t have to be difficult, especially when you visit FullScale.io, where you can build a software team quickly and affordably. Use the Full Scale platform to define your technical needs, and then see what available developers testers and leaders are ready to join your team. Check out the show notes or visit FullScale.io to learn more. Now, friends, we are here today with Caroline Winnett, the Executive Director of Berkeley SkyDeck. And we were talking about how Berkeley has kind of changed a piece of their funding model on its ear. And at the same time found a way to meaningfully support startup founders and support that innovation ecosystem, which is really, really different for universities. And and I love to see it and I mean, honestly, I’m just like, I really want to reach out to some of our big anchor institutions and be like, Hey, see what they’re doing? Can we try it? Maybe. But you know, you’re leading this, this groundbreaking thing. So So talk to us about how you change? Did you have to change hearts and minds? Or did Berkeley buy in automatically right from the very beginning?
Caroline Winnett 28:10
So, we were delighted to see that there was a great deal of enthusiasm and positive positivity tivity towards SkyDeck. And what we’re trying to do, and the attitude was, we got to figure out this disagreement with the Socratic fund, we’ve never done that before. SkyDeck is doing different things. You’re taking founders who didn’t go to Berkeley, you know, a lot lot of things we have to figure out. And, and they did. And I give a lot of credit to our administration, our legal team who worked very hard to figure out a way from SkyDeck to exist within our university guidelines. Yeah, do what we want to do. And then after SkyDeck, I would say we were at the start of this big blue wave, right? Yes, the Blue Wave Blue and Gold wave, I would say for Berkeley colors. And so we really helped kick off a giant transformation at Berkeley, which is underway, in which as we talked about earlier, the the university has has transitioned from, we create discoveries, someone comes and takes them and brings them into the world, right? That’s traditional academia. We’re just in the lab coming up with these great, great discoveries, to we’re taking those great discoveries, and we’re gonna bring them to the world, right? So the number of acts of entrepreneur programs has exploded at Berkeley. SkyDeck is has has grown massively in the eight years I’ve been there. Investors are coming to set up all these carry share funds. As I mentioned, the city is now saying we are intentionally helping to translate those brilliant discoveries from our labs and the minds of our of our students and faculty to the world. That’s a whole different way of approaching innovation, that Berkeley is really pioneering.
Lauren Conaway 30:09
I love it. And how how do you fit in? What do you how do you see your role in creating this very new, somewhat disruptive model of success? I mean, you’ve already proven it. You had one fund that did so well that you fund it a second, you’ve already seen returns. So So your doing the damn thing. It’s working. Talk to us about how you, Caroline Winett have been able to help lead this, this change or this cause?
Caroline Winnett 30:42
So I think what I have personally done is really brought this this purpose mindset. So I’m a Cal alum myself, I got an MBA from Berkeley,
Lauren Conaway 30:53
Caroline Winnett 30:56
My whole family is Berkeley, right? My parents went to Berkeley, my brother and my cousin. My first two husbands, two of my children. My, my next husband, my fiancee, he didn’t go to Berkeley but his twins both graduated from Berkeley. So he’s
Lauren Conaway 31:13
so I feel like you have a type would you say that you have a type Caroline?
Caroline Winnett 31:20
And, and you know a little bit about my story. My first career was professional concert violinist. I, that was my undergraduate degree from a conservatory. So I, I, I loved being a violinist, but I realized that I wanted to be a hobby, not a profession. So I said, well, I’ll apply to business school because I love business I love you know, my father was an entrepreneur, my grandfather was an entrepreneur. And I thought, well, I love the idea of starting a company. Yeah, I applied to Berkeley. I had zero business experience. Zero. And this was back in the day when it was pretty much a hard and fast rule that you couldn’t get into a business school program unless you had at least two or three years of business experience. But I applied anyway. And I got in. And I, after I got in, I went to the director of admissions, and I said, I’m really glad you let me in. But why did you show that her daughter was a violinist? And she said, I knew if you could get through that brutal conservatory program that you graduated from, that you had the discipline to tackle the MBA program. So Berkeley took Chancellor’s it
Lauren Conaway 32:34
So it was transferable skills. Because Because here’s the, I imagine, I’m just going to put words right into that admissions officers mouth and just say, like, Hey, you can teach theory, you can teach practice, but what you can’t teach is that I mean, a concert, you have to have so much discipline, you have to practice you have to you well, and you have to eat. That’s right, failure is not an option, because all eyes are on you. And so often, it’s just you making notes. And so you have to be perfect in your execution. Right? And so and so I imagine that that’s, that’s what they saw. That is so interesting to me. Yes. Very cool. By the way.
Caroline Winnett 33:22
It those skills did transfer for sure. And that’s helped me in my search for entrepreneurs is looking for those skills as well. And they may not have
Lauren Conaway 33:32
to conservatory isn’t just started knocking on doors like, hey, hey, if you’re at all interested in business, do I have something for you?
