UCI Celebrates 20 Years of Octane OC Building Entrepreneurial Innovation Ecosystem

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

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Genuine collaboration and building a community that hasn’t formerly existed doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it may take decades and, much like any startup, it experiences ups and downs.

This year, Octane a non-profit organization that drives technology and growth by connecting ideas and people with resources and capital is celebrating two decades of building the now budding innovative and entrepreneurial ecosystem that sprawls across Southern California. The UC Irvine ecosystem partner’s very seed was planted in Irvine with roots dating back to UCI’s Division of Continuing Education. That seed has grown over 20 years and continues to cultivate entrepreneurial, investment, and workforce opportunities across Orange County, San Diego and Los Angeles, and the Inland Empire.

And they aren’t slowing down.

With more than 600 companies launched through their LaunchPad Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Accelerator, and now with a goal of creating more than 88,000 jobs in Southern California by 2030, Bill Carpou, CEO as of April 2015, aims to continue to build this system by working with partners like UCI to help startups and entrepreneurs make impactful connections, receive funding, bring more women and underrepresented leaders to the fold and continue to provide opportunities to underserved communities and ultimately build upon the Southern California innovation ecosystem.

“I’m passionate about how we connect entrepreneurs, investors, and industry, so it’s like a triangle of support,” said Carpou. “Entrepreneurs create the ideas, and we match them with the industry and sources of capital.”

Though Orange County has long been touted for being a medical device and engineering hub with longstanding prosperous companies like Edwards Lifesciences, Medtronic, Massimo, and more, Tom Moebus, UCI vice chancellor of Advancement until 2001, aimed to establish the viable innovative ecosystem modeled on his experience at MIT along with a plethora of investment opportunities to Orange County.

“Orange County itself [at the time] was a hotbed of research and UCI was getting its stride,” said Moebus. “It was a really fast-growing university … huge amounts of intellectual property and technology, and yet none of it was getting anywhere.”

Along with notable leaders Dwight Decker, Conexant Systems, Inc. chairman and CEO, Jim Mazzo, executive chairman, president and CEO of Avellino and co-founder and chairman of the Board Octane, global president of Carl Zeiss Meditec, Mike Mussallem, Edwards Lifesciences chairman and CEO, and Matt Massengill, president and chairman of Western Digital, in addition to Gary Matkin, UCI Dean of Continuing Education, Octane @UCI launched in 2002 to connect UCI’s intellectual property to the community.

“There were clusters of faculty members connecting with employers, but there was no infrastructure to getting things started, so Octane was really involved in creating that new venture startup ecosystem,” said Matkin.

UCI’s then Extension Resources Department created programs that became a central part of Octane’s early development and held events that piqued the interests of Orange County leadership and investors in various industries, such as medical devices and life sciences, according to Matkin.

In 2005, Octane maintained a partnership with UCI and kept its original focus of building the surrounding entrepreneurship and investment communities. Chief among its objectives was establishing an environment of inclusiveness among universities, business industry sectors and community organizations engaged in investing, innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Twenty years ago, we had no place where would-be entrepreneurs could meet and discuss, we had maybe one venture capital firm with maybe one person in Orange County looking for startups and investments, and we lamented the bleak OC innovation landscape.” said Decker. “I’m very gratified that planting the Octane seed has helped grow an innovation oasis in Orange County.”

Stemming from those initial collaborative years, UCI Beall Applied Innovation was launched in 2014 to serve as a dynamic platform supporting and providing resources to faculty, innovators and entrepreneurs to help build a powerful and potent economy.

Applied Innovation plays a critical role in building the modern and inclusive American dream by accelerating impactful discoveries, providing entrepreneurs the resources for success, and promoting a robust economy.

The UCI department connects UCI and industry, including entrepreneurs seeking access to university inventions and talent, large corporations looking to tap the school’s research capabilities, and investors wanting to financially support promising new companies.

“Much like Orange County’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, Applied Innovation has enjoyed a partnership with Octane that has grown even larger over the last few years,” said Errol Arkilic, UCI chief innovation officer and executive director at UCI Beall Applied Innovation. “It is truly amazing how an idea can start at a university and become something that’s so vital to the progression of our ecosystem. UCI has 60,000 disruptors with its faculty researchers, its students, and alumni, so we look forward to continuing to supply Octane and the community startups that can provide real-world solutions to our region and the world. Even after 20 years, we still have more work to do together to exchange ideas that accelerate and foster innovation.”

From decades of growth within the accelerator itself, Octane now launches 65 companies a year through Launchpad SBDC Accelerator, according to Carpou, and works with Applied Innovation to develop startups coming out of Applied Innovation’s Wayfinder program. Octane’s goal of creating 88,000 jobs by 2030 is a testament to the success the organization has had with exceeding their original goal of 55,000 jobs.

Acceleration can be seen in UCI’s entrepreneurial economic impact. Since 1990, there has been $34.4 billion of investments in, and liquidity exits of UCI-affiliated startups. Of the investments, 76% stayed in California, 54% stayed in Southern California and $5.4 billion (16%) fueled economic activity in Orange County.

“As one of the founders, I am thrilled to see the progress that Octane has made over the years,” said Mazzo. “Although it has expanded into multiple areas, the core value of why we started Octane is still in the business fundamentals: Help entrepreneurs develop technology-driven companies and keep them in Southern California, which develops jobs and further entrepreneurs.”

And as for the future of Southern California’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, it’s bright and sunny, according to Carpou and the co-founders, with the perfect weather to draw more investors from freezing temperatures of other innovation regions with an additional draw of valuation opportunities.

“Octane has always focused on the future of Southern California, convening bright minds across diverse companies and organizations to imagine what could be, and then pursuing that vision to make it a reality,” said Mussallem. “At the time Octane was established 20 years ago, it was a novel idea to bring together people across technology [sectors], initially spanning high tech and medical technology. By cultivating these relationships across sectors within technology, and creating a supportive environment with respect to talent, funding, education, and innovation, Octane has helped to create important new jobs and companies around the region that impact people not only locally, but also globally.”

Octane will be officially celebrating its 20-year mark all year long with a larger event in September.

UCI and Octane are Leaders Circle partners of the Greater Irvine Chamber.

Category: Business Excellence, Innovation, UCI Beall Applied Innovation, Octane, Greater Irvine Chamber, Leaders Circle