by Tim Keller
One of the things that unites all Davis residents is our pride in UCD. It drives our economy; it is why we have such a diverse and well educated population, and it gives us the cultural vibrancy that you expect of a college town.
But that label: “College town” doesn’t do it justice. The United States has more than 3,000 colleges – but only 130 research universities. UC Davis is in the top 20 of those universities and is #5 among the public research institutions – drawing in more research funding than even UC Berkeley.
We have every right to be proud of UC Davis, but that pride also comes with a responsibility. The city is a host to the university, and we are partners in its success, but in one critical area we have continually fallen short: Space for campus technologies to transition into “the real world”
Off-campus innovation space is the single place where we have most failed to live up to our end of the deal as hosts to a research institution. Without R&D Space, all of that investment in research has a very hard time making it to market – and if it does, it is usually because the founders migrate towards the bay area.
This is why when I heard that the Aggie Research Campus (ARC) was going to be back on the agenda for the City, my immediate responses were “Its about time!” and “how can I help?”. This is our chance to live up to our end of the deal as hosts to a powerhouse research university. By providing a place where those technologies can access the space and equipment they need to efficiently commercialize.
I know first hand what happens without a space like ARC. In 2008 I won the UC Davis “Big Bang!” business plan competition which launched my company VinPerfect. – A packaging technology that allowed screwcap wine closures to “breathe” giving the winemaker perfect control over how that wine ages over time.
But when I started VinPerfect, it was clear very quickly that we were not going to be able to stay in Davis. I needed a laboratory and I needed space to prototype my products – and that simply didn’t exist here – so we were forced to leave.
That’s why I took it upon myself to create the kind of resource that I wish I had when starting VinPerfect: A shared space with lab equipment and prototyping equipment that could be used by a number of R&D based companies and keep costs low. That space is Inventopia, which is home to 14 startups all crammed into 1800 square feet next to the DMV.
Inventopia is what is called a “tough tech incubator”; a place where resource-intensive technologies can efficiently do the work they need to get to market. And the idea behind it isn’t new. In fact, all of the other top-tier research universities have major facilities like this: all except UC Davis.
The ARC will change everything. It will include dedicated incubator space for organizations like Inventopia as well as highly flexible commercial space for companies to move into as they gradually scale up. The open space in ARC will be home to highly-instrumented agricultural test plots and pads for testing renewable and sustainable technologies.
These are not things that are going to be produced anywhere else, and they are critical to the success of UC Davis Research. So I am excited to support the Aggie Research Campus, and I ask you to support it too. It is long overdue, and it is the single greatest thing we the voters of Davis can do to support the University we love.
Tim Keller is Executive Director of Inventopia