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05.24.10 - TechPortal Launch Draws Record Crowd

Every seat was filled by those interested in TechPortal's potential.

Calit2’s new TechPortal debuted last week to a record Igniting Technology crowd of nearly 200 would-be entrepreneurs, faculty, venture capitalists and interested community members. The auditorium was filled to capacity, and additional attendees were ushered to an overflow venue in the building, where they watched a live stream of the presentation.

The event was moderated by Michael Guiliana, a partner at intellectual law firm and Igniting Technology sponsor Knobbe, Martens, Olson & Bear. Guiliana told the crowd that although Calit2 had been incubating startups since its inception, “tonight marks what we’ve been waiting for all along: for Calit2 to spawn a [formal] incubation program.”

Matthew Jenusaitis, president and CEO of OCTANe, was the evening’s first presenter. He said data indicates that creating jobs in the technology arena leads to a multiplier effect that is greater than that created in any other area. “I love this TechPortal incubator,” he said, “because it goes beyond theorizing where the issues are with technology transfer; it actually moves it into implementation.”

An uptick in venture capital investing indicates that Orange County’s economic recovery has begun and 98 percent of investments during the past three years have been in medical device, information technology and clean tech businesses.

“The evolution of Orange County is not predetermined,” he said. “We have the ability to influence the future of [the county] and TechPortal is a tremendous step in moving in the right direction.”


Panelists from left: Jenusaitis, Crawford, Jenks, Averitt and Levin.

Doug Crawford, associate director of UC San Francisco’s QB3 and manager of its QB3 Garage incubator, has been a longtime fan of the incubation idea. Incubators are a new mechanism for helping faculty realize the potential of their work and helping society get the benefits it seeks from the university.

“Being inventive and being great scientists isn’t enough,” he said. It’s more important to establish startup companies that can spur the local economy. According to Crawford, the University of California does a good job of licensing from existing companies but falls short in creating startups. “We are producing half the number of startups as Stanford and MIT, and Caltech is producing companies at almost four times the rate of UC.”

Incubators serve as a new interface between universities and society, one that complements university tech transfer offices but is independent from them. The Bay area is fertile ground. QB3 has launched 13 companies, four of which attracted venture financing and a fifth that was acquired for $25 million. It also has established a partnership with neighboring biotech firms to house 16 additional incubated companies.

The evening included an outdoor barbecue for networking.

Stephen Jenks, co-founder of Calit2-spinoff Hiperwall Inc., shared his company’s history. Based on technology originally funded by the National Science Foundation for research purposes, HIPerWall (Highly Interactive Parallelized Display Wall) attracted immediate attention from visitors to the institute. “People came in and said, ‘we want one,’” he told the audience.

With help from Jeff Greenberg, president of Tech Coast Works, Jenks and his partner, Calit2 post-doc Sung-Jin Kim, commercialized the software that runs the wall, making it much more user friendly. They also collaborated with Samsung, giving them worldwide distribution and technical support.

Jenks’s advice to the potential entrepreneurs in the audience: protect your ideas by filing invention disclosures; hire a business person if that’s not your strength, but be aware of the business issues facing your company; make a product that solves customer issues; use the resources offered by UCI’s business school; get to know the Calit2 staff because they are very helpful; and keep thinking ahead. “Even while you are working on the current version, keep looking ahead to the next generation,” he said.

Venture capitalist Mark Averitt is cofounder of Okapi Ventures, an Orange County seed-stage fund that currently manages $28 million. “Incubators are important to local communities from a resource allocation perspective,” he said, adding that not all incubators are created equal. “TechPortal seems to be something special. I would encourage all service providers, capital providers, attorneys, etc. to embrace this because it is good for the community and it does create jobs.”

As an investor, Averitt looks for disruptive technologies that will solve large problems and he believes most of those originate in universities. “I’m adamantly convinced the next big breakthroughs are going to be coming out of academia,” he said.

Jacob Levin, UCI’s assistant vice chancellor for research development, sees TechPortal as a way to fulfill the mission of the university and of California’s Gray Davis Institutes for Science and Innovation. “That mission is to stimulate the economy and get our inventions into the marketplace to help people,” he said.

As the campus incubator’s leading architect, Levin provided details about TechPortal, including its size, cost, amenities, company requirements and expectations. “The incubator will be a concierge service for fledgling companies, a nexus for activities that are already going on.”

Additionally, according to Levin, TechPortal will raise the visibility of UCI and Calit2. It will also invigorate the economy and “bring all the players in this ecosystem together.

“Welcome to TechPortal,” he concluded. “UCI is open for business.”

The presentation portion of the event concluded with a question-and-answer session, after which participants toured TechPortal and the visualization lab, viewed other Calit2-affiliated research with the potential for commercialization, and enjoyed a barbecue dinner.

-- Anna Lynn Spitzer

View and listen to panelists' presentations:

Michael Guiliana, event moderator, Knobbe Martens  
pdf presentation      audio file

Matthew Jenusaitis, "The State of Innoviation in Orange County and the Implications to the UC System"
pdf presentation      audio file

Douglas Crawford, "QB3: Dedicated to Lowering the Barriers to Innovation"
pdf presentation     audio file

Stephen Jenks, "Hiperwall: From Technology to Product - the Successful Incubation of a Calit2/UCI Company"
pdf presentation     audio file

B. Marc Averitt, "Venture Investing in University-Backed Research"
audio file

Jacob Levin, "TechPortal 101: Requirements, Expectations and Outcomes"  Question-and-Answer Session
pdf presentation     audio file

Question-and-Answer Session  audio file