Grad students’ payment platform wins $250K startup challenge

An Internet of Things payments platform, DotDashPay, has won the inaugural UC Berkeley Startup Challenge created by the Palo-Alto based firm Pejman Mar Ventures.

Sean Arietta and Colorado Reed

DotDashPay cofounders Sean Arietta, left, and Colorado Reed. (Not pictured: Joey Mucha)

Founded by Berkeley computer science Ph.D. candidates Sean Arietta and Colorado Reed, along with technologist Joey Mucha, the startup’s hardware and software makes it easy for machine makers to facilitate financial transactions, via credit cards and other payment systems, into their devices.

DotDashPay will receive a $250,000 investment from Pejman Mar, as well as mentoring and support as part of the venture firm’s portfolio and community.

“I’ve always held the firm belief that the immense talent at Berkeley should be supported both academically and entrepreneurially,” Arietta said upon hearing the news. “Our team is excited to have been honored with this award that also celebrates that belief.”

Pejman Mar Ventures announced the new Berkeley Startup Challenge in July, offering $250,000 to back a startup founded by a Berkeley student, faculty member or alum, in exchange for 10 percent of the company. The Palo Alto-based firm also committed to donating 10 percent of its stake in the winning startup to the Berkeley campus.

In addition to its initial Challenge Award, it created two additional award categories, educational technology and social impact.

Tinkering Labs won the EdTech Award, which came with $20,000 in funding. The startup creates learning, discovery and invention kits for young people. Cofounder Nik Morozoff earned his MBA at Haas; he met his cofounders at the UC Berkeley business incubator SkyDeck.

Thera, an online chat platform that connects survivors of sexual assault to certified volunteers for confidential support, won the Social Impact Award, which came with $5,000. The platform was launched by a team of Berkeley undergrads: Kayla Razavi, Anders Truong, Monica Vathanavarin, Meghana Ravikumar and Tomo Ueda. Thera is affiliated with the campus’s FreeVentures innovation incubator.

“We are thrilled to continue to build this strong partnership with the UC Berkeley community and Silicon Valley,” says Pejman Nozad, managing partner of the early-stage seed fund. “Expanding the program to include three awards is reflective of how impressed we were by the talent and innovative ideas we saw.”

To date, Pejman Mar Ventures has funded 11 companies founded by students or alums from top schools including Stanford, MIT, Carnegie Mellon and UC Berkeley.

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