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Skydeck startups win $100k funding

By Roibín Ó hÉochaidh

A pair of UC Berkeley technology startups, each homegrown by students in Skydeck’s entrepreneurial hothouse, beat out 500 fledgling student-led ventures from some of the leading universities across the country to land sizeable accelerator grants this week from Palo Alto-based nonprofit

Two of 10 winning startups selected to enter the yearlong program, smartphone-stethoscope developer Eko Devices and intelligent wine-label creator Pristine Solutions will each receive $100,000 to help grow their ventures from innovative startups to impactful companies.

“The recognition of further validates our vision and is fueling us to double down our efforts and work even harder toward chasing our big idea,” said Vik Thairani, CEO of Pristine Solutions and a newly minted graduate of Haas Business School.

Founded in 2012, the technology startup developed smart labels that can be applied to wine bottles to track storage conditions and ensure product quality from winery to warehouse to table. Pristine’s multidisciplinary team plans to use the $100,000 grant to accelerate product development and help bring the smart labels to market sooner.

“Berkeley’s accelerator program has been a pivotal part of how Pristine has been able to grow over the past few months,” Thairani added. “Our ability to collaborate with other companies just a few months ahead of us [in Skydeck] has been a huge asset.”

Winning teams also receive 12 months of hands-on mentoring from successful entrepreneurs as well as monthly business reviews and expert guidance on talent recruitment, management and team building, intellectual-property processes, performance metrics and fundraising strategies.

“This is a huge boost for our company that will allow us to apply for FDA clearance for our device and begin manufacturing and selling our product around the world,” said Conor Landgraf, CEO of Eko Devices, who graduated from Berkeley in May with a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering.

Eko Devices developed a diagnostic smartphone app that records and analyzes cardiac sounds to help healthcare professionals more readily identify potentially life-threatening heart conditions.

The team, which hopes to partner with high-profile players in the healthcare and nonprofit sectors, plans to use the $100,000 award from to fine-tune the functionality of its mobile app and hardware before launching clinical trials to gain the necessary FDA approval.

Founded in 2012, the mobile-medical startup entered Skydeck as a winner of the 2013 VentureLab competition through Berkeley’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology.

“Skydeck has been an amazing catalyst for us,” Landgraf added. “[The program] provided us with mentors and advisers and resources that have been instrumental in our learning and growth.”

Launched last January, the Skydeck startup accelerator program is anchored in 10,000 square feet of premium office, conference and flexible space in the heart of downtown Berkeley. Housing a mix of enterprises founded by faculty, students and alumni, the program aims to foster a new generation of young entrepreneurs by providing startups with expertise, guidance and resources to grow their ventures.

Partnering with the city of Berkeley and local and regional leaders from the worlds of business, industry and finance, the first-of-its-kind campus initiative is a collaborative effort of the Haas School of Business, the College of Engineering, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research.

In addition to boasting two of’s top 10 startups for 2013,10 of the 50 semi-finalists — student ventures representing some of the leading technology and innovation institutions across the United States — hailed from Berkeley. Only MIT, with 14 semi-finalists, bettered Berkeley’s startup performance.

“ is the most objective and comprehensive metric to date for us to gauge the comparative quality of startups from UC Berkeley with others across the country,” said Jeff Burton, executive director of Skydeck. “The fact that only MIT ranked higher than Berkeley reinforces the knowledge that we harbor world-leading startups.”