October 1, 1999

New program links start-ups to regional supporters

By Sylvia Wright

UC Davis Connect, an innovative program designed to foster the success of new business ventures in the Sacramento region, gets under way this week with the arrival of its director, Wayne Sawka.

Connect will serve as a clearinghouse of expertise where entrepreneurs can find out about the extensive resources available to them in both the university and the regional business communities, Sawka said.

"For some years, people on and off the UC Davis campus have been asking for this kind of unified service for new business start-ups," Sawka said. "Though there are pieces of the puzzle in many existing organizations, no single entity provides one-stop service to these resources and expertise. This will be the role of UC Davis Connect."

Connect came together through the efforts of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research; Charlie Soderquist, local entrepreneur and business-development consultant, former president of the Cal Aggie Alumni Association and a former UC regent; and Charles Lacy, dean of the UC Davis University Extension program.

"This region has the combination of research, scientific know-how and talented people that catalyzes economic growth," said Kevin Smith, vice chancellor for research. "We're establishing UC Davis Connect to bring together the people and resources to make that growth happen."

The program will be modeled somewhat on one started in 1985 at UC San Diego to nurture local high-tech entrepreneurship. Originally supported by 35 local companies, the San Diego program now has 500 members, a staff of 12 and an annual budget of $1.6 million.

UC Davis Connect will be funded for its first two years with $600,000 from the campus and the UC Office of the President.

"This is an exciting initiative for the university and the Sacramento region," said UC President Richard Atkinson. "Many of California's new business ventures have been a product of the research innovations and work-force training provided by UC. By fostering collaboration with the Sacramento region's entrepreneurs, UC Davis Connect will make an important contribution to the economic vitality of the state."

After its first two years, the program is expected to derive all of its financial support from the business community.

For now, the office of UC Davis Connect will be located in the same suite as the new UC Davis Technology Transfer Office, in the Regency Square building at 508 Second St. in downtown Davis. Later, it is likely to move to one of the business research parks in Davis.

  • UC Davis Director of Research Outreach Mona Ellerbrock said that, on a typical day, the Connect program might:
  • Link a new software-firm CEO with the necessary accounting and legal partners;
  • Pair an aspiring entrepreneur with students at UC Davis' Graduate School of Management to develop a business plan;
  • Help a food-processing plant manager identify UC Davis researchers working on problems in that industry; or
  • Steer the development officer for the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization to planners at the UC Davis College of Engineering for statistics on computer-science graduates, to use when courting new semiconductor makers to the region.

Connect director Sawka holds a bachelor's degree from UC Santa Barbara, a master's degree in geochemistry from UCLA and a doctorate in geology from The Australian National University. He has worked in federally funded research as a chemist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and in industry as head of new program development at Aerojet in Rancho Cordova.

He comes to UC Davis Connect from the director's position at Emerging Technologies Institute, a similar regional business resource started five years ago. When that program's federal funding expires this month, the new Connect program will carry on some of the institute's successful projects.

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Dateline UC Davis is the faculty and staff newspaper for the University of California, Davis.