Tag Archives: Berkeley business news

Magoosh: Proof that Berkeley startups can flourish without Silicon Valley

Co-founder of Magoosh. Photo, taken in June 2016: Kelly Sullivan
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To tour Magoosh’s Berkeley offices is to visit the unremarkable. Nestled inside an office building on Milvia Street, the company would be easy to miss if it weren’t for the homemade logo affixed across several windows. Unlike many of Silicon Valley’s hot startups which boast multi-million dollar valuations, lavish perks such as free booze, gyms and electric scooters, Magoosh’s offices are tame — open-plan layout, app-booked conference rooms and a handful of standing desks thrown in, it’s all relatively quiet.

That’s not to say Silicon Valley’s clichés are absent: Apple products abound, there is a game room complete with a ping-pong table and the majority of the employees are young. And Magoosh has taken the Valley’s money — though nowhere near as much of it as many of its peers. And its four founders were once part of the Haas Business School at UC Berkeley, designed to manufacture entrepreneurs, much like Stanford has done historically.

Read more about Berkeley startups on Berkeleyside.

Launched in 2009, Magoosh is in the education business: it creates digital tools that prospective students use to study for standardized tests such as the GRE, GMAT and LSAT. To help students prepare for those tests, the company has built a veritable arsenal of software products that span mobile and desktops. The company touts its relatively inexpensive offerings — for example GRE prep costs $129 for one month of access, or $149 for six months — and says they are about a quarter of the price of those of its competitors. Helped by a free trial to hook prospective customers, Magoosh CEO Bhavin Parikh says the company has captured about 10% of the students who take the GRE and GMAT every year.Continue reading »

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The Institute of Mosaic Art in Berkeley to close Aug. 30

Ilse Cordoni, the owner of the Institute for Mosaic Arts, teaching an andamento class at IMA.  Andamento is the art of laying tiles with a sense of flow and design, rather than just putting broken pieces of glass next to each other. Since this was a one-day class, she taught the class using paper (easier to cut) rather than glass. Photo: Daphne White
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By Daphne White

The Institute of Mosaic Art (IMA), an East Bay institution that is one of the oldest and largest mosaic centers in the U.S., will close its doors on Aug. 30 unless someone steps up to take it over. The school, which has offered classes to more than 1,000 students in the past three years, is a victim of its own success, according to owner, Ilse Cordoni.

“When mosaic artist Laurel True opened IMA in 2005, there were only two mosaic schools in the U.S.: IMA, and the nonprofit Chicago Mosaic School,” said Cordoni, who purchased IMA in 2013. These two schools helped spearhead a mosaic renaissance across the country. “Now that mosaic has become very popular, there are half a dozen mosaic schools in California alone, and many more nationwide. Students no longer need to travel from all over the U.S. to take introductory mosaics in Berkeley.”

Unless a buyer can be found, the school and its associated mosaics store and gallery on Allston Way will close its doors as of Aug. 30, Cordoni said. This announcement has left the East Bay mosaic community reeling.

“IMA has been an enormous part of the mosaic renaissance in Oakland and beyond,” said professional mosaicist Rachel Rodi, whose mosaic career began at IMA when the school first opened. “IMA and its students and teachers have created community murals and public art throughout the Bay Area in places such as the Martin Luther King Middle School, Jefferson Elementary School and Mission Creek in San Francisco.” … Continue reading »

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Shop Talk: Belli Osteria, Collector Art Shop, more

The interior of the now-shuttered Belli Osteria. A new Italian restaurant with a pizza oven will soon open in the space. Photo: Belli Osteria
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BELLI OSTERIA SHUTS DOWN After four years of serving exquisite pasta such as homemade black ravioli, pasta with clams and other Northern Italian fare, Belli Osteria, at 2016 Shattuck Ave., has shut its doors. Paul Oprescu, a Cal alum who majored in American history, opened the gem of the restaurant in Oct. 2012, right next door to the extremely popular Comal. “I had decided, some time ago, to go back to teaching and focus on my personal life, Oprescu told Berkeleyside in an email. He tacked a sign up on the front windows sending his regards to loyal customers. “Thank you for four wonderful years.” Oprescu sold the business to Steven A. Dumain, an Italian-American from New York, and Alessandro Uccelli, an Italian from the northern part of Italy. The pair will open reopen as an Italian restaurant soon with a wood-fired pizza oven, wrote Oprescu. … Continue reading »

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Potter Sarah Kersten: Ceramic pieces tell stories

Sarah Kersten. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
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When Sarah Kersten decided the academic life wasn’t for her, she promised herself she would pursue something equally educational. What she didn’t expect was that inspiration and guidance would come in the form of a fermentation jar. Well, the idea of one. She had yet to create it: the jar became her manifesto.

Since childhood, Kersten has enjoyed having her hands in clay. She had a knack for it, but it was never a core focus in her life. After leaving college and moving to the San Juan islands to work on a lavender farm, she struck up the practice again, finding a renewed satisfaction in the cups she would spin in her free time. Then her friends challenged her to make a fermentation jar — a culinary venture they were all becoming quite fascinated with — and she decided this complex undertaking could be an opportunity for her to make a living.

