Davis incubator pumping out startups to benefit of California economy

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

Saif Islam, professor at UC Davis and co-founder of Nanosharp, a startup that came out of the ETTC incubator (Photo credit:
Kevin Tong, UC Davis)

California’s business climate is not too hot these days, in fact, it’s downright frosty. A recent report, by the Tax Foundation, ranks California as the third worst to do business because of high taxes.

Business leaders complain Sacramento lawmakers have forged too many rules and red tape that can confound entrepreneurs’ ability to start or grow their business.

But professors at UC Davis may have struck on a formula for startup success. It’s called the Engineering Translational Technology Center or ETTC.

“We wanted to provide help to faculty that had research that was patented or protected through the university and they had an interest in turning that research into a start-up company and eventually a product that would make it back on the marketplace,” said Bruce White, professor emeritus and director of ETTC, college of engineering, UC Davis.

This on-campus incubator allows tenured professors to stay close to their research, develop their ideas in a familiar setting and engage students along the way.

“We do this as a service to our faculty to attract better quality faculty, to retain faculty, to attract higher quality of grad students and undergrads,” said White. “We are ultimately accelerating the time it takes to get a start-up up and running and turning that product out to the marketplace.”

Right now, six companies are in the program including Ennetix, Inc. which creates software for energy conservation in IT networks; and Inserogen, which is developing vaccines in plants.

“One company just graduated and received more than $700,000 from private investors and that company is now hiring a team to further their product,” said White.

The catalyst for this incubator started after a former professor left to start his own company, SynapSense.

“It was a long and a little painful process for him, to get his business started,” White of the founder. “If he would have had something like ETTC available, it would have streamlined his time and effort.”

SynapSense, located in Folsom, now employs over 200 employees and is very successful. “It’s a perfect model,” said White.

ETTC has only been around for two years, but White believes the program has potential for greater success. In fact, bestcollegesonline.com named the incubator, one of “Ten College Business incubators we’re most excited about.”

White added, “It’s the love and the interest in the research, to see it become useful for other people. We find that this can lead to economic impact in the region and increased jobs and benefit the people of California.”

Typically funding for such programs is supported by government grants, but fewer grants are available. Right now the ETTC is funded 100 percent through private donations, mostly from alumni.

Davis’ incubator is the type of innovative public-private partnership that the Economic Summit seeks to support through its Action Plan. The SMART Innovation Small Business Action Team is looking to work with the private sector and university partners to develop an online business accelerator with volunteer hours and/or credit hours given. You can follow the progress of the Action Teams on our Progress Tracker page.


Cheryl Getuiza

All stories by: Cheryl Getuiza