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UC San Diego Alumni Drive Economic Impact to the Region

Judy Piercey | May 30, 2011

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Surf Diva sisters
Isabelle and Caroline Tihanyi '89 are founders of Surf Diva, praised as the top surf school for women for more than 12 years.

In just 50 years, UC San Diego has achieved the extraordinary in education, research and innovation. Sixteen Nobel laureates have taught on campus; stellar faculty members have been awarded National Medals of Science, Fields Medals, Pulitzer Prizes, MacArthur Fellowships, Tony Awards and many other honors. UC San Diego—recognized as one of the top ten public universities by U.S. News & World Report and named by the Washington Monthly as number one in the nation in rankings measuring “what colleges are doing for the country”—is widely acknowledged for its local impact, national influence and global reach. 

UC San Diego is also known for the caliber of its more than 130,000 graduates. The campus plays a major role in supporting the expansion of the skilled workforce in San Diego, including high-tech and biotech businesses.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek “Of the school’s recent graduates, more than one quarter, or 28 percent, are working in the technology sector, followed by 24 percent in business. Many alumni go on to successful careers at biotechnology and technology firms; UC San Diego faculty, staff, and alumni have started 646 companies, with estimated annual sales of more than $15 billion.”

 Cymer Inc
Cymer Inc. co-founders Bob Akins, left, and Rick Sandstrom are among the many alumni entrepreneurs who have made an economic impact on the region.

More than 40,000 UC San Diego alumni live in San Diego County, contributing income, payroll, property and sales taxes. Many have started businesses, which provide jobs and generate new products that drive economic development. With a range of alumni-founded companies—from Cymer, Life Technologies and ViaSat to Chuao Chocolatier and Surf Diva—UC San Diego entrepreneurs have made a difference in our region. 

“The single greatest measure of a university is the quality of its graduates,” said Armin Afsahi, executive director of UCSD Alumni, a group that represents UC San Diego’s 130,000 alumni. “Our graduates advance business, discover cures, support causes and transform communities. In June, UC San Diego will be celebrating this diverse group of individuals who are making a difference in the world.”

There are more than 100 UC San Diego alumni-founded companies in San Diego County, generating $4.8 billion in annual sales, and employing 5,247 tax-paying residents. Those are impressive numbers, and more than anything else, illuminate the power of the UC system as an incubator of ideas, innovation and invention. Alumni who are bioscientists, engineers, computer scientists, business majors, artists, communications specialists and oceanographers have all started companies.  

Richard C. Atkinson
Former UC San Diego Chancellor Richard C. Atkinson played a key role in nurturing the university's entrepreneurial spirit.

Nurturing of the university’s entrepreneurial spirit is due, in part, to Richard C. Atkinson, UC San Diego’s fifth chancellor. A former Stanford University professor, he helped to accelerate the growth of San Diego’s innovative economy and the biotech cluster when he arrived in 1980. Building on the founding tradition of UC San Diego, he reached out to local technology leaders and the business community with a model based on his up-close and personal view of the Silicon Valley phenomenon.

UC San Diego continues to have a profound impact on the economic life of the region and the state. Higher education has a big role to play in California’s economic resurgence. Institutions of higher education have a unique ability among state-funded programs to create new industries new companies, new jobs and a skilled workforce to fill those jobs. If UC San Diego can obtain the support and stability it needs, the campus can help provide California with the education, innovation and job creation it needs for economic revival.

The university’s graduates will be coming back to campus to celebrate the achievements of all alumni during the third annual UCSD Alumni Weekend, June 16-19. For more information, complete event details and registration, visit

UCSD Alumni is fortunate to have generous sponsors that have stepped forward to help support the Alumni Weekend events and activities. These sponsors include:

  • Visionary Sponsor: Geico
  • Innovator Sponsor: Bank of America
  • Game Changer Sponsors: Estancia; Susan, Ph.D. ’86, and Steve Hart, M.A. ’80; Pamela Fadem Palisoul, ’72 and Philip R. Palisoul; SAIC; Bud Tribble, ’75; and Volt
  • Pioneer Sponsor: Jerrilyn Malana, ’86
  • Media Partner: The Daily Transcript


Top 5 Companies Founded by UC San Diego Alumni
in San Diego County by Annual Sales, 2009-10
Company Name Annual Sales Employees Industry Alumni
Life Technologies Corporation $3,280,000,000 1,200 BioTechnology Lyle Turner
ViaSat, Inc. $628,200,000 1,110 Hi-Technology Steven Hart
Cymer, Inc. $307,700,000 555 Hi-Technology Co-Founders Robert Akins, Richard Sandstrom
Genoptix, Inc. $184,380,000 440 Medicine/Health Sadik Esener
American Specialty Health Networks $147,000,000 663 Medicine/Health George DeVries
See a full list of UC San Diego Alumni-Founded Companies (PDF) or HTML


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