Promoting innovation and entrepreneurship

By Sharon Henry

REgis Kelly, UC special advisor on innovation and entrepreneurship envisions a master plan for innovation in service to the public


Irvine, January 26, 2015

Regis Kelly, the newly-named special advisor on innovation and entrepreneurship to UC President Janet Napolitano, spoke to a Calit2 audience last week. His presentation, “University Associated Entrepreneurship,” highlighted his work at the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) and outlined his ideas for promoting academic research and entrepreneurial ventures as a way to stimulate California’s economy and generate additional revenue for the UC system.

In a report to the UC Board of Regents in November, Napolitano said, “The development of these alternative revenue sources has become increasingly important given the current financial realities facing the University. To accomplish these goals, he (Kelly) will bridge academia and commercial industries with entrepreneurial ventures.” Kelly will also assist UC officials with UC Ventures, a $250 million fund that will  help the University of California capitalize on technologies emerging from UC’s 10 campuses and three national laboratories. UC Ventures uses no state or tuition funds.

In 2004, Kelly, a professor emeritus of biochemistry and biophysics, retired as executive vice chancellor at UC San Francisco. That same year he became director of the California QB3 – a partnership of three UC campuses, and, like Calit2, one of four California Institutes for Science and Innovation established in 2000 by then-Governor Gray Davis.

Kelly’s goal at QB3 has been to drive entrepreneurship and launch biomedical startups by connecting scientists from UCSF, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz with global industries and venture capitalists. The institute has incubated 60 companies, and from 2005 through 2013, QB3 startups raised more than $500 million from public and private sources.

The best of both worlds

The challenge is to get the best of both worlds: the best of the university world and the best of the private world, Kelly said.

“Some of our problem in developing QB3 is we are really a public-private partnership. A whole lot of problems emerge when you've got a private-public partnership, which we were facing and were struggling with it. And then we realized by making a comparison to an academic health center – which has already been doing this for 50 or 100 years – really helped us,” he said.

Academia provides innovations in medical care, and health centers offer insight into unmet needs and practical training for students. “The result is an inspirational model for establishing porous boundaries between academia and the business world. Having a public-private partnership modeled on academic health centers is really a very exciting way to go,” Kelly said.

A master plan for innovation

Kelly envisions a master plan for innovation in service to the public that would coordinate, accelerate and bring to public attention the innovation and entrepreneurship efforts taking place at UC campuses and labs. The plan would have two primary goals. It would more efficiently transform UC’s ground-breaking research into new goods and services that benefit a global society, and enhance the California economy and create new jobs.

Next steps for Kelly will be to visit all UC campuses to learn what each is pursuing in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship. He also plans to collect data on local economic growth that can be used to support legislative actions, and further explore his concept for an academic innovation center modeled on QB3.

“My dream would be for the University of California to be way ahead of any university in all of America in establishing itself as a leader in innovation and entrepreneurship by creating an entirely new academic entity,” he said.

Kelly describes his concept as “the biggest transformation of the University of California in 25 years.” But he wants to make it perfectly clear that “These are not approved by Janet, these are my fantasies.” Neither potential hurdle seems to have hindered his enthusiasm, however. “It’s easier to do something that is big than something small; it's about the same amount of work,” he said. “You might as well go for the big thing.”