I walked into the room and was greeted by colorful furniture, clean white walls, and an eager group of my fellow Bears with laptops and notebooks out. It was my first meeting for the Financial Inclusion Collider at the newly opened Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology (SCET). A representative from the social impact venture capital firm Omidyar gave a presentation about the issues surrounding global financial inclusion; we were then assembled into small teams in which we discussed potential solutions, whether it be expanding access to obtaining credit cards in rural regions of South America or creating mobile financial literacy curriculums. At the end of the meeting, we left the Sutardja Center excited and full of ideas and questions to tackle in the weeks ahead.
The Pantas and Ting Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology opened at the Memorial Stadium gym this fall and serves as a workspace and resource center dedicated to fostering technology-centric entrepreneurship and innovation. Before the official SCET space opened up, the Sutardja Center has played an instrumental role in establishing an entrepreneurship network on campus since 2005, creating organizations such as the Global Venture Lab and the Fung Institute as well as partnering with Silicon Valley companies and other innovation institutions on campus. One of its many initiatives and programs include Innovation Colliders, which include the Financial Inclusion collider that I’m part of. Innovation Colliders essentially serve as incubators in which students and other Berkeley affiliates, industry experts, and investors all collaborate to come up with innovative solutions, ventures, business/startup ideas and models, etc to solve key social and business issues. Participants in these Innovation Colliders are often put into small teams, as mine was, which can be composed of undergraduates, graduate students, researchers, and even visiting professors or scholars that range across a variety of academic disciplines. Teams usually have around 8-10 weeks to conduct research into their target market or issue, have access to industry insiders and advisors, and come up with a final solution or business idea and present it to the collider participants; the best ideas are then chosen to pitch their idea to venture capital firms and investors to potentially make their idea a reality. Just last Friday, we had a speaker from Silicon Valley Bank come to one of our Financial Inclusion Collider meetings who answered our questions and gave feedback on our ideas. These Innovation Colliders are just a few of the incredible opportunities that SCET offers – the Center also offers lecture series as well as undergraduate courses in product management, firm leadership, intellectual property, and more.
As someone who is fascinated by technology’s potential in solving key political and social issues, SCET’s work and the exposure it offers is really incredible. SCET and its network represent one of the most unique things about Cal: we lie at the intersection of innovative/technological hubs of San Francisco and Silicon Valley and the non-profit capital of the world, Oakland. This diverse combination of Bay Area cultures permeate the campus and creates an exciting, dynamic environment that promotes multi-disciplinary approaches to creative problem-solving. It’s just another testament to Cal students’ passion and dedication to applying their classroom knowledge to solve real problems and engage with our communities. SCET and Innovation Colliders are just some of the many ways in which Cal students are trying to make a positive impact and change the world, and I feel so lucky to be part of a campus community that fosters that.