Translation of university discoveries into products that benefit society

Academic research poised to benefit the world seldom makes it out of the lab and into the marketplace. In part, this is because technologies developed in university research labs are not market-ready; their value is unknown, the business model is unclear, and they lack an experienced business management team to commercialize the technology. The von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center at the University of California, San Diego bridges the gap between industry and academia, by providing business mentorship, entrepreneurial education and gap funding that help innovators move their discoveries to the marketplace. Led by Senior Executive Director Dr. Rosibel Ochoa and supported by a team of Technology and Business Advisors,The Center guides the innovators through the early stages of the commercialization process.

Through a combination of business mentoring, proof-of-concept grants, and experiential entrepreneurial education, the von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center has supported more than 200 innovator teams including faculty, students and staff, and assisted in the launch of more than 53 university-affiliated startup companies. Its vision holds steadfast onto training the next generation of entrepreneurial technology leaders, equipping them with the necessary tools to become more effective contributors as they join innovative technological companies. Overall, more than 1000 students have attended the von Liebig Center courses, and the enriching programs at the Center continue to evolve. Partnering with universities and organizations worldwide in Korea, Japan and Latin America, the Center has adapted its methodology to provide training and mentorship to innovators around the world, demonstrating the effectiveness of this platform.

One of the most successful startups von Liebig has helped launch is Electrozyme. Co-founded by Joshua Windmiller and Jared Tangney, two UC San Diego Ph.D. students, Electrozyme has developed the next generation of printed biofuel sensors. These are skin-applied electrochemical sensors that analyze body fluids to provide actionable health information. Electrozyme pairs novel electrochemical sensors with off-the-shelf physical sensors to provide users a personalized wellness profile. Through taking courses at the von Liebig Center and receiving one-on-one mentorship, Windmiller and Tangney were able to take their innovative idea from the research domain to the market.

Programs currently strengthening the infrastructure include:

    •    I-Corps: Focused on the early stages of transition from research by offering 10-week training on customer discovery and lean startup methodology.  In this program, teams can learn how their inventions can address a market opportunity or a customer need.

    •    TAP: The Technology Acceleration Program or TAP program, provides the next phase in the technology commercialization process. Through a combination of personalized mentorship and gap funding over a period of 6-12 months, teams focus on demonstrating market and technology feasibility of their discoveries.

    •    International Fellowships: Organizations from around the world can send innovator teams to the von Liebig Center to participate in immersion programs where they learn the basic of the commercialization process and interact with the different participants of the San Diego innovation ecosystem and receive personalized mentorship focused on achieving market feasibility of their inventions.

    •    TRITON Technology Fund: A venture capital fund founded by the Jacobs School of Engineering, it was created to provide early stage capital to startups affiliated by UC San Diego faculty, research and alumni. The Triton Technology Fund invests in UC San Diego affiliated innovations in the software, communications, electronics, materials, medical devices and instruments sectors.

    •    My Startup XX: In partnership with the Rady School of Management, this program offers mentorship and funding to female technology students who want to pursue starting their own company.

    •    Trinet Innovation Challenge, In partnership with the Rady School of Management, this competition is focused on supporting teams interested in commercializing innovations in clean technologies.

The von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center at the University of California, San Diego was founded in 2002 through a philanthropic gift from the von Liebig Foundation in memory of Mr. William J. von Liebig. Mr. von Liebig was an entrepreneur who started the Meadow Medicals Inc., and his passion was to see academic discoveries impact the rest of the world through wide availability. In 2008, the Center was recognized by the Kauffman Foundation as one of the two centers in the country with effective approaches to commercialization. Its mission to serve and accelerate translation of technologies, by educating the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders, remains true today. Constantly growing and adapting to evolving trends, it provides a host of robust programs that deliver mentorship, grants, and education.

The von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center team is composed of three staff members, one instructor, 12 Technology and Business Advisors, numerous mentors who support the program and its initiatives.

A core and key differentiator of the program is the cadre of Technology and Business Advisors, or Pathmasters, that guide the innovators through the early stages of the commercialization process. These advisors are domain experts who are seasoned entrepreneurs or former business executives, who understand both the business and the academic environment. Grounded on propelling innovation toward the market, the Center program itself is an entrepreneurial venture into advancement, constantly moving forward and developing as it grows. It is a world leader in entrepreneurialism, and by partnering with universities in other countries, it is not only able to teach others but also learn and strengthen its infrastructure to implement the best practices.

Senior Executive Director Rosibel Ochoa also serves as an expert consultant for organization around those who want to create and support technology innovation and entrepreneurship in their regions. An engineer by training, she received a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering and worked as a scientist in the development of the next generation of battery technology and creating new nano materials that will efficiently convert plastic into fuel. Throughout her career as a researcher and then as a technology manager, she noticed that many great technologies were abandoned because they did not meet a need in the market. She was always curious about effective methods and approaches that will increase the chances for technologies to become products and became passionate about sharing what she has learned through her experience with other researchers, in particular students who were facing the same challenges.

Born in Honduras, before she came to the U.S. Dr. Ochoa was a university professor in Chemical Engineering. She has always been an educator, and wanted to motivate others into pursuing their passion regardless of the barriers in front of them. Dr. Ochoa believes that education is about creating awareness of what is possible and equipping individuals with the tools that they need to succeed. “Not all of my students will be entrepreneurs, but all of them have the capacity of being entrepreneurial — they have to be thinkers who leap outside the box,” she remarks. Experiential learning through the process of innovation is a value that is important to her. She believes that entrepreneurial thinking is needed at all ages regardless of gender and ethnicity. That is why she created a program that supports female entrepreneurs and why she is very involved in supporting entrepreneurship in Latin America.

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Recipient of Athena Pinnacle Award, best organization My Startup XX, 2014