The expo at Innovate@Berkeley held at the Shattuck Hotel in downtown on Thursday April 11. Photo: Shifra de Benedictis-Kessner

Last night, Berkeley hosted the inaugural Innovate@Berkeley, possibly the city’s largest entrepreneurship event to date. Held at the Hotel Shattuck in downtown, the gathering attracted hundreds of attendees and included a keynote address by tech entrepreneur and academic Vivek Wadhwa, a startup expo, and a pitch competition. Sylvia Paull has this report:

Berkeley has always been known for its political radicalism, but last night at Innovate@Berkeley, held at the Hotel Shattuck, 26 high-tech startups presented applications and hardware to disrupt everything from commerce to health, social communications, and play.

With the support of the Berkeley Startup Cluster, a coalition including the City of Berkeley and UC Berkeley, as well as Cal’s South Asian professional fraternity Alpha Epsilon Zeta and some local companies, UC Berkeley computer science sophomore Sameen Karim — all of 19 years old and the founder of startup Eventable — put together an impressive event and the first of its kind to take place in Berkeley.

The five-hour event started with a roar, as hundreds of avid attendees of all ages streamed into the expo room to check out 28 different offerings. The most popular ones were Dash Robotics, whose engineers earned their Ph.D’s by building cockroach-like robots that can climb up any surface and be built from a simple die sheet (batteries provided). Funded by the National Science Foundation, and tested by the military as well as by children, Dash Robotics easily won first place in the pitch competition that followed.

A runner-up was Mozio, an airport transportation search engine that solves the problem of getting one home the last mile after arriving from a flight. Dropsense, which won third prize, uses a cell phone screen and a sensor strap to alert diabetics of low blood sugar.

The sense of excitement among the crowd and the presenters was palpable. It was as if one were going into a museum of living art, where the objects in paintings all popped out and came to life. Only instead of art, most of the objects and services these students produced are functional, and ingenious as well.

This all tied in well with Vivek Wadhwa’s ‘innovation is alive and well’ keynote, in which he pointed out the strides humanity has made in the past two centuries in longevity, education, transportation, food production and communications. Wadhwa has just written a book on the need for the U.S. to bring in more immigrants to stay innovative. Looking around the event tonight, it was obvious that more than half the presenters were immigrants or children of immigrants, including Wadhwa himself.

First published on Sylvia Paull’s Berkeley Blog. Sylvia Paull is an independent high-tech publicist, networker, and avid cyclist.

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