At just 21, Rahul Ramakrishnan is a co-founder and the COO of Iota Labs. The startup, which makes IoT devices, has already scored $100,000 in angel investment, giving it a valuation of about $2 million. Iota's flagship hardware product, a connected sensor for smartphones called Dot, has raised $115,401 from more than 1,700 backers on Kickstarter.
That's just his side job. Ramakrishnan is also a senior at U.C. Berkeley, where he studies electrical engineering and computer science. "The thing about Berkeley is that the resources are kind of hidden," he says. "As a freshman, I had no clue that we had four on-campus accelerators, or that they were creating a multimillion-dollar fund just for U.C. Berkeley startups."
According to a recent study from PitchBook, the California-based public university has produced as many as 997 entrepreneurs since 2006. Collectively, they've started 881 companies (including Cloudera and Zynga), and raised as much as $14.2 billion in funding.
The report, called "Universities Report," ranks the top 50 schools that have produced the most VC-backed entrepreneurs. Berkeley came in at No. 2 behind Stanford University this year, though it ranked No. 1 for serial founders.
"Berkeley has long enjoyed a unique relationship by geographic proximity to the center of venture capital, and that enables more tight relationships," explains Garrett Black, a senior analyst with PitchBook, of the results.
To get a larger sample size, the research team looked at the companies started between 2006 and 2016. Previously, it had considered only companies launched after 2010, which partly contributed to the rise in serial entrepreneurs detected this year. It's also worth noting that in the fall of 2014, Berkeley enrolled nearly 30,000 undergraduates, a number much larger than its private counterparts. Stanford, by contrast, currently has 7,000 undergraduates, while Harvard (No. 4) and the University of Pennsylvania (No. 5) count 6,700 and 9,726, respectively.
On-campus resources abound
Ramarkishnan says he's benefited greatly from resources like Venture Strategy Solutions, a student-run consulting group that works with tech startups, like T-Spring and Fieldwire, to provide strategic consulting services to entrepreneurs.
"Being in this organization and seeing the executives struggle with their businesses has really helped me learn a lot," he says. "It directly ties into how I got started in creating my own startups."
Other resources include LAUNCH, an accelerator program, as well as grants of up to $5,000 from the Dean's startup fund. The school further encourages entrepreneurship through student competitions and clubs, including the global social venture competition. Iota Labs recently won a $30,000 seed investment through the Foundry, a hardware focused on-campus accelerator.
Networking opportunities across Silicon Valley
Through the school, Ramakrishnan had the opportunity to connect with partners at the renowned Mountain View startup incubator Y Combinator. A conversation with investor Sam Altman, for example, led the entrepreneur to change the way he was marketing his product.
"He helped us shape the product a little bit," he says. "He encouraged us to change how we're attacking the problem and the solution."
It certainly helps budding entrepreneurs that Berkeley is located near high-profile venture capital firms including Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, and Benchmark Capital.
A "scrappy" environment
For Ted Hong, a co-founder of business courier service Dropoff who helped launch actress Sarah Michelle Gellar's Foodstirs, Berkeley simulated the environment of a startup. The anonymity afforded by the sheer size of the school, he says, forced him to think like an entrepreneur.
"You definitely have to be a do-er to survive the large nature of the school. It's not for the faint of heart," says Hong. As the child of immigrants, Hong says, this environment was one that he could relate to.
"It makes you scrappy," he adds.