Caroline Winnett 33:41
So I think I bring that sense of, you know, this is a bigger mission. Yeah. You know, my, my goal, in addition to I just love what I do I love working with founders is that I want to support Berkeley. And I think I, you know, I help communicate that that mission and purpose. The other thing that SkyDeck does, as it turns out, we do we do something that the university already does, and what is that UC Berkeley attracts talent from all over the world to come and study and, and research at our university? Yeah, similarly, SkyDeck, as I mentioned, is open to founders, not just from Berkeley, or the other UC campuses, but our accelerator track is open to founders from anywhere in the world. So we attract the talent and and that that’s where the lawyers had to get to work, you know, to make sure that we could do that while still fulfilling our public education mission, which, which we do. And that that is a big innovation, to be a university program, and support founders to bring their talent from outside the US and come to the US and launch their ideas.
Lauren Conaway 34:50
Yeah. Well, and I think that that speaks to an understanding of the global economy like I know of so many I guess business institutions like startups don’t tend to think this way. Startups tend to think like, I’m going to find talent wherever I can find talent, if you can build it, I want to work with you kind of deal. But I feel like a lot of more staid and institutional, late, large scale corporations, they sometimes hesitate with like h1 views and views, like it becomes a sticky entanglement that they don’t want to deal with. And but the fact is, like, if we are thinking in terms of a global economy, we need to be supporting and we need to be bringing the best thinkers like there’s this almost xenophobic, like, keep them out. And it’s like, if you’re thinking long term, and you’re thinking how technology has made our world so much smaller, and if we need to compete on a global marketplace, you’re going to court the best comers, like it doesn’t matter where they come from, as long as they are forward. Rational like thinkers, you know, that you like the logicians in the the technologists and the the moonshot thinkers, like, as far as I’m concerned, bring them all in. Right? Do you feel the same? I don’t know I struggle with that sometimes hadn’t have had to say that.
Caroline Winnett 36:08
Exactly. That’s what universities have done. Yeah, we’re very long time is is bringing the cutting edge thinkers to gather in a place with like minded individuals.
Lauren Conaway 36:19
Yeah, amazing things can happen. Exactly. Well, so So talk to me. I’m really curious, as you have unfolded and shepherded this new funding model, and this new program for Berkeley, and a kind of new way of looking at startup investment. Have you had other universities reach out to you and just be like, Hey, how do we do this? What can we replicate?
Caroline Winnett 36:45
All the time. All the time. Yes, regularly, we get questions from, from large major research universities to smaller universities, all the time.I probably, personally talk to, you know, 10 to 20 a year who are asking us that question. We’re happy to share details. Yeah, we’re public university. Knowledge is not hidden behind.
Lauren Conaway 37:13
You’re not into gatekeeping. And I love that.
Caroline Winnett 37:16
And this model for funding education, is very powerful. Not every university can do it the exact way we’re doing it, because not every university is located in a gigantic center of, of investment known as Silicon Valley. Right. But all universities, I believe, can do some version of it that works for them. And as we all know, education is in dire need of funding. And if, if we can bring together venture capital and education and combine them, I think we can really massively increase the funding that will go to education, while benefiting the startup world at the same time.
Lauren Conaway 37:59
Yeah, well, increasing deal flow, which is what we like, that’s what we as founders, that’s what we want to see all the time. I mean, the fact is, we need to cultivate multiple channels to find funding, whether it be Angel venture, like, whatever that funding looks like, we have to be creating strong deal flow. And so you’re just you’re adding a to a really, really important piece of funding for startup founders. It’s so impressive. Talk to us about I want to hear what do you think the future looks like for Berkeley SkyDeck. You know, we’ve talked about kind of where you’re at and what you’re building, and it’s phenomenal. But what are you building to?
Caroline Winnett 38:42
Yeah, that’s a great question. So we think big, we think global.
Lauren Conaway 38:47
Caroline Winnett 38:49
We have a dual mission. And both of these parts of these mission are critical. One is we want to be the world’s top global accelerator. No qualifications, not top university accelerator, just top global accelerator.
Lauren Conaway 39:03
Caroline Winnett 39:04
And equally important. We support the public education mission of UC Berkeley. So we are going to continue to make our program better and better and better so that founders want to come to our program. And we’re now looking at international expansion. So we’re thinking there deal flow centers around the world, there are powerful markets around the world. Yeah, maybe we should bring SkyDeck to other continents. So we are first experiment. We have SkyDeck in Europe. And we’re looking at maybe someday there’ll be a SkyDeck on every continent, maybe not and Arctica probably not.
Lauren Conaway 39:46
We have to find a way to find the polar outposts.
Caroline Winnett 39:50
Yeah. Interns. So we’re trying that because, you know, you mentioned the critical word earlier, and that’s ecosystem. Yeah, so startups are like, small little seedlings, you have to bury them and plant them in very fertile ground where they can root and take hold. And there’s several places around the world where that can happen. So perhaps someday we will have a scattered campus on each continent, we’ll see. But we continue to make the Berkeley program absolutely the best in the world.
