Sandra Itkoff
Sandra Itkoff

When it comes to launching startup companies to help campus researchers bring their inventions to the marketplace, UCLA is one of the nation’s leading schools, with more than 100 startups currently open for business and roughly 20 new ones being established every year. Yet for university-based inventors, stepping from the world of academia into the realm of entrepreneurial ventures can feel like wading into unfamiliar waters.

A new entrepreneur-in-residence program (EIR) launched this month by the Office of Intellectual Property and Industry Sponsored Research (OIP-ISR) comes to the aid of campus inventors by bringing in experienced entrepreneurs to provide guidance and advice.

Thomas Lipkin, assistant director of entrepreneurship and new ventures in OIP-ISR, said of the four entrepreneurs-in-residence, “They will be here on campus to be a resource to the larger UCLA entrepreneurial ecosystem.” In addition to offering their expertise, they will identify projects that possess market potential and explore possible patenting and licensing opportunities, he said. “They have an ability to see how a given technology might be launched into the marketplace.”

John Gillespie
John Gillespie

This ongoing program supports OIP-ISR’s invigorated focus on providing entrepreneurial resources to researchers, Lipkin said, adding that UCLA faculty members have expressed a need for more interaction with commercial thinkers.

“There’s a huge learning curve when it comes to understanding the business of transferring technology from a research lab to a faculty startup, and I could’ve certainly used guidance from people with experience,” said organic chemistry professor Michael Jung, one of the inventors of Xtandi, a prostate cancer drug that came on the public market last fall. “Having entrepreneurs on campus for assistance in this process will be an extremely valuable asset to the university.”

The charter class of entrepreneurs-in-residence includes Debra Gessner, former vice president, regulatory affairs and quality assurance at Tocagen Inc.; John Gillespie, angel investor and former executive vice president and chief financial officer of the Mentor Network; UCLA alumna Sandra Itkoff, former vice president of strategy for the Americas at BYD America; and Kevin Stark, former executive director for research and development at Amgen.

Kevin Stark
Kevin Stark

“My undergraduate years studying economics at UCLA really shaped not only how I looked at business, but how I looked at the world,” said Itkoff, who graduated in 1984 and has more than 25 years of experience in high-growth entrepreneurial areas. “I am thrilled to be back and working with the faculty, staff and students at UCLA to assist with the commercialization of the great work being done here.”

The entrepreneurs-in-residence will be introduced to the campus community on April 11, starting at 4 p.m., during a panel discussion and reception at the California NanoSystems Institute Auditorium. This event is free and open to the UCLA community. Later this spring, Itkoff and Gillespie plan to host a biweekly seminar series that will explore the startup process, from company inception to exit.

Each entrepreneur will work at least one day per week, either on campus or remotely, and will hold office hours to advise faculty, postdocs and students on startups and matters related to commercializing research and technologies. All of the entrepreneurs are sharing their expertise free of charge — no salary, benefits or honoraria — because they want to give back to the campus and help move innovation forward, said Lipkin.

Debra Gessner
Debra Gessner

Members of the UCLA community who would like to meet with Gessner, Gillespie, Itkoff or Stark may book appointments by sending an email to thomas.lipkin@research.ucla.edu.

“The newly minted EIR program is part of the support system that UCLA has wisely chosen to put in place,” said Gil Travish, a researcher in UCLA’s Particle Beam Physics Laboratory. He launched Radius Diagnostic Research in 2009 with the help and guidance of OIP-ISR. Housed locally in UCLA’s CNSI Incubator and in the UK at the European Space Agency Incubator near Oxford University, the company, which aims to create a flat panel x-ray source for medical imaging, has already licensed two UCLA-held patents.

Travish noted that, in addition to the EIR program, UCLA currently has a number of other major efforts underway that enable members of the UCLA community to participate in technology transfer and startup opportunities. Among the units involved in encouraging and fostering a culture shift on campus and positioning the local region to reap the rewards are the CNSI Incubator, the UCLA Business of Science Center, the UCLA Engineering Institute for Technology Advancement and Startup UCLA, he said. “I believe that these programs — and, more importantly, people such as these EIRs — will help make UCLA a beacon for entrepreneurs and startups in the greater Los Angeles area.”