Trends in Cal Student Startups

Every semester, the team at Free Ventures reviews numerous applications from student startup teams to join our semester-long batch. Our process brings in applications from across the campus in different majors ranging from biology to computer science to political economy, to different education levels ranging from undergraduate students to MBAs to PhDs, giving us a unique and holistic view into what Cal entrepreneurs are working on.

We saw interesting trends within our Spring 2016 pool and wanted to share some common themes we observed, namely in the on-demand economy, travel, artificial intelligence, and other industries so far untapped by students.

Several teams who applied to Free Ventures this semester focused on the on-demand economy. We find that this is a popular issue to tackle, especially amongst college students, because solving this problem requires a certain level of time commitment to task completion and logistics — a level of commitment some college students are willing to put in the time for. As our world becomes more automated and integrated with technology, it will be interesting for us to see which tasks are taken over by technology solutions (i.e. doing laundry, buying groceries, shopping for clothing etc).

College students travel a lot and as students are traveling more and more, they are recognizing opportunities to build solutions and work on challenges within the travel space. We feel this is probably due to increasing “wanderlust” amongst students and students traveling on a budget, looking for creative, yet affordable ways, to experience traveling. Current college students are also the first generation to have access to the app economy and consequently think real-world services should have an app to facilitate their use. Therefore, we saw several teams who tackled issues related to discovery (with an emphasis on discovering and experiencing authentic culture) and coordinating logistics while traveling in both the pre-trip and trip phases.

One of the most interesting trends we’ve observed this Spring is an increasing number of artificial intelligence and machine learning companies in Berkeley. This trend matches the growing focus the tech world is taking on bots and AI, as seen with products like Facebook M, Hello Alfred, and Assist. In Berkeley specifically, we saw a platform to make machine learning accessible to everyone, an artificial intelligence to manage your home, and a slew of other bot companies. We’re really excited to see how this space grows and develops over the next year.

Another unique perspective we observed was the application of technology to industries untouched by tech. Several startup platforms in Berkeley are working to alleviate problems in sectors including beer brewing, special education, and more. Rather than solving general problems, these products are hyper-focused on their niche areas and this gives them a crucial first mover advantage. This trend seems to be a result of students having a unique perspective on these “hidden” industries.

We at Free Ventures are excited to see the shift in which problems students are tackling as they become more aware of emerging technology trends in the Bay Area. On a larger scale, within the past three years, we have noticed students have been working less on student-oriented problems (like homework, navigating campus etc, finding new organizations, etc.) to more global and industry-wide issues.

Free Ventures has seen over 200 teams apply to our program in the last 3 years, and every semester the quality of the companies increases. Every Free Ventures team has and will continue to solve meaningful problems, and this is something we pride ourselves on. Come check out our Spring 2016 batch at The Free Ventures Demo Day on May 2nd from 7–8pm at Banatao Auditorium in Berkeley, California.

This article was written by Jasmine Stoy and Amrit Ayalur.

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Free Ventures is a student-run startup incubator for Cal entrepreneurs that provides mentorship, resources, needs-based funding, community and class-units to those in our program. We envision a world where Berkeley students spend less time on class projects and more time on building tools that create a positive impact on people’s lives and the world.