Mentor Room is Alvarado-Leon’s second startup. The idea was inspired by his sister, who had trouble with bullies in high school. “The faculty did nothing for her, so I started thinking about how we could use technology to create a support system for situations like this,” he says.
He got a team together to build an app that could connect students with mentors via messaging. They were awarded the Dean’s Startup Seed Fund, which provides $5,000 to early-stage startups involving Haas students, and they were invited to pitch their idea to the Haas School Board.
The hard work paid off. They finished creating a prototype this summer, and have just started beta testing via a partnership with Google.
“We’ve got 50 Berkeley students from different majors, and 50 Google employees,” Alvarado-Leon says. “We matched them based on personal interests, where they’re from, etc. And from September to December this year we’re going be running this mentorship program to test the app.”
In the meantime, they’re expanding the team and working toward launching an updated version of the app. Right now, the mentors and mentees communicate via messaging. But they’re thinking about including video calls and having group mentorship so mentors can take on more than one student. Their goal is to bring the app to more universities by January 2017.
BUT MIT ISN’T IN THE BAY AREA
Though Stanford and UC-Berkeley show that Bay Area culture plays a role in fostering entrepreneurs, location isn’t the only factor. The rest of PitchBook’s top 10 schools are located elsewhere.
MIT produces the third-most VC-backed undergraduate entrepreneurs, the third-most serial founders, and the third-most profitable investor exits, according to PitchBook. The high number of student founders is partly due to self-selection and clustering, like at UC Berkeley — but Bill Aulet, who runs the MIT Entrepreneurship Center and who teaches multiple entrepreneurship classes, says it’s also the result of a very structured entrepreneurial system.
MIT makes a big effort to inspire and cultivate student startups. “We start from the day they step onto campus,” Aulet says.