“I saw that if I could figure out how to make one I would have a lot more skills at the end than I would at the beginning,” Kersten says as we lounge in her spacious West Berkeley studio. It feels a bit like a sanctuary — dried flowers collected on recent hikes dangle from the walls, and leafy indoor plants happily sip up the diffused light that eases lazily into the space. It’s a warm June day and we can hear the kids across the street singing and hollering on the playground.

“I think the most important thing is to keep on going and get through the ‘not great’ phase to reach the end. And you definitely don’t know what that’s going to be when you’re at the beginning. Otherwise you would just start there, right?” … Continue reading »

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Mandy Aftel: A world master of artisan perfume

Mandy Aftel. 6/27/16 Photo: Melati Citrawireja
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Mandy Aftel’s love of perfume is all-encompassing.

This verve is apparent in her immaculate collection of 19th-century books on perfumery that fill the nooks of her workspace in North Berkeley. Or, in the way she tends to her rose garden — plants carefully chosen and imported from Turkey — the petals smelling of winter tangerines, or the most delicate tea. Still, even, in how she slowly, gently uncorks a 100-year-old bottle of vanilla for me to inhale, its notes hauntingly deep, smoky, and complex. There is not a bone in her body that isn’t absolutely enthralled with what she does. This is what makes her so special.

Aftel — now edging into her late 60s — wasn’t always a perfumer. In fact, this career sort of happened by accident. After spending thirty years as a psychotherapist and a writer, Aftel decided she wanted to write a novel about a perfumer, of all things, and signed up for an aromatherapy class to understand a little about the art. What she thought would be a brief educational foray soon became her new favorite thing to do.

“I tend to follow in an artistic way what is deeply meaningful and attractive to me. I fell down a rabbit hole and I haven’t been able to leave,” she says, giving her voluminous ruby-colored hair a tousle. We sit in her perfumery, watching as peachy light seeps in through the windows and dances off her collection of antique perfume bottles that line the sill. “It all seemed familiar to me, like I just could find my way with the materials. It just made sense.” … Continue reading »

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Shop Talk: Mad Monk, Neeko, Serena & Lily, more

The Mad Monk Center for Anachronistic Media. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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MAD MONK CENTER FOR ANACHRONISTIC MEDIA Ken Sarachan’s Mad Monk Center for Anachronistic Media threw open its doors in April after years of construction. The spacious space at 2454 Telegraph Ave. that formerly housed Cody’s Books now holds thousands of used books and LPs (brought from the basement of Rasputin’s down the street). There are no CDs or DVDs, only “analog” media. Thus the name. Sarachan has said he has plans to install a café and music venue in the space, but those elements have not arrived yet. Bookmarks, T-shirts, and book bags are also on the way. … Continue reading »

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Shop Talk: Bodyrok, Hana Holistic, Tea 1 Berkeley

Hana Holistic
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BODYROK Fitness studios Bodyrok had their grand opening May 21 at 1601 University Ave. (at California). The studios, which offer stationary bikes and Pilates reformer machines, offer full body sculpt classes (using a blend of Pilates, cardio and weight training), and a variety of cycle classes. Bodyrok says its approach is to “take a traditional reformer workout and turns it up a notch by adding strength training exercises and high-energy music to keep the heart rate up the entire 40-minute class. Our method includes a greater variety of exercises, longer segments and quicker transitions, resulting in a more intense, sweat fueled, fast-paced Pilates workout.” Berkeley is Bodyrok’s fourth location as it has two in San Francisco and one in Carlsbad. Bodyrok is at 1601 University Ave. (at California). Connect with Bodyrok Fitness on Facebook. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley-based startup sends part-time profs to school

ProfHire xxxxx. Photo: Sarah Gerber
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 This post is part of a series of business stories brought to you by WeWork Berkeley.

One local startup blends what the Bay Area does best: tech and academia.

ProfHire, located in downtown Berkeley at the coworking space WeWork, connects part-time faculty with universities looking to hire them. Co-founder Lesa Hammond developed the idea for the company while working in higher education HR.

“Qualifying, hiring, and on-boarding part-time faculty was problematic,” Hammond said. The process is different than for full-time positions, and often the people in charge of hiring adjuncts don’t vet the candidates sufficiently, she said.

Enter ProfHire, the platform Hammond and Oda ended up creating with technical lead Jonathan Jiang in 2014.

