UC Davis Launches 13 New Startups

UC Davis assistant adjunct professor Chiao-Jung Kao is a scientific adviser at ImmunoTess.

The University of California, Davis, continues to foster discovery and innovation, enabling 13 startup companies in the last fiscal year.

The university provides support for campus entrepreneurs in a number of ways, including facilitating intellectual property agreements and licensing inventions. Each startup is commercializing products or services that were seminally developed at UC Davis.

Over the last three years, UC Davis has averaged about 12 startups each year, up from about four before 2012. This increase reflects a focus on technology transfer at the university, highlighted by Chancellor Linda Katehi at the 2015 Convocation and UC President Janet Napolitano through the UC Innovation Council she formed to advise the institution in this area.

Entrepreneurial researchers have access to a variety of support services, provided by the Office of Research’s Venture Catalyst unit. Established in 2013, Venture Catalyst guides researchers through the pre-startup phase and startup formation, including the process of establishing the appropriate corporate structure, applying for patents and making essential connections within the commercial sphere.

“UC Davis is about fostering startups for the benefit of society,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor for technology management and corporate relations and executive director of Venture Catalyst. “Moving these technologies toward the marketplace is important so that they can have an impact in people’s lives beyond the university.”

Concentration in Life Sciences

Many of this year’s startups have a medical focus, likely a result of the strong collaborations between the School of Medicine and other life science and engineering disciplines at the university.

Medical startup ImmunoTess is testing a series of small molecules for their ability to boost the immune system, with the goal of enhancing the effectiveness of cancer immunotherapy.

“Our approach is to monitor the immune status of cancer patients and fortify the immune system with an immune modulator for the purpose of optimizing personalized cancer immunotherapies,” said professor of medicine Michael DeGregorio, founder and scientific advisor of ImmunoTess.

The company, which was founded in May, has already raised more than $1 million in investment capital.

InnovaNutra, another company still in its early stages, is trying to change the way nutrients are delivered in food and cosmetics. UC Davis scientist Nitin Nitin has improved upon encapsulation, a process for protecting a compound’s properties and controlling its release. Nitin’s approach uses cell-based carriers less than 10 microns in size that can stabilize the compounds as they are delivered, allowing for sustained release of bioactive molecules. Examples of products that use encapsulation are face creams with retinol, and water with added vitamins.

“Just like how nutrients get released from a natural food material, we can have them release from these cell-based carriers during digestion — the advantage here being that in a single cell, we can add a combination of health-promoting compounds at a much higher concentration and improved shelf life than possible with common food options,” said Nitin Nitin, who is an associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering. “Some of these solutions we are looking at may have a role in addressing the national need for improving our health through food.”

Other firms have been enabled by foundational science that was developed by UC Davis researchers. For example, Boston pharmaceutical company SAGE Therapeutics licensed the rights to commercialize a treatment with potential to help children and adults with central nervous system disorders, including epilepsy. The treatment was pioneered by a neurology team at UC Davis. Although this publically traded company was founded in 2010, the licensing of foundational science from UC Davis was finalized this year.

UC Davis-enabled startups for 2014-15

Cardiac Motion Wearable, long-term ultra-wideband radar monitor for cardiac arrhythmia
Chirp Microsystems Extremely low power, ultrasonic 3D-sensing solutions for consumer electronics
DtoR Inc. Platform technology to customize transcription control sequences and optimize gene expression for agriculturally significant traits in crop plants and livestock
EncapSolutions Nanoparticle capsules for photonic crystal color display in magnetic field
ImmunoTess Novel compounds for immunomodulation and inhibition of inflammation for enhancing the efficacy of immunotherapy
InnovaNutra Encapsulation technology for bioactive compounds for applications in food, nutraceuticals and cosmetics
Inserogen Use of tobacco plants as a manufacturing platform for rapid, scalable, and cost-effective production of therapeutics for rare (orphan) diseases
Juno BioMedical Novel method and device for directing cell migration
Pandomedx Identification of potential therapeutic targets for prostate cancer
SAGE Therapeutics Mitigation and treatment of epileptic seizures
Tahoe Institute for Rural Health Research Sampling device for personal blood tests

Note: Two companies are currently working in a temporary ‘stealth mode’ for competitive reasons.

