The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced today that it will provide a multimillion-dollar grant to create a hub of innovation that unites public and private institutions throughout Southern California, headquartered at and administered by USC, the California Institute of Technology and UCLA.
The new center is part of the NSF Innovation Corps, or “I-Corps,” initiative, which aims to foster innovation throughout the United States by encouraging the translation of ideas and research beyond the laboratory to create social and economic impact. The announcement cements the position of Southern California as a crucial focal point of technology entrepreneurship in the country.
“We are very pleased to receive this transformative grant from the NSF, which recognizes the immense potential of the Los Angeles region to become a vibrant technology innovation ecosystem. With the largest number of talented engineers graduating from Southern California institutions than from any other geographic region in the nation, the conditions are just ripe for this creative transformation for the benefit of the region and the nation overall,” said Yannis C. Yortsos, dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the principal investigator of the grant.
“We are thrilled to be part of NSF’s visionary I-Corps program. This award will strongly accelerate the growth of the study and practice of entrepreneurship and innovation management throughout our region,” said Andrea Belz, academic director of the Master of Science of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the USC Marshall School of Business, and the new node director.
This node will unite USC Viterbi and USC Marshall with partners at UCLA and Caltech. Other nodes exist in the Bay Area, New York City, Washington, D.C., Georgia and Michigan. NSF’s goal is to create a network of innovation hubs throughout the country. NSF also is adding a node in Texas.
‘Nurturing leadership in innovation’
“Our commitment at Marshall and across USC to nurturing leadership in innovation makes this an ideal environment to forge such a far-reaching partnership,” said James G. Ellis, dean of USC Marshall. “In collaboration with the NSF and our sister institutions across Southern California, we are well positioned to leverage emerging talent and ideas to fuel next-generation discoveries.”
The I-Corps program helps to generate startup companies by encouraging entrepreneurs to learn about the market opportunities for technologies generated by NSF-funded research. The NSF works with partners in the private sector to secure funding and additional resources to help those startups succeed.
“NSF expects the new Southern California Node will draw upon the deep wellspring of talented people in that region, strengthening an already robust national innovation network,” said Pramod Khargonekar, NSF’s assistant director for the Directorate for Engineering, which oversees the I-Corps program. “The I-Corps program is ultimately an investment in people, giving them the tools they need to make an impact on their communities, for both societal and economic benefit.”
As principal investigator, Yortsos will coordinate the initiative, with Belz of USC Marshall leading the operations of both the educational and research efforts. She will work in partnership with USC Viterbi professor and successful entrepreneur Peter Beerel, who will serve as node co-director, and also serves as principal investigator for the new USC I-Corps site, an important vehicle for preparing and funding campus teams in anticipation of entry into the node educational programs. Through the node, USC Viterbi and USC Marshall will host events to integrate the rapidly growing technology commercialization efforts that will help spark the Los Angeles ecosystem, as well as hosting national I-Corps courses.
Caltech Chief Innovation Officer Fred Farina will lead his institution’s efforts, providing input on research efforts and supporting community programs to extend the node’s reach into the technology-rich Pasadena community. Caltech is one of the world’s leading research institutions and was named No. 1 in the United Kingdom’s Times Higher Education 2013-2014 World University Rankings.
Caltech’s Office of Technology Transfer and Corporate Partnerships is considered one of the top technology transfer offices in the country and consistently spins out around eight startups per year.
“Although we’re smaller than our partners USC and UCLA, we have a tremendous amount of science and engineering horsepower to contribute to the I-Corps program. Our researchers are among the most creative and entrepreneurial in the nation, and our collaboration in this program will help extend that innovative spirit more broadly across the region and the nation,” Farina said. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, managed by Caltech for NASA, will also be a part of the node.
Professor Dwight Streit of the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering will lead the UCLA effort, which includes a new partnership with the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Streit is director of the Institute for Technology Advancement, UCLA Engineering’s incubator for startup companies and technology transfer based on faculty and student innovations.
“We are delighted to partner with USC and Caltech on the Southern California node of the NSF Innovation Corps,” Streit said. “UCLA Engineering and the Anderson school have a track record of fostering entrepreneurship on campus and around the region, and we are excited to support the NSF’s mission to make the region an even more vibrant technology hub.”
In addition, the UCLA Anderson School of Management will partner with USC Marshall in teaching customer development courses geared toward accelerating university technology entrepreneurship, with Anderson and entrepreneur Nathan Wilson joining Belz as one of the national instructors based in Los Angeles.
USC will host its first NSF national cohort in October.