By Josh Ephraim
To those familiar with the Berkeley startup ecosystem, this post, and this site, won’t come as a surprise at all. Berkeley should be a center for innovation that overshadows Stanford. Not the other way around. I think this view makes me a huge homer and I’m okay with that, Go Bears! But the facts are self-evident. Berkeley has everything it needs to eclipse Stanford and any other college campus. We have the best entrepreneurs, technology, and startups. The fact that we as a university and as a city aren’t there yet still surprises most newcomers to the startup scene here in Berkeley, and it’s frankly still shocking to me.
The bright side is that this means there is huge opportunity in Berkeley. The problems that plague Berkeley’s startup ecosystem are fixable. We have the talent and the resources. Mainly what’s missing is the capital. Venture capitalists on Sand Hill Road and elsewhere are focused on opportunities coming out of Silicon Valley and maybe SF, but once they see those markets as tapped or too competitive, many or most start flying to other countries like China or Israel to look for new opportunities, even though Berkeley is teeming with opportunities right in their backyard. The VCs aren’t stupid though. They are hoping to be as efficient as possible, and Berkeley is a confusing market and therefore for most VC’s it is not an efficient use of time to decipher. The Berkeley startups that do get funded are the ones that get out of Berkeley to raise money.
I believe that by making Berkeley more penetrable for investors, it will in turn improve the environment for entrepreneurs and improve the overall ecosystem. There are over 50 programs for entrepreneurs and startups in Berkeley that I’m aware of. If an investor comes to campus, the likelihood that he will be able to find the best startups are astronomically low. As I’ve discussed this issue with leaders on campus, many have attempted to solve the problem by creating another conference or another incubator or accelerator. Maybe the hope is to become the Berkeley Y Combinator of sorts. The place everyone knows has the best startups. That would solve the problem. But it doesn’t seem to be happening. Pejman Mar Ventures has seen this opportunity and started a venture competition which is basically saying to the Berkeley startup community, “We can’t figure you out, so please just come to us and we’ll try to figure it out.” This website might be just another website in the mess of the Berkeley startup ecosystem but I hope it can be at minimum a place for people to start mapping out, deconstruct, and comprehend the elaborate startup ecosystem in Berkeley.