Center cultivates innovation to propagate home-grown businesses

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Dan Heller and Rebecca Braslau hope the Center for Entrepreneurship at the Baskin School of Engineering will help bring novel ideas to the market. (Photo by Jim MacKenzie)
Dan Heller looks into the future and sees creativity, innovation, and enough money to stop fretting about state budget cuts.

"If we start building companies, we can replenish some of that lost revenue," he said. "If the school can rewrite its perception in the world as a place of innovation and entrepreneurship, we will attract even better students and even better faculty."

Heller (College Eight '85, computer and information sciences) was a member of the e-mail vanguard (remember Zmail?) and is the executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the Baskin School of Engineering. His job and the program are less than a year old, but he's aiming high: A focused academic program to incubate business and technology development, and technology licensing to attract cash and prestige to the campus.

The City of Santa Cruz is watching the center's activities with interest.

"It's essential to the local economy for us to support the commercialization of research as well as empower the entrepreneurial potential of the UCSC faculty," said Peter Koht (Stevenson '05, music and history), economic development coordinator for the City of Santa Cruz. "By creating the space for entrepreneurship, you create opportunity for resilience and innovation in an economy undergoing rapid transformation."

The center is so young there's not yet any tie between it and the school's Silicon Valley Initiatives.

In the early stages, Heller is focused on professionalizing the school's business plan design contest and working with faculty with innovative ideas.

One idea that's already been patented is the brainchild of chemistry professor Rebecca Braslau, who invented a spray that, in conjunction with a basic fluorescent light, will detect the presence of poison oak and ivy oils on tools or clothing.

"The methodology is patented to UCSC, but the development of the product to a level that it can be licensed or produced by a start-up company has not been pursued due to lack of funding, and lack of connections by the inventor—me," Braslau said.

There are many researchers at UCSC with great ideas who are not interested or experienced in the business world, Braslau continued.

With the center's help, Braslau hopes the many novel ideas germinating on campus will lead to great innovations in the market.