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Birthing Businesses


By Bekah Wright, Illustrations by David Gothard

Published Jul 1, 2009 8:05 AM

How can companies springing from UCLA research get a foothold in this economy? By nestling into the UCLA business incubator.


A new business is as fragile as a new baby. And in the case of commerce, the economic crisis makes nurturing even more acute. Enter UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), which is fueling economic development through an ambitious, interdisciplinary project — the UCLA On-Campus Technology Incubator.

"The whole country is going to need strong, new technology and new business, especially California," explained UCLA Chancellor Gene Block during a conference at CNSI to unveil the program in March.

The incubator is a collaborative effort between UCLA's schools of engineering and medicine, physical and life sciences and public health, information technology, health and medicine. UCLA's Office of Intellectual Property and Industry-Sponsored Research, Anderson School of Management and the School of Law will advise on business development and structures and practices for commercializing technology.

"UCLA has worked for many years to create a method for incubating our faculty research discoveries through commercialization," says Kathryn Atchison, UCLA vice provost of intellectual property and industrial relations. "The incubator is a culmination of the accomplishments made by UCLA's faculty, staff, administration and students, all coming together to create an improved culture of entrepreneurship."

Initially, four to five start-ups will be chosen for the incubator, which will nurture companies that have licensed or at least optioned technology and are starting to raise money. The incubator will also focus on fledgling firms in the proof of concept and early stages of research and development — stages most investment agencies avoid to cut their risk.

"It's a real challenge associated with starting a company based in the physical sciences," says Jeff Green, CEO of NanoH20, a start-up in the incubator's pilot program. "The support of a university can help overcome those challenges."

The start-ups will pay modest rent for up to two years to use a portion of 2,000 square feet of flexible lab space within CNSI. At their disposal will be eight state-of-the-art core lab facilities with multimillion-dollar equipment, access to other researchers and other amenities.

UCLA is procuring funding for a seed grant fund, as well as fellowships for students in commercialization and entrepreneurship. Also under consideration is further expansion to an existing off-site UCLA building in Santa Monica. "We're hoping to have multiple off-campus incubators," says Block, who sees the current incubator as a necessary step toward establishing a research park in the future.