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News Release

The mystartupXX Program Receives $50,000 Grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration

Left to right: Rady School Dean Robert Sullivan, Jacobs School Dean Albert Pisano, Jacobs School alumnae Sarah Esper, Vice Chancellor for Research Sandra Brown, SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet, mystartupXX co-director Lada Rasochova, Rady School alumnae Ashley Van Zeeland, mystartupXX advisor Kimberly Davis King

San Diego, CA, September 5, 2014 -- The mystartupXX program, a collaboration of the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego and the von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering is pleased to announce it has been chosen as the recipient of a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA). The announcement was made at the Rady School by SBA Administrator, and Obama Administration Cabinet member, Maria Contreras-Sweet.

“There is so much innovation and job creation in San Diego and I believe the economic leadership at UC San Diego is extraordinary,” said Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet. “I am pleased to announce the first winner of the grant based in California, mystartupXX. The mystartupXX program is doing something special and is a great contribution to America and to women.”

The mystartupXX program is one of 50 winners of the Growth Accelerator Fund competition sponsored by the SBA. The competition, in its first year, was extremely competitive and attracted 800 applications from across the country. Finalists were reviewed by a panel of experts in entrepreneurship, investing and business plans from both within the government and the private sector. The competition was created to draw attention and invest in parts of the country where there are gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The mystartupXX program’s mission is to nurture the next generation of female founder and female-led technology startups through mentorship, education and funding.

"We are extremely pleased and encouraged by this recognition from the U.S. Small Business Administration," said Rosibel Ochoa, senior executive director of Entrepreneurism and Leadership Programs at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and mystartupXX program co-director. “This award will allow us to scale our efforts to support female technology entrepreneurship not only in San Diego but also to other regions in the country and abroad.”

“The generous grant from the SBA, will enable mystartupXX to provide a new group of female entrepreneurs with the instruction, funding and mentorship they need to succeed,” said Lada Rasochova, executive director of the California Institute for Innovation and Development at the Rady School of Management and mystartupXX program co-director.

Since its founding in 2011, the mystartupXX program has graduated two cohorts of female entrepreneurs, with six startups created, more than $2.6 million raised by startups, over 130 jobs created, and several products on the market. Two of the mystartupXX program’s startups were admitted to prestigious accelerators and one startup won the Quick Pitch competition sponsored by the Tech Coast Angels, the largest angel investor network in the U.S.


mystartupXX supports computer science education startup

Sarah Esper is one of the female entrepreneurs from UC San Diego who benefited from the mystartupXX program.

Sarah Esper and Albert P. Pisano, Dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

“The funding from mystartupXX was the first money we put into our bank account,” said Sarah Esper (Ph.D. ’14, computer science) a co-founder of the computer science education startup ThoughtStem. Esper and fellow ThoughtStem co-founder UC San Diego biochemistry PhD student Lindsey Handley also benefited from courses and mentoring through mystartupXX.

The support from mystartupXX came at a critical moment for ThoughtStem, and helped them launch their company and get their first game-based computer science courses for kids up and running.

In the last two years, ThoughtStem has expanded from one location on the UC San Diego campus to two dozen locations spread across San Diego, the Bay Area and Boston. ThoughtStem is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to support the professional graphics and development needed to relaunch CodeSpells, a ThoughtStem video game that teaches players how to code. (Watch the CodeSpells Kickstarter video here.)

“Increasing access to education tools for computer science is especially important to me,” said Esper, who defended her Ph.D. dissertation this week. Her topic: computer science education and human-computer interaction (HCI).

Esper also earned her computer science undergraduate degree at UC San Diego, though she entered UC San Diego as a bioengineering major.

“I knew how to check my email, make basic graphs and edit images. That was about it,” said Esper. Her introduction to computer science came through a class she took freshman year with computer science professor Beth Simon, who also serves as Sr. Associate Director of Learning Sciences and Technology at the UC San Diego Center for Teaching Development.

In Esper’s first computer science class, students made versions of the game Tetris using programming. Esper connected with the class, and with the computer science community at UC San Diego. She went on to work with Simon on a variety of computer science education projects, including a multimedia programming course in which students learned the basics of Java while creating and manipulating images.

One of the themes that persists throughout Esper’s computer science education and career is a focus on problem-based learning. And through ThoughtStem, and its platforms that gamify the learning of computer programming (CodeSpellsand LearnToMod), Esper, Handley and fellow ThoughtStem co-founder Stephen Foster (also a UC San Diego computer science PhD student) are working to leverage games to bring tools for learning computer programming to wide and diverse audiences. 


For more information about the mystartupXX program, go to: mystartupxx

Initial funding for mystartupXX came from a generous grant from NCIIA (National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance).

Media Contacts

Daniel Kane
Jacobs School of Engineering

Melinda Battenberg
Rady School of Management