19 May Helping new technologies grow into businesses, the San Diego way
SO far, San Diego remains a fertile breeding ground for entrepreneurs, despite the problems in the broader economy.
That is due in large part to a nonprofit organization, Connect, that was created 23 years ago to bring together people knowledgeable about business and investment capital with researchers at the universities and research institutes in San Diego.
“In 2007, we helped 54 companies start up, and there are 150 in the queue,” said Duane Roth, chief executive of Connect.
Connect is neither a business nor a philanthropy. It offers prospective biotechnology, telecommunications, computer software and electronics companies advice and programs that introduce them to investment and venture capital firms. It does not charge for those services, but it relies on contributions from 200 members, among them business, legal and financial people, as well as the directors of research institutes in the San Diego area like the Scripps Research Institute, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the Burnham Institute for Medical Research.
This idea of combining scientific potential and financial heft was the brainchild of the founders of the Qualcomm Corporation, which became a telecommunications giant; Hybritech, a pioneering firm in biotechnology that is now owned by Eli Lilly; and Richard Atkinson, the president of the University of California, San Diego. In 1985, they formed Connect as an extension of the university to turn faculty ideas into commercial products. Connect did just that under the leadership of William Otterson, a computer executive who built the organization over 13 years, despite his long struggle with cancer, which ultimately took his life at age 69 in 1999.
“Bill Otterson created the culture here, telling scientists and research people to share ideas and then compete in the marketplace,” said Mr. Roth, a pharmaceutical industry entrepreneur who took Connect’s reins in 2004. Today, he says of San Diego, “We have a chance to become the premier region in the country for innovation.”
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