'Start-up institute' next to UC Berkeley hopes to land students' and professors' ideas early

Most Bay Area venture capital firms keep an eye on local colleges so they can fund campus start-ups before they take off.

The House, a new “start-up institute,” wants to get in even earlier.

Cal alumni Cameron Baradar and Jeremy Fiance set up shop this week in a 7,000-square-foot space across the street from UC Berkeley to support Cal students and faculty before they even have a start-up.

The House, which stands separate from the House Fund — a $6-million venture capital fund Baradar and Fiance announced in April — will help students and faculty turn their research and ideas into companies by identifying business opportunities, putting founders in touch with legal and financial resources, offering access to advisors and mentors, and also providing a place to work.

The program is not affiliated with UC Berkeley.

“There’s a need for a new type of organization at the intersection of start-ups and universities that is purpose-built for a university setting,” said Baradar, a 23-year-old Orange County native.

According to Baradar, start-up accelerators that work with company founders for three months simply aren’t built for universities, where students spend two to six years on campus. 

The House is a flexible alternative, Baradar said, where students and faculty can apply to be part of the program and get the support they need without the pressure of launching a business, securing funding or following an arbitrary timeline. The services are offered free — no strings attached.

“We’re creating a pipeline of resources,” Baradar said. “The House Fund is at the end of the funnel. The other things we’re building enable more students to build venture-backable businesses. People can drop into the pipeline at different stages."

The no-strings-attached nature of the organization is unusual, said Erez Cohen, an advisor to the House who founded and sold his mapping start-up, Mapsense, to Apple last year. Trading equity for assistance is, after all, the name of the game in start-up land.

But he also said it’s a smart move because the House Fund would have an edge in investing in companies that come out of the House by virtue of Baradar and Fiance being the first to know about them. 

“All funds are looking for deal flow,” said Cohen, referring to the rate at which venture capital firms receive pitches.

Even if companies coming out of the House don’t end up being funded by the House Fund, Cohen believes the program will be a boon to the Cal start-up community.

“When I was a PhD student, I didn’t have any sense of what Silicon Valley was like, what it meant to raise money or have a demo,” he said. “A program like this would have helped me a lot."

tracey.lien@latimes.com

Twitter: @traceylien

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