Data X Mentor Spotlights: Recognizing the Pivotal Role Mentorship Plays in our Programs

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With the semester coming to an end, SCET would like to recognize the incredibly valuable role that mentors play in our courses. To help students develop cutting-edge venture projects, SCET recruits alumni and friends with industrial and startup roles to provide feedback and advice.

Below we highlight mentors from the Fall 2021 Applied Data Science with Venture Applications: Data-X course. We want to recognize their valuable contribution – and those of the dozens of other mentors involved in our programs – to helping students this semester.

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Photo of Daniel Mouen Makoua

Daniel Mouen Makoua
Co-Founder, Managing Director @ Zulu Forest Sciences

What are some of the trends happening in the industry you work in?
The long-term value of nature and ecosystems is finally recognized, carbon sequestration is becoming a main stream business, whether through nature based solutions (Forest Carbon Removal) or industrial base solutions (Direct Air Capture and Storage). Significant amount of funds flowing into climate tech start-ups.

Who is an innovator that you admire and why?  
Planet with their latest launch of micro satellites and analytics which gives daily update on any environment degradation. The suite Zulu Forest Sciences, Patch, PlanA, Sylvera that collectively are defining the carbon value chain and will completely bypass existing businesses.

Do you have any tips for students that want to create startups?
Start with the fundamental, identify long term trends of significant size, within the trend define the value chain and position yourself in areas where you have maximum leverage. Be there before competition, be contrarian. Don’t be afraid to be by yourself part of the journey. Finally trust yourself, persist whilst preserving your resources.

What’s your favorite thing about working with Berkeley students?
Smart, creative, resourceful and well supported


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Photo of Matt Wong

Matt Wong
CEO @ Liquidaty

What are some of the trends happening in the industry you work in?
Data volume, and the value that can be gleaned from it, keeps going up, but the resources for extracting that value (skilled people, tools, etc) are not increasing very quickly. The number of people who are, or are studying to become, programmers is increasing, but the overall average skill level of the “programmer” work force has decreased, and much of what is today considered “programming” is more about assembling pre-built components than coding. Data security, privacy and compliance is increasingly important, but is at odds with the increasing number of business models that require centralization of all data, sensitive or not

Who is an innovator that you admire and why?  
Jeff Bezos. He gave up a lucrative and comfortable Wall Street job to start Amazon. He was a David who beat the Goliath (Barnes & Nobles, IBM) who underestimated him (as did the broader market). From what others viewed on as a niche business selling books, he parlayed into the entire industry of cloud computing services as we know it today.

Do you have any tips for students that want to create startups?
Work hard. Be prepared to eat humble pie and bite your tongue every day. Read a lot of books; avoid the ones that preach lessons, and find the ones that simply tell true stories of entrepreneurs and their journeys. Focus on your customers, your team, your product, and then everything else, in that order

What’s your favorite thing about working with Berkeley students?
They are smart and fun!


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Photo of Miller Allen

Miller Allen
Senior Director @ Applied Materials

What are some of the trends happening in the industry you work in?
Application of AI in all aspects of R&D, design, and manufacturing.

Who is an innovator that you admire and why?  
James Clerk Maxwell- connecting light to electro-magnetism is a remarkable and beautiful accomplishment

Do you have any tips for students that want to create startups?
Go for it!

What’s your favorite thing about working with Berkeley students?
They have great energy and fresh outlooks.


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Sohini Roychowdhury
Senior Manager Digital Strategy, AI Expert @ Accenture LLP, USA

What are some of the trends happening in the industry you work in?
Operationalizing AI/ML at scale

Who is an innovator that you admire and why?  
Daphne Koller

Do you have any tips for students that want to create startups?
Do your research into the process needed to setup a business. Being a consumer of a product and being a creator are very different experiences. It is not enough to just build a great product prototype, finding the right people who will help operationalize, build credibility, help with marketing and aid with sales and customer satisfaction are equally important. So think about all the different resources you will need to set up and network to find the missing components.

What’s your favorite thing about working with Berkeley students?
Smart, quick, hard-working


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Photo of Sudarshan Lamkhede

Sudarshan Lamkhede
Manager, Machine Learning, Search, and Recommendations @ Netflix

What are some of the trends happening in the industry you work in?
Democratization of machine learning. More and more companies and institutes will employ machine learning to solve their business problems and innovate for their customers.

Who is an innovator that you admire and why?  
Andrew Ng; Scientist, educator, and an entrepreneur par excellence.

Do you have any tips for students that want to create startups?
Dream big – go for the long term value creation than short term success.

What’s your favorite thing about working with Berkeley students?
Unlimited zeal to learn.


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Photo of Sunita Parbhu

Sunita Parbhu
Head of Product @ CVKey Project, a non-profit for COVID reopening

What are some of the trends happening in the industry you work in?
I’m working in two big areas at the moment: future of work and blockchain. Both are have similarities in that the role of traditional intermediaries are radically being disrupted to create greater value for more people, including the long tail that is typically under-served. I’m particularly excited to see where we invest in building individual-focused, user-friendly systems, and the area of reputation and identity systems.

Do you have any tips for students that want to create startups?
Focus on:
* building great products, focusing on satisfying your customers and becoming a market leader
* making sure the whole management team and the whole company are aligned
* being a great place to work
* hiring people who are smarter than you and enabling them do their best work
* intentionally focusing on values and being brutally honest with each other about culture, performance and leadership

Everything else follows.

What’s your favorite thing about working with Berkeley students?
Incredibly strong, talented individuals who form strong and diverse teams that continue to amaze me with what they achieve. I feel like it’s a model for what I’d like to see happen more in industry.


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Photo of Victor Fang

Victor Fang
CEO @ AnChain.ai

What are some of the trends happening in the industry you work in?
Governments are taking more proactive approach towards cryptocurrencies, DeFI, and other fintech innovations.

Who is an innovator that you admire and why?  
Elon Musk. He built the best electric car company Tesla when no one believed him. He launched rockets at SpaceX when no one believed him.

Do you have any tips for students that want to create startups?
Startup Fundraising. Read Dr. Fang’s article.

What’s your favorite thing about working with Berkeley students?
Smart, hungry for new innovation.


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Photo of Yael Zhang

Yael Zheng
Board Member @ Poly

What are some of the trends happening in the industry you work in?
Collaborate from anywhere (hybrid work environment). Focus on cyber security. AI/ML to make solutions more intelligent to simplify management and improve decision making.

Who is an innovator that you admire and why?  
Allbirds. They came into an arguably low tech but well established industry dominated by Nike and its ads, created a whole new business with shoes that are comfortable to wear and even stylish, and more importantly more friendly to the environment.

Do you have any tips for students that want to create startups?
Pay a lot of attention to “product marketing fit” from the start. Make sure you have a good understanding of what problem you want to/try to solve – understand how many people (besides yourself) identify this being a problem and how big a problem they think it is.

What’s your favorite thing about working with Berkeley students?
Students I worked with on this project are respectful of each other and willing to listen to each other’s ideas in group discussions. They are open minded and quick thinkers.