There has never been a time in history when so much ground-breaking innovation is possible without major infrastructure builds or capital.
Today, all digital transformation takes is your imagination, an understanding of the existing enabling technologies, and partners who will help you see an idea through to reality.
That’s why if I was a young person in Orange County with some programming in my blood and a thirst for entrepreneurship, I’d be heading to UCI Beall Applied Innovation.
UCI Beall Applied Innovation can help an entrepreneur with just about everything, from ideation to funding to legal services to events at the Cove, Applied Innovation’s headquarters. The Cove offers weekly seminars, panels, networking events and more to assist entrepreneurs (and recently moved into new expanded offices with further details below.)
The person overseeing all this good stuff is Richard Sudek, UCI’s Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Director at Applied Innovation. We recently spoke with Richard to get his take on the region’s current tech ecosystem and how UCI is playing a leading role in its growth.
Can you provide a brief summary of your background?
I graduated from UCI with a computer science degree and started a computer consulting company at age 24. I sold the firm 17 years later to a large engineering company, SAIC.
At that point, I started angel investing and later served as the chairman of Tech Coast Angels. I decided I wanted to teach entrepreneurship to college students, so I went back to school and earned a Ph.D. I later led the entrepreneurship center at Chapman University for several years before joining UCI in 2014.
What drew you to UCI’s entrepreneurship program?
With UCI’s resources and strong commitment from our chancellor and provost, I felt I could really do something for the community. I liked the goal of bridging campus-based discoveries with Orange County’s vibrant business community to support job creation and economic growth.
At UCI Beall Applied Innovation we connect entrepreneurs seeking access to university resources, large corporations looking to tap the school’s research capabilities, and investors wanting to financially support promising new companies.
How did the Cove get started?
Applied Innovation is working to cultivate an “innovation district” in the heart of Orange County that would produce more startups, more scale-ups, and, ultimately, a world-class entrepreneurial ecosystem. We wanted to create a space that would be a center of gravity for entrepreneurs, investors and the community to gather and collaborate. The Cove provides that space. The Cove, Applied Innovation’s headquarters, is a physical space that offers pitch events, lectures, panel discussions, collaborative and office space, conference rooms, event space, an SBDC office and other services.
Applied Innovation started with about 1500 square feet that grew to become the Cove with 46,000 square feet. Last month, we moved into a building across the street, formerly occupied by Broadcom, which brings us to 100,000+ square feet.
In addition to offering space for larger events, the expanded facility includes a wet lab for pharma and biotech entrepreneurs in the community to rent. (Editor’s note: A wet lab is a laboratory designed to accommodate chemical experiments and research.) Currently, wet lab space is not available for rent in Orange County and startups have to go to Los Angeles or San Diego.
What is your assessment of the state of the Orange County’s tech ecosystem?
I think we’re growing but there’s a lot more work to do. We need to market Orange County as a central hub in the Southern California region — we shouldn’t look at L.A. and San Diego as competitors, but rather as partners in scaling innovation. The Southern California tech industry is robust. This region graduates some 30,000 STEM students annually and has more Ph.D.’s than any other area in the country.
Orange County has a very large medical device ecosystem – there are over 400 medical device companies here. We have other ecosystems supporting fintech, gaming and augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) startups. We also are seeing a resurgence of the semiconductor industry addressing specific applications.
What do you do to encourage entrepreneurship among UCI students?
We want to build the friendliest campus in the UC system for student entrepreneurship.
We have the ANTrepreneur Center on campus, which is the first place that most undergraduates go to learn more about entrepreneurship. The Center helps guide them from idea to reality with individual consultations, guest speakers, workshops, and networking events. It also connects students to additional resources across the university.
Then we have Applied Innovation’s Wayfinder incubator program that brings teams of students, faculty and alumni together who want to create a startup. The incubator provides mentors, workshops and more to help with everything from formation to funding to help bring a business to market.
We also offer the Student Startup Fund which provides micro-grants to get students started on their entrepreneurial idea. Then, if their idea progresses, we can introduce them to funding from the Cove Fund and angel investor groups and all the other partners they should be connected to.
Do venture capitalists (VCs) pay enough attention to Orange County?
Capital is much more accessible in Orange County than it was 10 years ago but there’s more efforts underway to bring VCs here.
We have top VCs from L.A. and Silicon Valley that keep regular office hours at the Cove, as well as several angel investor groups. We also hired someone with experience in venture capital – Luis Vasquez – who is solely dedicated to connecting local startups with over 100 of our VC partners at no cost. We’re gradually building a better capital pipeline for companies here.
I would encourage all investors, inventors, consultants and corporations in Orange County to get involved with UCI Beall Applied Innovation in building the region’s tech ecosystem. Get engaged, attend our events, get on our email and see how you can give back.
For more information on the Cove’s new digs, including the addition of UCI’s Convergence Optical Sciences Initiative (COSI), click here.