Hillary’s Reflections Building Parakeet: From BERC Members to Co-Founders through Lean LaunchPad

September 15, 2023
“With Lean LaunchPad, we toss "teaching the business plan" aside and teach students a completely new, hands-on approach to starting companies – one which combines customer development, agile development, business models and pivots.” 


I moved to the Bay Area in 2019 after spending most of my life living and working on the East Coast. Here, I found myself among a vibrant hub of talented people, many of whom were driven by their optimistic nature and energized to solve complex global problems. On top of that, the Bay’s geographical location grants easy access to some of the most breathtaking landscapes and natural resources in the world. For me, hiking after workdays and camping over the weekends instilled a contagious dedication to explore, appreciate, and safeguard our planet. This profound connection with our climate, unlike anything I had experienced before, heightened my awareness of climate change and instilled a deepened sense of urgency to act.

Climate change had interwoven itself into the fabric of my social life. After dedicating my entire career to a completely different industry, I decided to pursue my MBA at Haas, with the goal of making climate and sustainability the focal point of my professional life too.

UC Berkeley has a host of climate-related curriculum and organizations dedicated to climate. For instance, groups such as Energy Institute at Haas, a renowned research center that publishes weekly articles, and Berkeley Energy & Resources Collaborative (BERC), a community of students and alumni with climate-oriented professional goals, both serve as valuable resources for students. Haas also has the Michael’s Certificate in Sustainable Business, which consolidates sustainability classes into an MBA course load. 

Having spent most of my career in startup environments, I thrive on continuous learning, hands-on experience, and problem-solving. It was evident to me that, in addition to joining BERC and taking sustainability courses at Haas, the most effective way to fully immerse myself in the Climate Tech world would be through entrepreneurship.

Shortly after enrolling at Haas, I spoke with a friend who had just completed her first year in the program. She told me about her experience in Lean LaunchPad and highly recommended it given my interest in starting my own venture.

Lean LaunchPad is far from a conventional entrepreneurship class. It resembles a startup bootcamp, encompassing a 10+ week journey where your team defines a problem, develops a business model, and tests hypotheses to find a solution. It requires a hands-on approach to entrepreneurship, minus the capital risks associated with starting a business.

Thanks to BERC events and climate gatherings, I had the opportunity to meet Jessica, Felix, Arnaud, and Greg. We had a wide range of professional backgrounds in law, startups, engineering, and more, but we quickly united over our shared passion for accelerating the global energy transition through entrepreneurship. Together, we formed a team [Parakeet] and applied to Lean LaunchPad with the objective of harnessing the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) incentives to decarbonize homes, starting with heat pumps.

The IRA offers tax incentives and rebates worth over 4.5 billion dollars for heat pump installation. However, our team noticed a significant gap between the buzz surrounding heat pumps within academic circles and the lack of information available to HVAC contractors and homeowners—the very people responsible for installing these systems and accessing those rebates.

 The Lean LaunchPad methodology served as our catalyst to explore these issues. We conducted over 130 interviews with contractors, homeowners, manufacturers, and energy experts, each providing valuable perspectives on heat pump adoption and home electrification more broadly.

 Week after week, we diligently refined and adjusted our minimum viable product (MVP)—sometimes making multiple changes in a single week. The result was a tool designed to enhance decarbonization incentive programs by simplifying the process for homeowners and contractors to access rebates. Although we decided not to pursue the idea beyond Lean LaunchPad, we completed the program with newfound expertise in heat pumps and climate incentives, which would shape our career trajectories in an invaluable way.

 For anyone with that extra entrepreneurial urge, Lean LaunchPad is a great way to learn the ins and outs of building a business, including the hard work and dedication that it demands. And, most importantly, for UC Berkeley students interested in working in the climate space and strengthening your network across the industry, there’s no better way to meet your future classmates, colleagues, or co-founders than through BERC.