Alumni entrepreneurs pay it forward to the next generation of founders
Prayag Narula (MIMS 2012), founder of Lead Genius, says his company was first conceived as a class project in South Hall. As it turns out, he’s not the only entrepreneur who credits his School of Information education with having helped inspire a start-up: more than 45 companies have been launched by I School alumni since 2000. Now a trio of I School founders are giving back to Berkeley and inviting others to join them in supporting new generations of “I School Innovators.”
Founding contributors Prayag Narula (founder and president of Lead Genius), Holly Liu (MIMS 2003, co-founder of Kabam), and Thejo Kote (MIMS 2011, founder and CEO at Airbase) have jointly conceived of the new I School Innovators Fund to help enterprising students develop their ideas and launch new ventures.
“Holly, Thejo, and I wanted to pay forward our success in a direct way — to help mentor and inspire new generations of founders with the unique training and insights about people, design thinking, and technology that is unique to the I School,” Narula says.
In Fall 2020, former dean and professor Anno Saxenian will co-teach an I School course on entrepreneurship and information technology: Info 287, a revived version of the course that first inspired Narula and his Lead Genius co-founder, Dave Rolnitzky (MIMS 2011) and Anand Kulkarni.
Students who enroll will benefit from access to alumni founders as lecturers, advisers, judges, and role models. Cash awards will go to those students with the most promising start-up concepts and the initiative will cultivate not just for-profit companies but nonprofits and social enterprises as well.
“Now that we’ve discovered this rich new community of successful founders among our alumni, the course will provide even greater opportunity for future I School founders,” Saxenian said.
The Innovators Fund is designed not only to fuel near-term innovation among incoming classes of students, but to create a cycle of philanthropic re-investment in the School of Information. Prize-winning students will be encouraged to pledge a percentage of the value or earnings of their future enterprises to support the I School in a construct similar to the Berkeley Founders Pledge — a personal, non-binding agreement to support UC Berkeley with a meaningful gift based on an amount, timing, and area of support as defined by the donor. Future students may also be inspired to join their I School Founder’s Pledge predecessors, affirming that success is amplified when you pay it forward.
In the years ahead, funding from generous entrepreneurial alumni could provide meaningful long-term support for the School of Information — with deeper resources to diversify our student body through fellowships, recruit and support exceptional faculty, modernize our facility, and equip our students with top-notch technology.