This past year, UC Davis also partnered with HM.CLAUSE, a global leader in vegetable seeds, to form a life sciences incubator. Located off-campus in Davis, the space provides laboratory facilities, office and conference-room space and even a greenhouse for fledgling businesses to further develop their technologies.

All told, this past year, UC Davis processed 229 new invention disclosures, 210 patent applications and 57 licenses.

System-wide, the University of California produced the most patents in 2014 of any university system in the U.S., and UC research spawned 1,769 inventions — an average of nearly five a day.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Tia Will

    Two companies are currently working in a temporary ‘stealth mode’ for competitive reasons.”

    And think how much faster and more efficiently these new processes might be developed and put forward for public use if the motive were truly for public benefit as opposed to largely to gain a “competitive edge” ( aka make more profit).


  2. Tia Will


    i’m not sure i agree with you – most people do work in exchange for monetary compensation”

    I am well aware of my minority position. But, just because we currently use a competitive model does not mean that we always have to do so. We made the rules of our current capitalist system, they were not mandated by either God or nature, and we could change them to something that would benefit all rather than just a few fortunate few if we chose to.

      1. Tia Will


        Our capitalist system which has led the way to much of the world’s greatest inventions seems to be working just fine.”

        I don’t deny that it is working fine for you, Frankly, and me. For those who are working full time and cannot support their family on their earnings …..not so much so.


        1. Frankly

          Bull.  The US poor are better off by almost every measure that 95% of the rest of the world.

          Your problem is your lack of macro objectivity replaced by hypersensitive micro relativism.

          There will always be some with more and some with less.   The question is do you support the getting of more from political power and looting, or power achieved from production in a reasonably free economy?

          I will pick the former over the latter anytime and anywhere because it leads to overall much better outcomes for all, even as there is more income disparity.

          Envy is a terribly destructive force if allowed to be.

          I remember one of my employees finding a page that showed the compensation for a new employee I had hired.  She came to me and complained that she was now unhappy because she believed she was underpaid.  Prior to seeing that page, she was happy and satisfied in her job.  I wasn’t kind to her.  I told her that she had not demonstrated to me that she was worthy of greater pay, and that her response to finding this information was an additional indication that she was not worth more.  She quit.

          Any successful PGA/WPGA golfer learns that the game is not competition between players, it is competition of the individual golfer to play his/her best round against the course/environment.   Once you start fretting about measuring your performance against the other players, your performance will fall and you will fail to achieve your potential.

          The American system is one of the best in the world for giving every person opportunity to play and achieve.  It isn’t a perfect system, but it is better than all the rest.

  3. CalAg

    The headline is also completely inaccurate and misleading.

    The UCD technology transfer office is infamous for cooking their numbers to make it look like they are being more productive than they actually are. The sleight-of-hand in this instance is that they are reporting that “UC Davis enabled 13 new companies in the past year.”

    Greenwald – like most other uninformed members of the public – mentally translates this into “UC Davis launched 13 new startups.” Cool. We rock.

    Just use Google if you want a reality check. Of the 11 companies reported by UC Davis in their article reposted here under Greenwald’s headline, only one (ImmunoTess) is a UCD spinout with clear evidence of traction – and they are operating in Granite Bay.

    SAGE is a publicly traded company in Cambridge. TIRHR is a UCD collaborator out of Truckee. Inserogen has been around for several years but hasn’t gotten much traction. Chirp was founded in 2013 with UCB/UCD tech but it is a Berkeley company. You get the idea.

    This is not to disrespect any of the companies listed. It takes enormous courage, perseverance, talent, etc. to get a tech startup off the ground and growing. I sincerely hope that each one of the Davis spinouts becomes a unicorn.

    The issue here is UCD. Even if you accept their qualified number at face value – 13 startups/companies launched/enabled – this is pretty pathetic output for a world class university with a $700M+ R&D budget.

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