June 29th, UC Berkeley announced the establishment of the Life Sciences Entrepreneurship Center (LSEC). This makes it the newest addition to the ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship.
Darren Cooke, executive director of the center, said the program was made possible by a gift from alumni Mark and Stephanie Robinson and a donation from Professor David Kirn and his wife Kristin Ahlquist. According to Cooke, the LSEC will help life science entrepreneurs in three ways: navigating UC Berkeley’s resources, educating about entrepreneurship, and promoting new life science startups.
Faculty Director Rich Lyons said he worked closely with donors Mark Robinson and Kirn to conceptualize the LSEC. He said the “remarkable assets” on campus weren’t working together as well as they could be, and the LSEC aims to narrow that gap.
“How do we get this whole ecosystem to work fully together?” Said Lyon.
To answer this question, the LSEC will work with several existing campus organizations, like the Bakar BioEnginuity Hub; the dual study program Robinson Life Sciences, Business and Entrepreneurship; the Innovative Genomics Institute; and Berkeley SkyDeck.
In addition to its function as a link for the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem, the LSEC also plans to offer its own courses, according to Cooke. Over the past two months, Cooke has met with more than 100 stakeholders to identify loopholes that the LSEC could fill.
Among undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral, and faculty members, the most common questions Cooke heard were about the fundamentals of entrepreneurship.
Although not yet set in stone, LSEC is planning a one-week beginners course to teach prospective founders these basics. Cooke added that semester-long courses or even eight-week programs are too long for people just curious about the company’s idea.
Cooke and Lyons said the LSEC is also working on a life science-specific version of the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps, or I-Corps, program. The I-Corps trains new founders to commercialize their innovations, according to the I-Corps website.
“The idea behind I-Corps is that the people you speak to are anyone who could influence whether the solution is adopted,” Cooke said. “Every prospective founder should go through an I-Corps program.”
The LSEC also works with the Office of Intellectual Property and Industry Research Alliances on the campus.
Senior Licensing Officer Laleh Shayesteh has worked with the LSEC since its inception and has praised the center’s role in helping founders in the entrepreneurship process. She added that life science companies are facing an uphill battle over licensing and funding and that the LSEC has an “enormous task” ahead of it.
“The proof will be in the ultimate pudding, and I really hope it turns out to be a tasty one,” said Shayesteh.
Contact Riley Cooke at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @rrileycooke.