Inland Empire colleges and universities are investing in the region through new entrepreneurship programs.
The expected dividend? A considerably improved economy.
In recent years, programs designed to promote entrepreneurship and foster innovation have been established or expanded at Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State San Bernardino, UC Riverside, and University of La Verne. The goal is to train students who will start new businesses and perhaps bring whole new industries to the area. Additionally, administrators hope the programs will attract businesses attracted to the resources offered by universities, including highly skilled and highly skilled workers.
Even without specialized programs in entrepreneurship or innovation, a large college or university can inject tens to hundreds of millions of dollars into the regional economy. But despite this long-established link between the presence of a four-year university and improving economic conditions in a region, there is less evidence that entrepreneurship and innovation programs will have a similar effect.
“It is not so easy to measure the economic impact of these innovation centers because they take a long time to develop,” said Robert Kleinhenz, senior researcher at the Inland Empire Economic Partnership and founder of Kleinhenz Economics.
But donors have high hopes.
“By having programs and infrastructure that help our students, faculty, and the community to build businesses, you activate this economy,” said Rosibel Ochoa, who leads innovation and entrepreneurship efforts at the Office of Technology Partnerships. of the UCR.
Ochoa previously ran an entrepreneurship program at UC San Diego. She credits the university’s presence for helping to change San Diego from a city focused on tourism and the military to a city of “the knowledge economy.” Over 200 businesses have started in the area, clustered around the university, while Ochoa was at UC San Diego.
“We have great universities in the Inland Empire,” Ochoa said. “UCR is a $ 200 million research university that in any other state would be considered one of the largest. “
A January 2021 impact study released by the University of California reports that the UC system as a whole means 25,577 additional jobs in the Inland Empire and $ 3.1 billion in spending in the region. More than 20,000 jobs and $ 2.3 billion are owed to the UCR alone, according to Ochoa.
It highlights the vibrant business communities that surround MIT and Silicon Valley.
“All of these areas have developed because of their proximity to universities,” Ochoa said. “For me, the most important thing is to create and educate the talent that we need, and to keep it here.”
To do so, last August, Cal State San Bernardino announced that it was transforming the entrepreneurship program offered by its business school into a full-fledged entrepreneurship school. The school will offer eight academic programs in entrepreneurship, including a graduate degree dedicated to entrepreneurship and innovation.
In March, the University of La Verne announced the Randall Lewis Center for Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Social Impact in Ontario. The center will offer entrepreneurial training to small groups of students and academic and practical approaches to job creation and long-term career support, according to the university. The center will make a special effort to work with underserved communities in the Inland Empire.
And in June, Congress approved a million dollar grant to Cal Poly Pomona to develop an entrepreneurial and social hub for start-ups in the Inland Empire. The Bronco STEA2M Innovation Hub will provide resources, support and training opportunities to help entrepreneurs and small businesses and family businesses achieve their goals. Cal Poly plans to locate the hub in downtown Pomona.
Even the most successful of these projects is unlikely to turn the Inland Empire into another Silicon Valley, with many tech companies in multiple fields, Kleinhenz warns.
But, he notes, many parts of the country have developed more specialized counterparts, focused on biotechnology or other more specialized fields. But the next wave of business leaders seems to be here.
According to Ochoa, over the past five years, more than 6,500 patents have been awarded to inventors in the Inland Empire, just under the 6,800 awarded to those in Orange County.
“One of the things that’s exciting about the Inland Empire is not only that it’s growing up extremely fast, but it’s also very young,” Ochoa said.
Since 2016, UCR has worked with more than 600 start-ups, 60% of which come from outside the university community. Over the past three years, companies have raised more than $ 22 million in venture capital, including $ 15.4 million in 2020-21.
“Five years ago,” Ochoa said. “But now you’re showing them the data… That’s not the case anymore.”
This fall, UC Riverside will look to bring together more entrepreneurs from the Inland Empire with mentors and funding at the Riverside Angel Summit 2021, which runs from September through November. Beyond that, university officials hope to build the OASIS cleantech park in the coming years to serve as a research park, university extension, and start-up incubator and accelerator. Administrators hope to open the doors to the first phase in 2025.