Faculty candidates use the service for free, filling out thorough profiles, including their expertise, interests, teaching philosophies and experience working with diverse populations. They upload their CV, licensure and a sample syllabus. The ProfHire staff vet them by checking references and interviewing them over the phone. They look for retired and working scholars with industry expertise and actively seek diverse candidates, Hammond said. … Continue reading »

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How Quirky is Berkeley? Ace Hardware’s relocation

Quirky Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif. on March 26th, 2016.
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When Berkeley Ace Hardware leaves 2145 University Ave., an era will end. The store closes for the last time in its current location today, Monday. Generation upon generation of Berkeleyans have known and loved Ace Hardware. As it prepares to move to the northwest corner of Milvia and Addison streets (the Tioga Building), I have composed a list of what I love about Berkeley Ace, aside of course from the merchandise. … Continue reading »

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Shop Talk: Huckleberry; architects merger; Hella Yoga

Cutting the ribbon at the grand opening of Huckleberry at 2424 Telegraph Ave. Photo: courtesy Huckleberry
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HUCKLEBERRY BICYCLES Huckleberry Bicycles, which has been on Market Street in San Francisco since 2011, has just opened a second location at 2424 Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley (which, until they closed in February, housed MSC Custom Bikes). Huckleberry sells Cannondale, Brompton, All City, Surly, Masi, Salsa, Faraday, Shinola and Spot Brand new bikes, as well as a selection of bags (think Brooks England), apparel (Levi’s, Cadence Collection, Swrve) and shoes. There is a full-service repair shop onsite. The owners are Jonas Jackel, Brian Smith and Zack Stender. Jackel tells us they chose Berkeley because “it’s a great bike city with excellent bicycle infrastructure and strong roots in cycling culture.” Himself a Berkeley resident, Jackel sees potential for another good bike shop here. “The population is growing, and many of the new residents ride their bikes every day,” he said. “We saw an opportunity to succeed here with our unique assortment of products. We have a lot of customers from the East Bay who frequent our SF store, so we thought expanding into this market was a good fit for our business. Asked why Telegraph, Jackel said: “We’re in a great spot to serve the needs of the students, families and young professionals who live in the area. Telegraph has a high volume of foot traffic, and this neighborhood and the adjacent downtown area have high population density and bicycle ridership. All good things for a bike shop.” Huckleberry is now in soft opening and plans a “grand opening sale” May 14-22. All bikes plus select categories will be on sale at both of its stores. Huckleberry Bicycles,  2424 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley 94704  Tel: 510-900 1133. Open Mon.Fri. 11am-7pm  Sat.Sun. 12am-5pm. Connect with Huckleberry on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.Continue reading »

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New incubator signals growth in city’s tech ecosystem

The Batchery occupies a 12,000-foot space on the third floor of 2036 Bancroft Ave. Photo: The Batchery
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Michelle Calloway is standing in front of a group of potential investors holding a microphone. The rules of the pitch are strict: no videos, no samples, nothing in fact that could make it simple to describe the product she plans to launch onto the market. Instead, she has the simple power of words.

So Calloway takes a deep breath and launches into a description of the augmented-reality greeting card company Revealio that she and her husband, Jerry Bowden, hope will disrupt the greeting card industry. People are craving connection, she tells the group, and a personalized, emailed video card could shorten the emotional distance between a soldier overseas and his sweetheart, for example, or a grandmother and grandchild.

“It’s a printed card that comes alive before your eyes,” says Calloway. “It’s amazing.”

Read more about Berkeley startups.

Calloway was giving her practice pitch at The Batchery, Berkeley’s newest tech space, located at 2036 Bancroft Way, near Shattuck Avenue. Calloway was hoping the feedback provided by The Batchery’s partners – all of whom have deep experience either starting or running companies – would refine her delivery. … Continue reading »

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First look: The Butcher’s Son in Berkeley

This fried mozzarella and meatball sandwich was heavy and hearty, just like the real thing. Photo: Alix Wall
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You know when that craving strikes for a meatball sandwich? The kind that is slathered in tomato sauce with sautéed onions, bell peppers and mushrooms, topped with a generous hunk of mozzarella? A sandwich that requires multiple napkins to catch all the juice that dribbles down your chin?

The next time that very craving strikes, try something different and head to The Butcher’s Son in Berkeley. Not only will you enjoy the hell out of that sandwich, but you can feel virtuous about the fact that an animal didn’t have to die for it, nor did your sandwich contribute to the emission of greenhouse gasses. Yep, everything on the menu at The Butcher’s Son is vegan. … Continue reading »

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Cult sandwich spot Ike’s picks downtown Berkeley

The Jon Lum (steak, bacon, onion rings, cheddar). Photo: Ike's Place/Facebook
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The old Togo’s storefront will soon sell sandwiches again. In what could be as soon as three weeks, it will be home to the first Berkeley location of the rapidly expanding sandwich shop Ike’s Place.

Ike’s, named for its owner Ike Shehadeh, launched his first shop, a tiny take-out spot on 16th Street in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, in 2007. Its sizable sandwiches, whose recipes were originally based on ones Shehadeh used to eat while studying at UC Davis, quickly gained a cult reputation. The original store was selling up to 1,200 sandwiches a day, according to the New York Times, long lines were the norm, and the eatery was cited on many a “best sandwiches” list.

Ike’s now has over 20 locations and has been teasing the opening of a Berkeley shop for months. A signage application on the City of Berkeley’s Zoning Applications Board revealed the new location would be at 2172 Shattuck Ave., right near the Downtown Berkeley BART station. … Continue reading »

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