A UCSB Foundation Trustee recently gave $1 million to the university to promote technology research and entrepreneurship.
UCSB alumnus Mark Bertelsen and his wife Susan donated $750,000 to the College of Engineering’s Technology Management Program (TMP) to help it provide lecture series and classes to undergraduate and graduate students interested in developing technology companies. Bertelsen also gave $250,000 to the Center for Information Technology and Society (CITS), which studies the impact of technology on society. According to a university press release, the money given to CITS will help, among other things, launch a research project on the changes in culture in a “digital society.”
Gary Hansen, TMP associate dean and a technology management professor, said the TMP program offers a unique approach to starting a business. The program allows engineering students to work with, for example, economics or communication majors to create a marketable product that has never been conceived of before.
“I taught at business schools [at other universities] for a while … and 80 percent of students’ ideas will be a new store or an imitation of some sort of retail,” Hansen said. “But nobody in the room has the basic skills to create a product or service that doesn’t exist yet – [like] a cell phone with a calendar that also takes pictures.”
Innovative technological products need a combination of good engineering and market savvy people to be successful, Hansen said.
“Take iTunes or the iPod,” he said. “The genius of the iPod is not that there’s a small disc going around inside – a technologist created those discs. The genius is putting these things into a service and positioning it to have value to a large number of the population. That is a combination of someone who knew marketing, someone who knew finance and someone who knew technology together.”
TMP — formerly known as the Center for Entrepreneurship and Engineering Management — offers about 10 classes for undergraduate students and the same number for graduate students, Hansen said. The program also puts on a series of lectures in the Fall and Winter quarters featuring technology entrepreneurs. Students can apply their newly learned business skills by entering the yearly TMP-sponsored Business Plan Competition.
“If you’re a student and you have an idea, the best way to launch your company is to be a part of the competition,” Hansen said. “You will meet people who can help you be successful. A lot of entrepreneurship is having networks of people to help you — that competition is all about that and a lot of promotion and publicity.”
The competition, which runs from December to May 16, is open to any student in any major who is interested, he said. This year, nine groups of about four to six students are competing for the first-place prize of $10,000. Even those who do not receive first place still benefit from the competition because they are able to meet with and get feedback from engineering, marketing and business professionals.
The business competition has led students to create “life changing” products, Hansen said. Two years ago, UCSB students Bryon Myers, Ali Perry and Brenton Taylor won for inventing a lightweight, portable oxygen concentrator originally designed for Perry’s grandmother. Prior to their creation, people using oxygen tanks had to carry heavy tanks that lasted for only one to three hours and required refills from a larger device usually kept in the person’s home.
“They just launched [the product onto the market],” he said. “I think it’s been certified by the [Federal Aviation Administration] so you can carry it on a plane. It has a rechargeable battery – it can be plugged in and it goes on for hours. You don’t have to have the oxygen bottle any more … [or] have a large device in your home; you can just have it. It’s a huge improvement. The reception from the marketplace on that product is like reading religious convert mail. People’s lives are changing who thought their lives were going to be constrained permanently.”
Other winners whose inventions have contributed to the good of society include an engineering student and a speech therapy student who developed technology to help cure stuttering, Hansen said. The group eventually developed an efficient program that could run off a laptop computer.
“In the presentation they showed a video clip of three individuals [who stuttered],” he said. “Before they used this device they could almost not speak — it’s unbelievable how severe stuttering can be. They used this device [for nine to 18 months] and then they could talk freely. … They were saying, ‘For the first time in my life I’m not afraid to be out with people.'”
Technology business entrepreneurs on campus are the same kind of people Bertlesen has always worked with, Hansen said. The law firm Bertlesen is a senior partner in — Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati — has worked with entrepreneur technology companies since the 1970s to create unique products and services.
“[The companies in the 1970s] had intellectual property issues and growth issues and employment issues,” Hansen said. “[His law firm] has helped more companies than I have fingers on my hands be successful. So they heard about our program … We’re essentially creating the kind of people that he would like to be working with.”
Because the demand is so great, TMP is trying to develop a minor for the program and in the future might develop a masters program, Hansen said. Currently, TMP offers a Technical Entrepreneur Certificate for any student who completes the offered courses and attends the lecture series in the fall and winter quarters. To ensure the candidates for the certificate are of the highest quality, only 15 certificates are offered per year.
Besides supporting entrepreneurship in technology, Bertlesen gave money to CITS to study technology’s effects on society. According to a university press release CITS will be expanding its public communication program, which publishes research findings about technology in society to the media, the academic community and the private sector.
“Our long-range goal at [CITS] is to help make UCSB one of the top places in the world where people can turn for knowledge about digital society,” said Bruce Bimber, CITS director and political science and communication professor, in the press release. “This generous gift is an important step toward that goal.”