Santa Cruz Tech Beat


Startup Sandbox to enhance Santa Cruz’s biotech competitiveness

Special to Santa Cruz Tech Beat

October 5, 2017 — Santa Cruz, CA

(Photo above: Startup Sandbox is located at 250 Natural Bridges Drive, Santa Cruz. Contributed.)

Our goal is to foster the commercialization of research discoveries and attract intellectual and financial capital that is essential to our region’s economic vitality.” — Alireza Chavosh, Director

Startup Sandbox, a new biotechnology incubator affiliated with UC Santa Cruz, opened its doors on August 1, 2017 at 250 Natural Bridges Drive on the Westside of town, advantageously positioned between the UCSC campus and some of the best beaches in the area.

Local residents Lou Pambianco and Judy Owen are leading the effort, as President and Chair of the board of directors, respectively. Together they bring over 60 years of in-depth Silicon Valley experience. Pambianco has consulted to some of the most successful Silicon Valley giants including Intel, Apple, and Cisco, and Owen has served as CEO, General Manager, and Director to leading companies such as Wireless Access Inc. Silicon Graphics, and Intel. They are also founders of Angels by the Sea, an early stage investment group cultivating entrepreneurial enterprises in the greater Monterey Bay area.

“Startup Sandbox aims to enhance Santa Cruz’s competitiveness in supporting early stage companies not only by providing affordable physical research space, but also through entrepreneurial programs, networking, and investment opportunities,” said Lou Pambianco.

“Entrepreneurs can join with IP, an idea, or even a napkin sketch and get started, benefiting from the Startup Sandbox’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and unique facilities,” said Judy Owen.

Alireza Chavosh serves as director, heading up the management of the incubator and its programs and services. “Our goal is to foster the commercialization of research discoveries and attract intellectual and financial capital that is essential to our region’s economic vitality” said Chavosh. “Over ten companies have applied to enter the incubator, and four companies are signed up to work in the space by the beginning of October,” said Chavosh.

Startup Sandbox’s team consists of, left to right, Bari Nazario, Wet Lab Operations; Ann Pace, University Liason; Lou Pambianco, President of the board of directors; Alireza Chavosh, Director; Judy Owen, Chairman of the board of directors; Lilila Sandoval, Human Resources. (Contributed)

Startup Sandbox has recently welcomed its first new members into the 13,500 square foot facility. The first of its kind in the Santa Cruz area, the facility offers a combination of “wet lab” and more conventional private office and co-working space. “Startup companies needing laboratory benches, chemical fume hoods and cell culture facilities will be able to rent space in small increments, as needed,” explained lab planner Bari Nazario. Researchers will also have access to key pieces of equipment for research and product development, such as -80° and -20° C freezers, an autoclave, centrifuge, microscopes, and incubators. Dry lab and office space will support a variety of technologies including genomics, computer science, electrical and mechanical engineering, and other disciplines.

UCSC’s Office of Research, led by Vice Chancellor for Research Scott Brandt, has been instrumental in stimulating the establishment of the incubator as a partnership between UCSC and the Santa Cruz community. Brandt formed the Office of Industry Alliances and Technology Commercialization (IATC) to spearhead efforts to support entrepreneurship and to develop university intellectual property across all research areas.

Under the direction of Assistant Vice Chancellor Mohamed Abousalem, IATC secured $2.2 million of state funds from a program authorized by Assembly Bill 2664, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E) Expansion. AB 2664 is a $22 million investment from the state to propel new innovation and entrepreneurship efforts across the UC system through investments in infrastructure, incubators and entrepreneurship education programs. Each of the ten UC campuses was awarded $2.2 million.

The UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute has been another important driver of the project. Led by scientific director and professor of biomolecular engineering David Haussler, the UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute is a leader in data analysis, precision medicine, and technology platforms. In fact, UCSC is the premier institution globally for handling big data in genomics research. Focused on using genomics to positively impact health, nature, and society, much of the research conducted at the institute has commercial potential.

Once it was determined that Sandbox would be a private entity outside of the university, the team pitched itself and the incubator idea to Pambianco and Owen. After careful analysis of the proposal, they were convinced of the incubator’s potential, and established Startup Sandbox, Inc. as an independent 501(c)(3). They secured a contract with the university, funded by SPLICE, to develop the physical space and programs for the incubator, and retained the original team of Chavosh, Nazario, Pace, and Sandoval to initiate the business. As UCSC staff, Bari Nazario, Ann Pace, and Lilia Sandoval volunteer their time in key roles — Nazario as laboratory planner overseeing the design and buildout of the wet laboratory space; Pace as communications liaison, focusing on links to the Genomics Institute, QB3, and the UC system; and Sandoval as human resources manager, supporting Startup Sandbox human resources needs.

Founders Pambianco and Owen envision this city-university partnership becoming a hub for genomic and life science innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Startup Sandbox has the potential to identify Santa Cruz as a scientific hub for breakthrough solutions in genomics, biotech and precision medicine,” says Pambianco. “Supporting these emerging companies and providing them with space to grow will enrich our entire community.”

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