Berkeley for startups: Perfect or brain drain in action?

Berkeley has a world-class university in its midst. How does that impact the startup culture in the city? Photo: Tracey Taylor

A year ago, then-UC Berkeley visiting professor and startup guru Vivek Wadhwa stood before an audience at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse and said Berkeley was a natural location for tech startups — given a few “easy fixes”.

“Berkeley is teeming with brilliant people and brilliant professors. It has the culture, the risk takers and the brains — it just needs an epicenter for start-ups like Silicon Valley has,” he said.

Last month, however, responding to newly released employment figures, Wadhwa told the Bay Citizen that Berkeley had created an atmosphere “so toxic” to business that Cal graduates were moving away after school. “The area’s economic survival is at stake,” he said, citing a brain drain running from the East Bay to San Francisco and the South Bay. Wadhwa himself moved from Berkeley to Silicon Valley to be closer to the action he cares about.

So which is it? Technology is more than computers and software, of course. The East Bay is stronger in biotech and renewable energy. And how would you classify Pixar, in neighboring Emeryville, which is still growing strongly?


Speaking via email to Berkeleyside today, Wadhwa said: “I still believe Berkeley has tremendous potential, but I have seen little progress on making it more entrepreneur friendly. If they have done something, even I haven’t heard about it — and that is probably the case for everyone else in South Bay.”

Vivek Wadhwa: speaks of Berkeley as the ideal spot for startups, with some "easy fixes"

There are tech businesses opening up in Berkeley. The Berkeley Cluster Group, a town-gown initiative to foster startups in Berkeley which organized the talk at which Wadhwa spoke last March, reports that it has signed up around 10 startups for its Berkeley Skydeck incubator-accelerator, which is due to have its official launch later this month.

And non-tech startups are happening in Berkeley all the time: you only need to read Berkeleyside’s weekly Shop Talk column to see the wealth of entrepreneurs — be it coffee purveyors, barbers or bike shop owners — banking on Berkeley to provide them with sustainable livelihoods.

The Berkeleyside Local Business Forum: Startup Berkeley, which takes place on the evening of Monday March 5th, will address these questions — and many more. Its focus will be on improving the climate of innovation and entrepreneurialism in Berkeley.

Panelists include:


• David Hyman, founder and CEO of streaming music service MOG
• June Taylor, founder and CEO of jam maker The Still Room
• Judith Iglehart, chief of staff for Mayor of Berkeley
• Will Wright, creator of The Sims and founder of Stupid Fun Club
• Rauly Butler, senior VP Retail Banking for Mechanics Bank.

We invite you to join the conversation.

The Berkeleyside Local Business Forum 2012 is organized in partnership with Mechanics Bank, and is sponsored by GreenerPrinter. Updates on the Forum will be posted regularly on the Startup Berkeley Forum Facebook page and on Twitter (#BerkForum).

When: Monday March 5th, 7:00- 9:00 pm. Doors open at 6:00 pm (plenty of time before and after for networking).
Where: Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, 2020 Addison Street in downtown Berkeley. Refreshments, including beer and wine, available to purchase.
Tickets: $10 ($5 for students and seniors), available through Brown Paper Tickets.

Related:
Berkeley Mayor’s Chief of Staff joins Startup Forum panel
[02.08.12] 
Announcing: Berkeleyside Local Business Forum 2012: Startup Berkeley [02.07.12]

Five steps to make Berkeley a high-tech Mecca [03.13.11]