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Changing the World One Startup at a Time

UC San Diego celebrates a year of innovation

Triton Entrepreneur Night

Students have just four minutes to convince judges of their startup’s viability during Triton Entrepreneur Night’s pitch competition. Photos by Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

At the University of California San Diego, “innovation” isn’t just a buzzword. Innovation is a living, breathing way of life. It reaches across campus and around the globe. And UC San Diego’s innovations are changing the region and the world.

The “innovation ecosystem,” as it’s often called, includes a wide range of programs, services and events that support a diverse array of students, faculty, staff and alumni in their entrepreneurial quests. There are mentoring programs like Entrepreneurs in Residence that offer guidance to nascent entrepreneurs; incubators and accelerators like the Basement and StartR where ideas are nurtured into companies; and pitch competitions like Triton Entrepreneur Night and the Fast Pitch at San Diego Startup Week where startups can win funding and free services. The goal of all these programs is to ensure campus innovators are supported in their endeavors, are able to learn valuable skills, and have a safe place to test out their ideas.

Assistant Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Commercialization Paul Roben says the environment at UC San Diego is the key to success: “We have incredibly talented researchers and innovators; we have extremely dedicated staff; we have truly supportive leadership. It’s a winning combination that really allows our innovation and entrepreneurial activities on campus to flourish, creating products and services that directly impact lives around the world.”

For UC San Diego, the 2018-19 academic year saw a record number of commercial licenses and patents, and the campus has the potential to have the most startups within the University of California system.

One of those licenses will have a significant impact on future wireless communications. Samsung has non-exclusively licensed inventions that make an error-correction technology called “polar codes” more practical for use in 5G—the next generation of wireless technology. The advances were created by a team of engineers from the Jacobs School of Engineering co-led by Alexander Vardy, a professor of electrical and computer engineering. The work is already being implemented in millions of 5G chipsets, and it holds potential for application in fiber-optic networks, data storage and satellite communications.

UC San Diego startups are known for contributing to the region’s economy. Cavogene, a recent startup that began at UC San Diego, was founded by four colleagues in the School of Medicine's Department of Anesthesiology: Associate Adjunct Professor Brian P. Head, Professor and Vice Chair for Research Hemal H. Patel, Professor Piyush M. Patel and Professor David M. Roth. The company hopes to develop novel gene therapies to treat neurogenerative disease such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

New Partnerships and Programs

UC San Diego’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Council was formed in 2017 at the request of Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. The council is comprised of leading innovators and entrepreneurs across diverse fields who advise the university on how to best position resources to achieve the long-term objective of becoming globally recognized as a leader in driving social and economic prosperity.

This objective resonates deeply with the chancellor. “One of the stated goals of our strategic plan is community enrichment,” Khosla said. “UC San Diego’s innovation ecosystem is thriving and it provides many avenues for our students, faculty and partners to foster community enrichment, support economic development and bring increased prosperity to the region.”

The council was instrumental to the early strategy of UC San Diego’s partnership with Deerfield Management. Deerfield’s $65 million commitment to UC San Diego created Poseidon Innovations, LLC, with the goal of advancing disease-curing therapeutics. Poseidon projects will receive funding to help researchers weather the risky early stages of the drug development process. The first round of projects is scheduled to be announced by late summer.

Ignite conference

San Diego Economic Regional Development Corporation CEO Mark Cafferty, Chancellor Khosla, City Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry and Vice Chancellor Brown discuss San Diego’s economic future during Ignite.

Another partnership brought the Rady School of Management and the Jacobs School of Engineering together to host the first ever Border Innovation Challenge, sponsored by the Smart Border Coalition. The business plan competition focused on improving processes and efficiency at regional ports of entry, where wait times can stretch into multiple hours. The winning company was Curbside Labs, founded by UC San Diego alumnus Cheslav Versky, ‘95. Curbside Labs, which won $10,000, uses dynamic data to create border efficiencies.

Rady has also partnered with the Jacobs School of Engineering to create the Institute for the Global Entrepreneur (IGE), now in its fourth year. IGE was created to inspire and prepare engineers to be entrepreneurial leaders and translate technology innovations to market. In addition to continuing successful innovation programs, accelerators and competitions, IGE launched a new program focused on medical technology.

IGE runs quarterly programs for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps) which teaches lean startup methodology to faculty, students and staff interested in launching a startup. This year, IGE launched a new I-Corps medical device workshop series that included 13 UC San Diego and affiliated startups, competing for a series of grants to advance their startup activities. Three teams were awarded grants, totaling $20,000. The first-place grant of $10,000 was presented to alumna Debbie Chen, founder of Hydrostatis. Chen earned her bachelor of science in bioengineering at UC San Diego.

Triton Entrepreneur conference

Student entrepreneurs and OIC staff celebrate onstage at the close of Triton Entrepreneur Night.

Vice Chancellor for Research Sandra A. Brown emphasized the importance of having a diversified and robust innovation ecosystem across campus. “We are an incredibly creative and entrepreneurial campus. Amazing discoveries and groundbreaking research happen here every day. That discovery and research is made most valuable when turned into products and services that improve health, increase prosperity and better society. That is what innovation at UC San Diego is truly about.”