Lauren Conaway 40:28
Well, it’s there, I will absolutely cross my fingers for that. Because it because that’s what I want to see to like, I don’t even know if you know this. But on my LinkedIn profile, like, one of the things that I’m an ecosystem-building evangelist, because we just had, for those of you who I have literally said that people are like, are you talking about like rain forests? And I’m like, No, not exactly. You know, what we’re talking about is we’re talking about a comprehensive view of community. The fact is, entrepreneurs do not exist in a vacuum. And as Caroline said, you know, you have a you have your startups, which are the little seedlings that you need to nurture, and foster and grow. But around those little seedlings, you have investors, you have clients, and customers and brand advocates, you have city, regional governments and civic organizations that can put policies in place that make it easier to do business, like, you have all of these really important stakeholders, that all have to work together in concert. And in historically, they have been very siloed. But we have to figure out a way as ecosystem builders to bring all of those components together, and help them work together, effectively, efficiently, and powerfully. And so when we talk about ecosystem building, that’s what we’re talking about. And so I love the fact, like, academic stakeholders are a big piece of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. That’s where we get our learners and our talent and the folks who can do our tech and do our research and design and like, you know, that’s where we get those forward thinkers that suddenly become startup founders. And so you know, you’re doing, you’re doing incredible work. And I love what you’re doing. Now, I have to ask you the human question, because we’ve actually gone over time, I’ve been so interested in this conversation. But I’m going to ask you, what is the weirdest thing you have ever eaten?
Caroline Winnett 42:21
Oh, I love that. Frog. Probably. You mean not all the bugs and mosquitoes and worms that I actually, accidentally…
Lauren Conaway 42:31
I’m thinking the stuff that you ate intentionally? Yeah.
Caroline Winnett 42:39
So I went to China some years ago, and the food in China. I remember every meal. But I did have a little trouble. I started eating something. I didn’t know what it was. I couldn’t tell by looking at it. It was you know, was chopped up into pieces. And tasted kind of like chicken. I said, Oh, what am I eating? And they said it was snake. So I think I had a little trouble going forward after that. So I’d say I would say snake in China was the most unusual thing.
Lauren Conaway 43:16
Yeah. So I used to, I used to work for Boeing. And when I worked there, I worked out of their leadership center. And every Wednesday they had in the employee cafeteria, they hit game night. So they would just serve like stuff. I feel very ethnocentric, saying weird. And I think maybe I want to change my phrasing now. Because like, the fact is, you know, it’s not necessarily weird. It’s just not stuff that’s commonly on American menus, you know, but that being said, I got to try a lot of stuff there. The weirdest thing I actually ever ate. It’s the weirdest thing I ever drank. Actually, it was my 21st birthday. And I worked at a bar. And above the bar, there was this giant, this giant, like, decanter, filled with what it is, I cannot describe as anything other than like pickled reptiles. And you can’t even necessarily see all of them. But it was apparently Saki and it was like several 100 years old and somebody had brought it to the guy who owns the bars and my 21st birthday. We crack it open. And they were like, are you really going to try it? I was, like, it’s my 21st birthday. I’m really going to try it and it was the most noxious, terrible, awful thing I’ve ever put in my face. It was so gross, but I do not regret it.
Lauren Conaway 43:31
Well, I will say one thing that tastes delicious that I discovered in China, chicken feet. Oh, they’re delicious.
Lauren Conaway 44:35
Texture thing for me. I’ve definitely tried them. They’re very chewy though.
Caroline Winnett 44:39
I love it. I love…
Lauren Conaway 44:41
Do you think that you can get them in? Like when you go to dim some places and like interesting late, okay, I like that. And I like that. You’re an adventurous eater. Thank you. Thank you for that. And thank you for taking the time to be with us on the show today, Caroline. It’s been great, Lauren. Yeah, and friends, you know definitely want to invite you keep on coming back. But first things first, let’s talk one more time about today’s episode sponsor. If you need to hire software engineers, testers or leaders Full Scale can help. They have the people in the platform to help you build and manage a team of experts. When you visit FullScale.io. All you need to do is answer a few questions and then let the platform match you up with fully vetted, highly experienced software engineers, testers and leaders. At Full Scale, they specialize in building long term teams that work only for you learn more when you visit FullScale.io. Check out the show notes for a link. And friends, I also want to invite you to let us know what you think you can find us on social media, just check Startup Hustle, we’ve got a Facebook page, LinkedIn page, all that stuff. But I just want to remind you that we do this for you. We want to tell the stories of founders and we want to talk about the things that you want to hear about the things that you need to learn. So reach out to us, let us know. You can go to StartupHustle.xyz or check the show notes to suggest a guest and I invite you to do that I also invite you to keep on coming back. We love that you listen to us week after week. We’re very very grateful for you and we will catch you next time.