Cameron Baradar in The House. (Photo courtesy The House)

Welcome to The House

Cameron Baradar (B.S.’15 EECS) is throwing open the doors to The House, a new 7,000-square-foot startup institute right across the street from campus on Bancroft Avenue, in what was once Copy Central and then the Cal Student Store.

Baradar is looking to harness the attention and energy surrounding the entrepreneurial aspirations of Berkeley’s students, faculty and alumni in what is often called around campus the “innovation ecosystem.”

The ecosystem is expansive, but by no means exhaustive: Campus-based startup culture is supported across different scales, from large institutional programs, such as the recently announced UC Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative, to annual grant-making competitions like Big Ideas. For engineers in particular, innovation and entrepreneurship are supported by the growth of centers and programs including SkyDeck, the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, the CITRIS Invention Lab and Foundry, the Fung Institute, the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, and the new Management, Entrepreneurship, & Technology (M.E.T.) academic program, to name a few.

The House sees itself as a backbone for the emerging infrastructure. “It’s ultimately our job to provide founders with what they need, when they need it, to be successful,” Baradar says. “We are not just building another startup accelerator. We want to better enable the stuff that already exists.”

“The energy, network and resources that Cameron and The House bring to Berkeley are changing the landscape of entrepreneurship at Cal,” says EECS professor Scott Shenker, a successful entrepreneur who currently mentors Baradar and his colleagues. “They are bringing together the best resources and building a pathway of support for founders at all stages — whether it’s one of my students or a serial entrepreneur — to be successful. Berkeley has been waiting for this.”

One of the programs under its umbrella is The House Fund, which is a legally independent, but affiliated, $6 million venture fund managed by fellow Berkeley alum Jeremy Fiance (B.A.’14 Interdisciplinary Studies). To achieve sustainability, the fund will support The House with a substantial portion of its returns.

Explaining the launch of The House Fund in an April Medium post, Fiance outlined why focusing on Berkeley-born businesses makes sense: “There are eight accelerator programs focused on specific stages and vertical industries, over 40 clubs across engineering, design and entrepreneurship, two entrepreneurship centers, a design institute, a maker space, the world’s largest-ever collegiate hackathon and much more.”

Baradar recently worked with a team from UC President Janet Napolitano’s office to advocate in Sacramento for more state support of UC-based innovation infrastructure. Their efforts resulted in recently passed legislation, AB 2664, that earmarks $22 million for all 10 UC campuses to support university-based entrepreneurship.

“Cameron was an enthusiastic and invaluable member of the team that got legislative funding of UC’s innovation and entrepreneurship efforts,” says Napolitano. “His same enthusiasm has led to the launch of The House at Berkeley. We are happy to work with The House to foster even more innovation and entrepreneurial activity within the UC system.”

Although not officially linked to the university, The House is organizing itself around students, faculty and alumni. “We are focused on the 50,000 people across the street,” Baradar says. “There is a strong need to develop a new type of institution at the intersection of universities and startups to better enable university students and researchers to bring innovation to the market.”

In addition to working with The House Fund and managing a space for entrepreneurs to gather and work, The House is also launching two initiatives — The House Founders, which will support students interested in developing an idea into a company, and The House Residency, which will support existing startups as they grow into a sustainable venture.

One of the startups in their program is Indoor Reality, an indoor mapping company founded by EECS professor Avideh Zakhor. “The House is without a doubt the most impactful development for Berkeley entrepreneurship in a very long time,” says Zakhor, who previously sold a company to Google. “The House has been able to provide me and Indoor Reality with game-changing support in building the foundations for this new business.”

The House is new, yet the concept of increasing access to and visibility of Berkeley’s entrepreneurship community is a well-worn path for both Baradar and Fiance. While still students, they co-founded a startup support system called Free Ventures, along with fellow Berkeley alumni Sam Kirschner (B.A ’14 Statistics) and Kirtan Upadhyaya (B.A.’15 Molecular and Cell Biology).   

Free Ventures helped launch student startups such as Lily Robotics and Instant eSports and demonstrated that timing and access were key to success for young companies. And they found, despite a growing number of campus-based innovation-focused programs, no clear roadmap on how to navigate the whole system.

“Lily Robots is a great case study,” Baradar says. “They came to us with a drawing of a flying camera that they wanted to build. We put them through Free Ventures. After that, we helped them get space in SkyDeck. And after they left SkyDeck, we cut them a $20,000 check through the Dorm Room Fund. Years later, we are invested in their Series A and still actively advise the company.”

“And we have more students and alumni than any other university who are creating this magnitude of startups — last year, Cal startups raised $4.1 billion in venture capital. We’re trying to imagine what’s possible if we can efficiently activate the entire Cal community to support the next generation of startups. Needless to say, we’re incredibly excited about the future. ”