UC’s 1st special adviser on innovation, entrepreneurship assumes position

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UC President Janet Napolitano’s first special adviser on innovation and entrepreneurship started Monday, spearheading plans to foster small business growth with UC resources.

As adviser to Napolitano, former executive vice chancellor at UCSF Regis Kelly will collaborate with UC campuses, medical centers and laboratories to maximize opportunities for innovation. The position will start as a one-year position, according to Kelly.

A professor emeritus of biochemistry and biophysics at UC Berkeley, Kelly spent the last decade cultivating a relationship between local entrepreneurship and the university. As director of QB3, one of the university’s four Governor Gray Davis Institutes for Science and Innovation, Kelly helped establish the university’s inaugural technology incubator in 2006, according to a UC press release. Now, the San Francisco base of QB3 supports 45 life-science startups.

“QB3 provides some bench space for very small startup companies,” said Jan Ambrosini, director of communications at Berkeley’s QB3 division. “They might have only one or two employees and no permanent funding. They need to see if they have what it takes for their companies to succeed.”

The organization offers startups a lease for two or three years, granting them access to shared research equipment and facilities. Kelly will retain his position as director of QB3 and, in his new role as adviser, plans to determine if this model is scalable to all 10 UC campuses.

“Our goal is to give any student with a good idea an opportunity to create a company,” Kelly said. “Anything the UC does that is successful, people mimic. We feel like we have the opportunity to create a global model.”

Kelly said this initiative is important in its potential to help local economies. He referenced the profit QB3 brought to the Bay Area over the last six years — a $520 million regional return for the university’s $800,000 investment. Kelly said the proliferation of this model could stimulate regional economies across the state, potentially incentivizing the state to allocate more money to the university.

“The purpose of a state university is to help the state economy,” he said. “This is something (Napolitano) can use to argue for more state funding for the university. She can take it away from a discussion of tuition increases and say, ‘Look what we’re doing for the local economy.’ ”

Kelly said another focus will be to consolidate university resources to tackle global issues that require interdisciplinary research, such as global aging and climate change.

Kelly’s appointment follows the announcement of a new $250 million fund to invest in technology produced from UC campuses and laboratories. He said this demonstrates the university is moving toward better embodying its mission to do public good.

“Most of my colleagues are always asking what they can get — not what they can give,” Kelly said. “Universities are the ideal think tanks to address big issues, and I want to be part of the solution.”

Contact Arielle Swedback at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @aswedback.