Inside Stanley Hall, the building that hosts the Department of Bioengineering, a number of laboratories are in full swing over the summer, serving not only as research facilities for campus students and faculty, but also as incubators for innovative startups that may spearhead emerging industries.

In that space, five companies, most founded by Berkeley graduate students and alumni, are leveraging lab resources to develop cutting-edge technologies, from tissue regenerative implants to wearable air quality monitoring devices.

“Summer is a great time to lay a foundation for your company,” says alumnus Shyam Patel, founder of NanoNerve, a medical device company that leases space at Stanley Hall. “This is a good time to utilize university resources and connect with people on campus. Professors are generally freer so they might help you with research and founding.”

Patel, currently a lecturer of bioengineering at Berkeley, is hopeful that his company’s main product, a patch that can protect the brain and spinal cord after neuron surgery, will be released into the hands of surgeons in a year. The venture is also developing a product that can help nerves regenerate in the aftermath of injuries. Patel moved his company, founded in Fremont seven years ago, to the Berkeley campus a few years ago to benefit from the fast improving startup ecosystem.

All the ventures at Stanley Hall are part of a startup incubator network known as QB3 — the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences. This is a university, state, and industry research partnership designed to foster the development of biology as a quantitative, predictive science, with applications in health, energy, and the environment. The interdisciplinary program allows UC-originated startups to gain access to campus laboratory space and fosters collaborations among UC faculty and entrepreneurs.

“In the last four years, Berkeley has made a real push into launching an environment where you can create a start-up,” Patel says, “and the campus provides resources for you to push that startup further.”

Besides incubators, the campus also offers a slew of resources from startup competitions to fellowship, funding, and human resource support to help students succeed on the path to entrepreneurship.

Another beneficiary of the Berkeley startup ecosystem is ChemiSense, a company founded in January by Ph.D. student Brian Kim. ChemiSense is developing a wearable air quality-monitoring device that can measure the concentration of air pollutants in users’ hyperlocal environment. The data is transmitted to users’ smartphones via Bluetooth and then is analyzed to provide actionable insights. Kim stresses that Berkeley plays a critical role in his company’s growth by providing lab access and human resource support.

Kelly Cardner, founder of Zephyrus Biosciences, a company that uses lab space at Stanley Hall to develop a high throughput and high-selectivity protein-fingerprinting tool for large numbers of single cells, shares Kim’s sentiment.

“Resources provided by Berkeley are instrumental to getting our company off the ground,” she says.

For someone thinking about starting their own business, Patel suggests honing the concept and then checking whether the technology is patentable before going out to looking for funding. More information about funding, fellowships, and incubators at Berkeley can be found at startup.berkeley.edu, an online portal for startup resources.


Categories: August 2014, Headlines
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About Leo Zou

Leo is a bilingual journalist who studied at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining the program, he had worked for three years in Beijing as a staff reporter with China's national newspaper, covering a wide range of topics from social unrest to business development.