Colleges and universities across the Inland Empire are investing in the region through new entrepreneurship programs.
The hoped-for dividend? A dramatically improved economy.
In recent years, entrepreneurship and innovation programs have been developed or expanded at Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State San Bernardino, UC Riverside and La Verne University. The aim is to attract students who will set up new businesses and perhaps bring entirely new industries to the region. In addition, the administrators hope the programs will attract businesses drawn by the resources universities offer, including a highly skilled and highly skilled workforce.
Even without specialized entrepreneurship or innovation programs, a large college or university can pump tens to hundreds of millions of dollars into the regional economy. But despite this long-established link between the presence of a four-year university and improved economic conditions in a region, there is less evidence that entrepreneurship and innovation programs will have a similar impact.
“It is not so easy to measure the economic impact of these innovation centers because they take a long time to grow,” says Robert Kleinhenz, Senior Research Fellow at the Inland Empire Economic Partnership and founder of Kleinhenz Economics.
But the supporters have high hopes.
“By having programs and infrastructure to help our students and our faculty and community start businesses, you are enabling this economy,” said Rosibel Ochoa, who leads innovation and entrepreneurship at UCR’s Office of Technology Partnerships.
Ochoa previously led an entrepreneurship program at UC San Diego. She credits the university’s presence for helping transform San Diego from a tourism and military focused city to a “knowledge economy” city. More than 200 companies started in the area, clustered around the university while Ochoa was at UC San Diego.
“We have great universities in the Inland Empire,” said Ochoa. “UCR is a $ 200 million research university that would be considered one of the largest in any other state.”
A January 2021 impact study published by the University of California reports that the UC system means a total of 25,577 additional jobs in the Inland Empire and $ 3.1 billion in regional spending. According to Ochoa, UCR alone accounts for more than 20,000 jobs, including $ 2.3 billion.
It points to the lively business worlds around MIT and Silicon Valley.
“All of these areas grew because of their proximity to universities,” said Ochoa. “For me, the most important thing is to create and train the talents we need and to keep them here.”
To this end, Cal State San Bernardino announced last August that it would outsource the entrepreneurship program offered by its business school into a full-fledged School of Entrepreneurship. The school will offer eight academic programs in Entrepreneurship, including a dedicated graduate degree in Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
In March, the University of La Verne announced the Randall Lewis Center for Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Social Impact in Ontario. The center will provide entrepreneurial training for small groups of students, as well as academic and practical approaches to job creation and long-term career advancement, according to the university. The center will make special efforts to work with underserved communities in the Inland Empire.
And in June, Congress approved a $ 1 million grant for Cal Poly Pomona to develop an entrepreneurial and social center for startup businesses in the Inland Empire. The Bronco STEA2M Innovation Hub will provide resources, support and training to help entrepreneurs and small and family businesses achieve their goals. Cal Poly plans to build the center in downtown Pomona.
Even the most successful of these projects is unlikely to turn the Inland Empire into yet another Silicon Valley with lots of high-tech companies in multiple fields, warns Kleinhenz.
However, he notes that many parts of the country have developed more specialized counterparts that focus on biotechnology or other more specialized areas. But the next wave of business leaders seems to be out there.
According to Ochoa, more than 6,500 patents have been granted to inventors of the Inland Empire in the past five years – just under 6,800 granted to those in Orange County.
“One of the exciting things about the Inland Empire is that not only is it growing extremely fast, but it’s also very young,” said Ochoa.
Since 2016, UCR has worked with more than 600 startups, 60% of which are outside the college community. In the past three years, the companies have raised more than $ 22 million in venture capital funding, including $ 15.4 million in 2020-21.
“Five years ago” there was skepticism about investing in the Inland Empire, Ochoa said. “But now you show them the data … That is no longer the case.”
This fall, UC Riverside will seek to bring together more Inland Empire entrepreneurs with mentoring and funding for the 2021 Riverside Angel Summit, which runs from September to November. In addition, the university representatives hope to develop the OASIS Clean Technology Park in the coming years as a research park, university extension and start-up incubator and accelerator room. The administrators hope to open the doors of the first phase in 2025.