‘Lovely gift’ helps UC Berkeley to launch Life Sciences Entrepreneurship Center

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Joe Sison/Staff
With a generous donation, UC Berkeley launches the Life Sciences Entrepreneurship Center to encourage and support the development of life science startups.

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On June 29, UC Berkeley announced the launch of the Life Sciences Entrepreneurship Center, or LSEC, making it the latest addition to the Innovation and Entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Darren Cooke, executive director of the center, said the program is made possible by a gift from alumni Mark and Stephanie Robinson, as well as a donation from professor David Kirn and his wife Kristin Ahlquist. According to Cooke, the LSEC will serve life science entrepreneurs in three ways: navigation of the resources at UC Berkeley, education around entrepreneurship and promotion of 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 were not working together as well as they could be, and the LSEC aims to alleviate that divide.

“How do we get this whole ecosystem working in concert fully?” Lyons said.

To answer that question, the LSEC will partner with several existing campus organizations, such as the Bakar BioEnginuity Hub; the Robinson Life Sciences, Business and Entrepreneurship dual degree program; the Innovative Genomics Institute; and Berkeley SkyDeck.

In addition to acting as a liaison 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 gaps the LSEC could fill.

Among undergraduate students, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and faculty, the most frequent questions Cooke heard involved the basics of entrepreneurship.

Although not yet set in stone, LSEC is planning a one-week beginner’s course to educate would-be founders in those basics. Cooke added that semester-long courses, or even eight-week programs, are too long for people who are just curious about the idea to company process.

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 the people you talk to is anyone who could affect whether the solution is adopted,” Cooke said. “Every would-be founder should go through an I-Corps program.”

The LSEC is working with campus’s Office of Intellectual Property and Industry Research Alliances as well.

Senior licensing officer Laleh Shayesteh has worked with the LSEC since its inception and applauded the center’s role in helping founders navigate the entrepreneurship process. She added that life science companies face an uphill battle when it comes to licensing and funding and that the LSEC has an “enormous task” ahead of it.

“The proof will be in the ultimate pudding, and I’m really hoping that it’s going to be a tasty one,” Shayesteh said.

Contact Riley Cooke at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @rrileycooke.