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Academic Innovation Catalyst Partners with UC Berkeley Bakar Fellows Program to Launch Deep Tech Funding Platform

Tuesday, 21 May 2024 11:00 AM

New platform and partnership aim to deploy proof-of-concept funding to translate Berkeley discoveries out of the lab for positive social impact

BERKELEY, CA / ACCESSWIRE / May 21, 2024 / Academic Innovation Catalyst (AIC), a new deep tech funding platform, today announced its partnership with the Bakar Fellows Program, UC Berkeley's largest proof-of-concept funding platform. AIC will initially partner with the Bakar Fellows program to award grants to Berkeley faculty engaged in deep technology research. Over time, AIC intends to establish additional partnerships at UC Berkeley and, ultimately, other research institutions.

"AIC's mission is to unleash practical innovation for social good, and it makes sense to pilot the initiative with the Bakar Fellows Program, which has already established very effective processes for identifying and supporting new ventures emerging from deep technology research at UC Berkeley. We want to be a force multiplier for incubators, accelerators and other entrepreneurial programs," said Matt Sonsini, who founded and leads AIC with his wife, Lisa Sonsini, both Berkeley alumni. "The research conducted at universities like Berkeley has huge potential to benefit the world. AIC is meant to speed that process up and catalyze more academic innovation for positive impact."

This pilot partnership will provide two grants to Berkeley faculty in addition to the regular portfolio of projects selected annually at Berkeley and UC San Francisco. AIC grant recipients will receive $300,000 over three years for market research, prototype development and other commercialization activities. AIC will also support the Bakar Fellows infrastructure, for a total initial commitment of $690,000. Initially, AIC will focus on investing in climate technologies with significant promise if deployed commercially. In parallel, Berkeley has been developing programs including the Bakar BioEnginuity Hub (BBH) and emerging efforts in climate technology to lower barriers to translating technologies from academia into startup companies.

The first two AIC grant recipients are Robert Pilawa-Podgurski, a UC Berkeley Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences professor, and Zakaria Al Balushi, a UC Berkeley Materials Science and Engineering assistant professor. Pilawa-Podgurski and his team will design and develop ultra-high-power-density dc-dc converters for future machine learning processors -based in part on packaging techniques previously developed in his laboratory-capable of achieving a 2x reduction in power conversion losses and a 4x reduction in physical size compared to state-of-the-art commercial products. Meanwhile, Al Balushi's project centers around a more energy-efficient and scalable method of producing high-value materials and chemicals, such as gallium nitride (a material used in semiconductors) and ammonia (the production of which currently takes up 2% of the world's energy usage).

‘It's an honor to be the first university to partner with the AIC team as they give back to the next generation of entrepreneurs. Funding proof of concept projects is essential to maintaining our reputation as the leading university for startups," said Rich Lyons, Associate Vice Chancellor for Innovation & Entrepreneurship and Chancellor Designate of UC Berkeley. "All of us within the Berkeley ecosystem are excited to see how the AIC funding platform helps innovation to thrive at UC Berkeley."

In addition to monetary support, AIC will offer grant recipients help across five broad areas key to successful commercialization: access to legal support, business plan and pitch deck development, market research, building a founding team and advice on downstream funding sources. This support will draw on the expertise of the Sonsinis, AIC senior advisor and mentor Paul Work, AIC's Advisory Board and their broader networks of investors, professionals and industry veterans. As a private philanthropic venture, AIC enjoys significant flexibility in how and when it deploys its resources for grant recipients and aims to bestow its grants efficiently.

"To solve the world's challenges, we need to support risk-taking, groundbreaking research - that's what we do every day at BBH, the Bakar Fellows program and Bakar Labs. Working with Matt, Lisa, Paul and their team allows us to support even more of our faculty members in translating their research to the private sector and towards societal good," said David Schaffer, PhD, director of the Bakar Fellows program and head of BBH. "AIC can be a stellar example of public universities and private entities working together to advance our common goals."

To be considered for an AIC grant, interested faculty can apply to the Bakar Fellows program during its normal application cycle. Bakar Fellows evaluators will recommend specific applicants to AIC, but applicants can also indicate their specific interest in working with AIC. Based on the results of this pilot, AIC intends to expand the types of technology it invests in beyond climate tech, award more grants, further integrate with Berkeley's innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem and more. Areas of interest include all deep technology fields as well as what AIC terms "AI for Good" (i.e., technologies that use AI for positive social impact and to address the risks and negative externalities presented by AI).

About Academic Innovation Catalyst
Founded in 2023, Academic Innovation Catalyst (AIC) was created by Matt and Lisa Sonsini to provide additional funding and support to academic research ventures with significant potential for commercialization of deep technology innovations. Drawing on their expertise as startup advisors, investors, executives and philanthropists, the Sonsinis and their team aim to provide an additional catalyst for the practical application of academic innovations. Currently, AIC is in its pilot deployment with the Bakar Fellows Program at UC Berkeley.

About Bakar Fellows
The Bakar Fellows Program at UC Berkeley supports faculty with proof-of-concept funding for projects that are more advanced than basic research, but not yet to the point of commercialization, to mature and translate their ground-breaking discoveries and innovations. Research support is provided through Spark Awards and can be solo projects or joint projects with faculty at UCSF.

About Innovation & Entrepreneurship at UC Berkeley
UC Berkeley is #1 in the world for creating venture-funded startups. (Pitchbook) The UC Berkeley Innovation & Entrepreneurship (I&E) ecosystem provides opportunities across a wide spectrum of users: students, faculty, staff, alumni, and external partners. Through academic programs, incubation/acceleration, research support, and many other services there are plentiful ways to connect with the I&E community at UC Berkeley.

Media Contact
Songue PR for UC Berkeley Innovation & Entrepreneurship
[email protected]

SOURCE: AIC Ventures

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