Accel launches UC Berkeley mentorship program

Sometimes it seems like Stanford gets all the VC attention, but there’s another great school in the Bay Area.

UC Berkeley is the top-ranked public school in the country and renowned venture firm Accel is making an effort to get to know its community. The team is launching Accel Scholars, a program to mentor a select group of electrical engineering and computer science students.

Accel will be working with the students over the course of a year, hosting networking dinners and also guaranteeing the students an internship at a portfolio company. The University of California will be contributing a research stipend.

Amit Kumar, a Cal grad who works on the investment team at Accel, is spearheading the effort and pointed out that companies like Apple, Flexport, Nextdoor, PillPack and Warby Parker all have Berkeley alums as co-founders.

He felt there wasn’t enough career guidance for students at Berkeley and that venture firms that are ignoring the ecosystem are missing out.

“We just believe that Berkeley’s been undervalued for a long time for whatever reason,” said Kumar.

He says Accel is not necessarily planning to invest in the students that it’s mentoring, although they wouldn’t rule it out. He doesn’t expect all the students to become entrepreneurs, but hopes that Accel will hear about new startups from the community.

“If there’s anything coming out of the Berkeley ecosystem, one of these students would have heard about it,” he said.

UC Berkeley, is of course, “thrilled” about the program. Professor James Demmel, who chairs the EECS department, said it is thankful for the opportunity to “partner with Accel and its network to provide a fast-track for an exceptionally talented and diverse cohort of undergraduates, who will benefit from mentorship by Accel but also by and from one another.”

While Accel isn’t promising to commit a dedicated pool of capital to UC Berkeley students or alums, numerous other efforts have materialized in recent years to do so. Among them: The University of California itself announced in late 2015 that it planned to invest $250 million in startups “emerging from the University of California system.” Cal alum Jeremy Fiance also raised a small pool of capital last year to invest in the startups of his fellow graduates. Meanwhile, the seed-stage fund Pear VC has for three years running hosted a $250,000 annual entrepreneurship challenge for UC Berkeley students.