Dr. Chia Soo’s professional life has been dedicated to finding new and innovative treatments to promote skin regeneration for scars from burns or other skin trauma. While performing research at UCLA more than 20 years ago, she found a promising peptide drug for wound healing and eventually founded her own company. But before she could bring it to market, she would need to perform preclinical proof of concept studies, which for her, would require more laboratory space, access to specialized and expensive facilities, and a place to grow her business.
For Soo, a solution was two buildings away at UCLA’s deep technology incubator called Magnify. Deep technology innovations are those built around unique, protected or hard-to-reproduce technological or scientific advances and pertain to a variety of industries including life sciences, energy, information technology and materials.
“Magnify was directly responsible for us securing $8 million in Small Business Innovation Research grant funding from the National Institutes of Health to perform preclinical trials,” said Soo, professor and vice chair for research in the division of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and founder of Scarless Laboratories. “What Magnify offered was not just a place or a desk, but access to millions of dollars in resources and facilities due to its proximity to the California NanoSystems Institute and UCLA. In order to prove that our drug worked, we needed facilities to be able to do high level research.”
Scarless Laboratories is an early-stage biotechnology company which has recently completed preclinical trials on a peptide drug for wound healing that could make wound tissue stronger as it heals, or more difficult to rip apart. It could also make wounds heal faster while reducing scarring. This could benefit people suffering from chronic wounds like diabetic ulcers or those undergoing elective surgeries. Scarless is now in the process of submitting an application for Phase I clinical trials, an initial phase of testing that assesses the safety of a drug in a small number of volunteers.
Housed right on the UCLA campus inside the California NanoSystems Institute, Magnify (formerly known as the CNSI Incubator), helps startups succeed by providing access to high-end scientific equipment and entrepreneurial networking opportunities to reduce the time and money needed to launch. According to a 2017 Milken Institute Report, UCLA attracted more than $1 billion in research funding and also ranks no. 1 in the nation for spinning out companies based on campus research.
“As one of the world’s top research universities, UCLA has the intellectual capital, infrastructure and sophisticated tools needed to transform ideas into commercial products that will improve peoples’ quality of life around the world,” said Brian Benson, who oversees Magnify as director of entrepreneurship and commercialization at CNSI.
The institute’s members include more than 150 faculty members from 35 departments across UCLA. This diversity of expertise and backgrounds provides a network that fosters powerful collaborations among scientists and researchers from applied mathematics and engineering to the natural and biomedical sciences. Research members from CNSI are involved with almost half of UCLA startups.
The infrastructure of CNSI offers startup companies access to a collection of advanced instrumentation from the six state-of-the-art CNSI Technology Centers, some of which include optical, electron and scanning probe microscopy, cleanroom fabrication, and tools for analyzing nanomaterials.
Membership in Magnify offers highly motivated entrepreneurs the ability to conduct key activities like conducting proof-of-concept experiments or building a prototype. This is important for collecting critical data that will inform the design of a final commercial product.
“Our goal is to help companies reduce the time and capital needed to transform their ideas into a scalable, fundable business,” Benson said. “Magnify provides critical resources including mentorship, business development, and funding advice that can lead to a company’s success.”
To be eligible for the incubator, companies should have sufficient working capital to achieve critical technical and business milestones such as Series A financing. This type of funding enables development of a commercially viable prototype, while covering incubator fees — which would vary from company to company based on needs — for at least six months. In addition, companies should also be incorporated for less than five years and have an established residence in the incubator.
Startups in the greater Los Angeles area are encouraged to apply, but preferences will be given to companies with a UCLA affiliation which includes a license of intellectual property owned or controlled by UCLA, sponsored research agreement with UCLA, one active member — either a cofounder or member of the management team — who is a current UCLA faculty, student, staff or alumnus.
Millibatt, a company co-founded by two UCLA alumni, makes millimeter-scale-sized, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for items including wearable and medical devices like fitness trackers or pacemakers. At the time of their invention, Leland Smith was pursuing a Ph.D. and Janet Hur was a postdoctoral researcher, both in materials science and engineering. Smith and Hur filed a UCLA provisional patent, formed their company and joined Magnify in late 2016.
“Right now, we’re building out a small pilot line using CNSI’s facilities as a proof-of-concept for a larger pilot line when we leave the incubator,” Smith said. “Using this pilot line, we’re trying to demonstrate that we could build about 1 million batteries a year.”
What many young entrepreneurs may not think about is how they will access equipment and order necessary materials for experiments or building prototypes.
“There are so many things to think about. Where can you get a fume hood, time on an electron microscope, or store chemical waste?” Smith said. “If we had to do things like this on our own without CNSI and Magnify, it easily would have added months of complications for us.”
Admission to Magnify is through a competitive review process starting with an online application that is initially screened by the Magnify team. Selected applicants are invited to present to the Magnify advisory committee, on a quarterly basis. Acceptance decisions are made by the Magnify director along with input from the advisory committee.
Magnify is always looking for great startups developing transformative technology to join the innovation ecosystem. If you are a passionate entrepreneur looking to launch a company we encourage you to apply today.