Business Startups Venture

Berkeley SkyDeck Ramps Up with New Fund and Digs

Fresh off of closing an oversubscribed $24 million venture fund, the University of California at Berkeley’s accelerator SkyDeck ­is working to become a revenue-generator for the university while investing in companies from all over the world.

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Although the accelerator recently closed on the fund, it’s no stranger to startups. More than 300 companies have gone through Berkeley SkyDeck’s program since its inception in 2012 – having received non-equity assistance. Its recently launched venture arm – The Berkeley SkyDeck Fund – has started investing in startups by putting $100,000 in each company participating in the accelerator program.

The accelerator has had some notable startups in recent cohorts – namely Lime, the scooter and bike rental company recently valued at $1 billion; Kiwi Campus, which is building robots for last-mile delivery; and Chirp Microsystems, which was recently acquired by Japan’s TDK.

SkyDeck’s model is a departure from most university accelerators in that rather than take money from Berkeley, it plans to give some back. The fact that the fund will actually pay UC Berkeley is unique, according to Caroline Winnett, executive director of Berkeley SkyDeck.

Image provided by SkyDeck

The fund will share 50 percent of the management company’s profits with the university. Other higher education institutions operate under different models in which the accelerators are largely funded by the universities. SkyDeck gets no funding from the university or from donors, according to Winnett. Its investors include major VCs such as Sequoia Capital, Mayfield, Canvas Ventures, and Sierra Ventures.

Looking ahead, Winnett is aiming to build a $100 million fund in coming years.

Entrance criteria for cohort companies are that they are a startup with high-growth potential that could provide a venture return.

“This could be a very talented team, a scientific discovery, a technological breakthrough,” Winnett said. ”We look first at all Berkeley-founded companies  – where founders are student, faculty, alum, staff – very closely. We also accept founders affiliated with UCSF, Lawrence Berkeley Lab, and global founders. Global founders are any non-US resident, either here or overseas, that want to launch their company in the US.”

Previous cohort participants include startups from countries such as India, Australia, Japan, Korea, Russia, Poland, Argentina, France, Germany, Armenia, Mexico, China, Scotland and Canada.

SkyDeck gets its name from the fact that it sits atop the tallest building in Berkeley in a penthouse overlooking the UC Berkeley campus. Launched in 2012 as a workspace for startups, the accelerator also recently took over an additional floor of the building to provide office space for its growing community of startups as well as room for mentors, other advisors, and visiting investors. With the two floors, SkyDeck now occupies 22,000 square feet.

Besides funds, the accelerator also offers startups access to the university’s fabrication facilities, computing resources, and lab space in addition to connections with more than 130 advisors from the research and business communities of UC Berkeley. It’s a joint program of the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, the College of Engineering, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research.

Illustration Credit: Li Anne Dias