Introducing Free Ventures’ Batch IX & Startup Trends at UC Berkeley

Each semester the brightest UC Berkeley student founders apply to Free Ventures to bring their dissertation research, side projects, or innovative products to market. As the only non-profit student-run incubator on campus we aren’t pressed for returns or exits. Instead, we spend our full time cultivating relationships with top undergraduate and graduate student groups, and craft highly individualized paths for founders with the support of top venture capitalists, resource partners, founders, and thought leaders from the Valley. In so doing, we make entrepreneurship accessible to Berkeley students of all backgrounds by empowering them with the support to innovate and build.

By tailoring our batch program to founders across industries and academic background — ranging from undergraduates to MBAs and PhD researchers, with engineering, the liberal arts, and other disciplines represented — Free Ventures fosters a unique range of perspectives in each batch. This shines through when our companies collaborate over the course of our 3-month program and beyond, and is duly reflected in the wide diversity of partners, investors, and thought leaders from the Valley that engage with our program and founders.

Consequently, since our founding four short years ago we have helped our 46 alumni teams raise over $28 million from top firms such as Y Combinator, Greylock, KPCB, and SVAngel. Collectively they’ve gone on to tackle problems in VR, drones, IoT, neuroscience, AI, real estate, and renewable energy, just to name a few. By many measures, we feel Batch IX is among our best to date, and we are thrilled to be able to share what they are working on.


Free Ventures’ Batch IX

In the process of picking seven companies for Batch IX we reviewed over 50 applications ranging from MBAs and PhDs in robotics and architecture, to undergraduates studying computer science and bioengineering. As a result of Free Ventures’ strong visibility and relationships across UC Berkeley’s colleges, we found an increasing diversity and range of traction among our applicants, making this one of our most competitive pools of founders to date. Each presented compelling solutions to customer pain-points found in industries including healthcare, housing, journalism, consumer media, entertainment, cryptocurrency, EdTech, and investment management. This followed the trend in recent batches towards tackling solutions in hard-science disciplines such as robotics, healthcare, machine learning/AI, and blockchain — ostensibly due to increasing demand from industry and prevalence in coursework and research on campus — in addition to more niche plays technology has as of yet overlooked, such as pockets within the entertainment, EdTech, and investing industries.

To offer more flavor on the top early-stage startups from UC Berkeley, below is a short introduction to each team in Batch IX:

Onederful: Onederful ​provides ​real-time ​eligibility ​and ​benefits ​checks ​connected ​to ​over ​240+ insurance ​payers ​for ​dental ​offices. ​The ​most ​common ​way ​for ​front ​offices ​to ​determine reimbursement ​rates ​and ​patient ​coverage ​is ​to ​phone ​the ​insurance ​company. ​About ​7% ​of revenue ​loss ​is ​due ​to ​denied ​claims ​caused ​by ​eligibility ​errors. ​We ​have ​also ​created ​an eligibility ​API ​allowing ​other ​dental ​software ​companies ​to ​easily ​integrate ​eligibility verification ​into ​their ​services. Onederful is currently live in over thirty dental office and working with several dental software companies to distribute the onederful API.
Datashark: Datashark is a platform where companies can buy data from people like you. We’re disrupting Big Data with a simple vision for how people should buy data. Customer companies are able to target the segments of data they want, building a unique dataset and therefore a competitive advantage. Transactions are secure and anonymous, without having to go through any middleman. All data is consistently formatted, and we perform quality assurance with machine learning.
Fiat ​Lux ​Labs: Timely ​and ​accurate ​diagnosis ​of ​cancers ​is ​crucial ​for ​prevention ​and ​mitigation ​of ​cancer progress. ​D-Luciferin ​is ​a ​non-toxic, ​light ​emitting ​chemical ​that ​generates ​a ​sensitive ​and selective ​luminescence ​signal ​in ​the ​presence ​of ​key ​biomarkers ​of ​ovarian, ​cervical, ​and ​liver cancer. ​The ​current ​method ​of ​D-Luciferin ​production ​uses ​costly ​reagents ​in ​an ​energy intensive ​process ​that ​results ​in ​extremely ​low ​yields ​of ​under ​3%. ​Fiat ​Lux ​Labs ​is ​generating a ​novel ​biochemical ​process ​using ​sugar, ​grains, ​and ​yeast ​to ​cut ​the ​high ​cost ​of ​D-Luciferin by ​nearly ​70% ​($175 ​to ​$52).
Bungalo: Bungalo ​is ​a ​web ​platform ​with ​the ​aim ​of ​providing ​students ​with ​a ​simple ​and ​secure ​way to ​search ​for ​housing ​and ​subletters, ​as ​well ​as ​establish ​trust ​in ​Berkeley’s ​college ​housing market. ​Our product ​addresses ​many ​pain ​points ​that ​characterize ​the ​current housing search experience. ​First, ​users ​will ​be ​able ​to ​quickly ​search ​and ​filter ​listings based ​on ​user ​criteria ​including ​amenities, ​gender ​preference, ​and ​property ​type. ​Second, people ​can ​search ​for ​housing ​with ​friends ​and ​add ​listings ​to ​a ​shared ​“wishlist.” ​Third, users ​will ​get ​notified ​when ​new ​listings ​that ​fit ​their ​criteria ​are ​posted.
GenesisX: The ​prosthetics ​industry ​is ​full ​of ​top-of-the-line ​prosthetics ​that ​cost ​a ​small ​fortune ​to low-income ​amputees. ​Our ​team ​is ​setting ​out ​to ​build ​general-purpose ​low-cost myoelectric ​prosthetics ​that ​these ​amputees ​can ​afford. ​We ​have ​won ​our ​first ​contract ​for ​a non-profit ​called ​ROMP ​(Range ​of ​Motion ​Project) ​and ​are ​currently ​working ​to ​deliver ​a low-cost ​prosthetic ​elbow ​to ​an ​amputee ​in ​Ecuador.
RehaPal: RehaPal is developing ​a ​humanoid ​robot ​that ​performs ​automated ​passive ​and ​active ​medical rehabilitation services for post-stroke patients, as ​well ​as ​others ​who ​require ​physical/occupational ​therapy. This solution eliminates the need for highly manual and expensive work while drastically increasing the quality of care, thereby enabling physical therapists to improve productivity, reduce costs, and provide better care. Founders Ray Chen and Jowy Tani are visiting postdoctoral scholars in the Berkeley Artificial Intelligence Research (BAIR) Lab and Ruzena Bajcsy’s Robotics Lab, and are collectively serial entrepreneurs in the medical device space, holders of numerous patents, and bring a blend of neurology and robotics expertise through their studies and past work.
VentureFolder: VentureFolder ​is ​a ​lightweight ​software ​service ​that helps commercial real estate investors manage deal flow, discover new investments, and track returns. Our goal is to be the source of truth that every CRE investment firm depends on to operate and manage a successful investment enterprise.

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If you would like to speak with any of our founders or support our program as a mentor, resource partner, or sponsor, please reach out to to us at omkar_salpekar@freeventures.org.