I think of this as an active learning space. It shows our commitment to making the startup experience a part of the curriculum. That’s where the Business Creation Option comes into play. All MBA students are eligible for the incubator. How do you get accepted into it? For an MBA student, the space is available at no cost. You have the opportunity to be there for at least 20 weeks, with the possible renewable option (should things be moving along) consistent with pre-determined milestones. To get into the accelerator, you would have taken the curriculum. You’ve been through our initial Entrepreneurship class (We call it 295A – Entrepreneurship and Venture Initiation) and 295B (Small Business Management), which includes business plan development, where you’ve done a feasibility study and formed a cohort. As a result, you’ll probably have a team that is working on some kind of concept or business model that you think can be useful. Therefore, you might submit an application. If you apply to the accelerator, you have a well-developed case for building an enterprise of some sort. These are the primary ways that we ensure the integrity of curricular foundation for building the accelerator. Alumni are also eligible to come back to the accelerator for a nominal price. The key thing: We want to be sure that we first service our MBA students and get their ideas going. If alumni want to come back and be part of that space, we will try to accommodate that as we go forward.
It’s too early to talk about success. Given the timing, I don’t expect to really see anything for 2-3 years. We did have one team that was in the accelerator last year that came out of our cohort-based curriculum and is doing rather well. It is a Chilean entrepreneurship student named Enrique Mesa and he started a company called Rank Me, which is a human resources platform that he was able to develop while he was spending a lot of time in the accelerator.
The accelerator is open 24×7. Students will have key access, so they come-and-go as a result. The space has all the digital and technology strappings that are necessary: Whiteboards all around, Wi-Fi, separate rooms for private conference calls and small group meetings. The whole thing is 10,000 square feet. Co-working space is about 4,000 square feet.
Once the field study and the part related to getting a degree is done, we are able to offer summer support so participants are able to stay working on their concepts. That summer support would be equivalent to fellowships that pay for room and board and what you need to stay around, stay focused, and not have to worry about if you can pay the rent or eat.
We expect, as we move forward, to have funds available for more substantial, earlier seed stage type of financing. We fully expect that the teams and students are ready to start a business. That’s how you get in. You’re selected. You’ve done feasibility studies and have a plan put forth to go out and do the sorts of things that you were taught to do and are necessary to get out the door such as talking to potential customers. Then, you come back and refine ideas and use some of those principles as part of the experience.
The number of students in the accelerator is now about 100 or so, including 20 or so teams. There are cohorts and there are generally four to five students in a team. They are admitted into the accelerator quarterly. Then, you’ll find the occasional person who is a postdoc who is working with one of our students. For example, we have a postdoc in dental school working with students on a project. Remember, there are two cohorts of 2nd year MBA students who have elected the Business Creation Option. They have a choice to start during the fall quarter and there is another group starting in the winter quarter where we’ll expect to see another 20-30 students or so. So the population could easily be 20-25 teams working on a project and upwards of 90-100 students.
These are just the MBA numbers. There are also undergrads too. One of the things we’re learning is that with the explosion of knowledge, kids today aren’t waiting for graduate school to do something meaningful. We have undergraduates who are giving up career opportunities to start businesses as the result of the undergraduate minor courses.
P&Q: UCLA is one of the most-highly regarded public universities in the United States, with top flight programs in areas like medicine and engineering. How does Anderson partner with these other schools to nurture startup efforts?
AO: The Price Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation sees itself as a leader and convener in many ways, working with other schools like the medical and engineering schools, along with the College of Letters and Sciences. Also, in particular, we are working with some of the derivative medical schools like dentistry and public health that have been engaged in projects. We also have joint degree programs. We have students who are getting their MD and MBA or getting a graduate degree in another school along with an MBA. We are also in the process of putting together a masters degree program in data analytics involving the computer sciences department in the Samueli School of Engineering. We also work with other campus accelerators such as the California NanoSystems Institute. We have had some success with our students starting businesses there working with a principal investigator (PI).
We also collaborate on south campus seminars with faculty PIs. We work closely with the university’s Office of Technology Development. As you know, all professors’ ideas belong to the Regents of the University of California. To the extent that someone starts a business with some of these colleagues across the campus involves a license from the university to move forward with the commercialization.
To give you an idea of how this might work, we teach a class called Md. Tech Innovation. This looks at issues in hospitals and health systems and proposes solutions (such as medical devices) through student projects, some of which have the potential to be a startup. I have taught a course called Technology Commercialization. The idea is to use university-based research. This course involves intellectual property, developed by a PI on campus. Perhaps there is an invention that needs some kind of assessment, particularly a market or financial assessment to see whether the idea is technically feasible and if there is a customer segment that would value it. The course involves a technology assessment and a market study to see if it makes sense to put it together and develop a plan to move the idea forward into an incubator or elsewhere.
We do a bunch of mixers to bring graduate students together. One of the largest organizations on campus is the Entrepreneur Association in the Anderson School that takes the lead in the convening these activities. We sometimes work with students who write business plans as part of course assignments that result in a business being started based on technologies developed by colleagues in science, engineering, and medicine. I can think of a company that was started that way, where the investigator eventually sold company that was started with the business plan and gave us some consideration for helping him do it with a seven figure contribution to the Anderson School. That was a wonderful way to show that we can add value to the rest of the campus: we can work with the faculty on the business elements that they aren’t necessarily comfortable with, but can move the idea in a way that mitigates their risk and they begin to understand what it means to move a little bit downstream without the pressure of outsiders trying to get them to be part of their situation. So we provide an intermediary function whose value can be trusted in this context.
We look forward to innovating, particularly with medical-related devices and therapeutics. Folks here are doing amazing things putting business ideas on paper and aligning interests.