The Free Ventures Method
We are Free Ventures
We are a launchpad for ambitious, talented entrepreneurs to build and scale startups. The Free Ventures program opens doors for students looking to affect positive and sustainable technological change. Leveraging our developed relationships with top undergraduate and graduate student groups, each semester the brightest UC Berkeley student founders apply to Free Ventures to bring their dissertation research, side projects, or innovative product to market. Throughout our semester-long program we provide guidance from premier mentors and advisors, facilitate lasting relationships between teams and industry leaders, offer dedicated workspace, provide needs-based financial resources and services, and cultivate a community of founders. We do not take equity in our teams and are a certified 501(c)3.
Our position within the Bay Area Ecosystem
We are a program run by students, for students. Our founders have gone on to become Forbes 30 Under 30, build companies that are changing the world, and continue to develop the college startup scene by creating The House. Free Ventures has been an instrumental part of Berkeley’s startup ecosystem in its formative years, helping it to develop into the most robust college startup scene in recent years. In the process we’ve built the most comprehensive pre-seed program for Berkeley startups, tailored to each team’s specific needs and purely pro-bono.
Each day our team actively works with The House, Dorm Room Fund, and other groups to build the strongest community of Berkeley founders, providing startups with a full stack of resources to guide them from ideation to investment. We have helped our 40 alumni teams raise over $25 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, to name a few.
Batch selection methodology
Applicant teams undergo a comprehensive and exhaustive due diligence process before they are selected to participate in the Free Ventures program. We prioritize analysis on four aspects of the teams: product, path to growth, team dynamic, and program fit.
Innovative, impactful, and feasible product
Innovation: What makes the product different than existing alternatives? Why isn’t someone already doing this?
Impact: Does the product creatively, simply, and feasibly address a new problem or provide an improved solution to an existing problem? Where does this product stand within its competitive landscape?
Feasibility: Progress to date? What is the next step with the product evolution? Is there proven product-market fit? Is the technology legitimate and defensible?
Clear path to profitable and scalable growth
Market Size: What is the market size of the opportunity? Does a large market exist for the product/domain? If so, who are the customers?
Demand Validation: Does the team need to demonstrate customer demand within a new sector, or its competitive advantage against existing competitors?
Competitive Advantage: Why would a customer switch from their current solution/option? How will this startup maintain customer engagement? Why would a consumer expend their time to use this product?
Growth Potential: Is there a clear path to market and feasible monetization? Future growth potential? Do unit economics make sense?
Invested and motivated domain experts
Team Qualifications: How does the team know each other? What qualifies each individual on the team to be working on this, specific product? Is there diversity and depth of expertise within team members to properly execute their idea?
Team Motive/Mission: Why are they pursuing this idea, rather than a very similar idea? Does the team understand the implications of the problem that they are solving? Will they continue working as a team even if their product fails?
Healthy Skepticism: Is this team ruthlessly honest about the risk they are taking? Do they have the flexibility to pivot, and will they be able pivot nearly unscathed? Does this team dream big, but also understand the importance of scale and growth?
Compatibility with Free Ventures’ mission
Motivation: What is the team trying to get out of the program? Will this idea thrive within our startup ecosystem?
Our Impact: What is the three-month timeline of what the team can accomplish within the boundaries of our semester-long program? Will the resources and mentors within our program offer the most relevant help to the startup at its given stage?
Moving forward: building a full-stack startup ecosystem for Berkeley founders
As an industry agnostic program within the pre-seed stage, we constantly reflect on our methodology and measure our impact to inform meaningful changes that help our program best meet the needs of our current batch, alumni, and the broader Berkeley startup ecosystem. Each new batch carries with it a unique set of challenges, forcing our program to adjust our mentorship network, workshops, and resource and venture partnerships to deliver the most meaningful program. As we continue to develop relationships across campus and the Valley, we on the Free Ventures team can’t wait to see the great work that will be produced by our founders in future batches.
If you would like to speak with any of our founders or support our program as an investor, mentor, resource partner, or sponsor, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.