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Inclusive Innovation Tackling Some of the World's Most Pressing Issues

In my current roles as Director of the Blackstone Launchpad powered by Techstars as well as QB3 Entrepreneur in Residence and Rachel Carson College Lecturer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, I nurture next-generation ventures and founders tackling environmental and societal issues.

Through the Blackstone Launchpad powered by Techstars, my team and I nurture diverse founders and startups at the earliest stages by providing them with funding, mentorship, access to support networks and more. We support student-led climate tech, deep tech, AI, and tech ventures originated in academic settings and that often translate scientific research into technology products, ventures, and impact. Learn more about the changes I'm advocating for and witnessing in this space, as discussed in a conversation with Fast Company and other colleagues from a number of industries.

As UCSC Rachel Carson Lecturer and CIED Entrepreneur in Residence, I foster inclusive and sustainable entrepreneurship through curricular and co-curricular opportunities. I have taught sustainability innovation and entrepreneurship courses, and currently teach "Hacking for Oceans", the first ever lean startup course focused on oceans. This class is part of the "Hacking for" course series that applies the lean startup methodology to real world problems in specific areas of research excellence in campuses such as Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley, Santa Cruz, San Diego, and more. Hacking for Oceans is now offered to all UC students as a UC system-wide online course, and is also available to the campuses in the Association of Pacific Rim Universities. Seven UC campuses have been ranked by Pitchbook among the top 100 colleges by startup founders globally and, tapping on such a trend, we aim to grow the number of underrepresented entrepreneurs driven by a sense of urgency around environmental and societal issues.

I also serve as Entrepreneur in Residence with QB3, the University of California’s hub for innovation and entrepreneurship in the life sciences for planet and human health. With five incubators, two seed-stage venture capital firms, the Rosenman Institute and three centers at UC Berkeley, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz, QB3 helps UC faculty & students to launch biotech companies and innovations for planet and human health, generating jobs and more than $750 million each year. As EIR, I mentor faculty & student innovators as well as help create new QB3 programs and establish connections with startups, VC funds, and large corporations. 

Back in 2019, I became a member of the UC Office of the President's Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, which is aimed at enabling the UC system to continue creating bold solutions to today’s biggest challenges through innovation and entrepreneurship. In light of such a long-term commitment, I participate in UC system meetings and groups to discuss priorities such as diversity and inclusion, infrastructure, and more. 

 

To conclude, I've trained as well as funded academic entrepreneurs through the National Science Foundation's Innovation Corps (I-Corps), a program aimed at bringing more scientific research-based innovations to market. Innovation Corps is experiential and project-based, allowing teams of professors and students to develop early-stage ideas and to launch new ventures and innovations. Thanks to the generous funding made available by the NSF, my colleagues and I have selected and funded promising I-Corps site ventures, and many of them end up applying for additional NSF funding later on, such as SBIR/STTR funding. Among the successful NSF-funded startups that I often refer to when working with I-Corps teams is Cruz Foam, a climate tech startup which also raised capital from Leo DiCaprio and Ashton Kutcher, among other top tech investors in the US. The startup made it into Time magazine's Best Inventions of 2023 and Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2024.

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