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Building a Regional Ecosystem for Innovation

10 years entrepreneurism photo

Ten years ago, the von Liebig Center for Entrepreneurism and Technology Advancement was launched by the Jacobs School of Engineering to help faculty members turn their research into marketable products, launch companies, and educate students about how entrepreneurial companies of all sizes innovate and compete globally. Today, the Entrepreneurism Center has evolved into a regional hub for industry partners, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and universities across Southern California to accelerate the translation of university discoveries into viable products or services through a combination of pre-venture grants and commercialization mentoring. Under the leadership of Executive Director Rosibel Ochoa, the Entrepreneurism Center delivers on its mission through tailored research challenges called Technology Acceleration Programs (TAPs) and educational programming for students, who will need to innovate whether they plan to start companies or work in them. "You have to have an entrepreneurial mindset in order to thrive in any organization," said Ochoa.

That mindset has driven the Entrepreneurism Center's own growth over the past decade, building a network of advisors, alumni and expert colleagues from around the world. Improvements include a focus toward graduate students, including MBA students, and engaging entrepreneurial female students through a new program with the UCSD Rady School of Management called mystartupXX. It has also engaged partners who are looking to stimulate university research to solve real market needs. The California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF) together with Booz Allen Hamilton and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is funding technologies that would make it easier for underserved populations to access care, such as at-home management of chronic disease or laboratory testing in retail settings.

Massoud Khraiche's nanowires photo
UCSD bioengineer Massoud Khraiche's nanowires for retinal prostheses are designed to replace the eyes' natural photoreceptors and restore sight. He received research funding through a wireless health challenge run by the Entrepreneurism Center.
"CHCF is eager to help spark innovations that can reduce the costs of health care and expand access to services for the underserved," said Veenu Aulakh, senior program officer in the organization's Innovations for the Underserved program. The Entrepreneurism Center is also turning its focus towards renewable energy and wireless health technologies for military medicine. The Entrepreneurism Center worked with the UCSD Rady School of Management and San Diego State University to secure a three-year, $1.05 million grant from the Department of Energy to create the San Diego Regional Renewable Energy Technology Acceleration Program, which will provide three science and engineering students with a von Liebig Fellowship award of $45,000. In partnership with the U.S. Army Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) and Qualcomm Wireless Health, the Entrepreneurism Center last May awarded up to $92,000 to each of three teams working on technologies with both military and civilian applications.

This strategy marks a distinct shift away from traditional commercialization programs focused on turning existing research into something marketable. Since 2008, the Entrepreneurism Center has offered five TAPs challenges in clean technology, renewable energy, health care and wireless health. TAPs help steer early stage university discoveries in a direction that meets the specific needs of a target community such as the military or healthcare providers. They also respond to local interest in adding industry clusters in San Diego and leverage the already thriving wireless, biotech and medical device industries in Southern California. To learn more about the Entrepreneurism Center's initiatives visit and

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