True to its name, SkyDeck has one of the best views in all of Berkeley. You can UC Berkeley on one side and a wide swath of the bay on the other, with San Francisco just barely peeking through the fog.
If nothing else, the accelerator’s killer piece of real estate feels like a physical manifestation of its sky’s-the-limit approach to startups. It’s also the antithesis of the school’s previous accelerator, stashed away in the basement of a Berkeley hotel.
“People speak of [the former accelerator] somewhat fondly,” explains SkyDeck executive director, Caroline Winnett, “but there wasn’t a big program that encompassed the entire university and all of its programs as SkyDeck does.”
Given UC Berkeley’s reputation as a world-class launching board for thought leaders, it seems crazy that the university had only just flirted with the notion of incubating and accelerating startups in-house.
SkyDeck officially launched in 2012, but for the program’s first few years, it existed more as a mentorship program than proper accelerator. That changed three years later, when the school enlisted Berkeley grad and serial entrepreneur Winnett to head up the program.
“We set up an acceleration program,” says Winnett, “a method that we used to accelerate the startups, we picked a time frame of six months and then we set up developing a network of mentors and connecting with all of the amazing resources at UC Berkeley that can help our startups launch and grow.”
In the past few years, SkyDeck has already helped graduate a handful of startups, including gesture-recognition microchip designer Chirp and LimeBike, whose dockless bicycles have become ubiquitous in many parts of the country. In spite of having raised around $382 million, LimeBike continues to utilize the office for meetings and work space.
“SkyDeck is a really incredible place to incubate startups,” says Lime VP Andrew Savage, who frequents the offices. “The environment’s here, the support is here, the tech community, the business community and really fostering an environment where companies can have a chance at succeeding. If LimeBike learned one thing, it’s that you obviously need that support and you have the opportunity to grow.”
At present, the office houses somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 to 100 startups, including Mexican earthquake detection company SkyAlert and Kiwi, a last-mile delivery company whose robots have become common sight both in SkyDeck’s offices and the broader campus.
Winnett says the city, along with the school, has played a guiding role in helping make SkyDeck a success. “The city of Berkeley was very active in the launch of SkyDeck,” she explains. “They provided some funding to help us get going, and they continue to provide resources, especially in terms of helping our startups once they graduate from the program find a place to be.”