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Friday, Dec 9, 2022

How Richard Sudek is Growing The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Firms with connections to the University of California-Irvine have raised more than $18.9 billion over the past 10 years, according to Richard Sudek, an angel investor and executive director of the school’s Applied Innovation center. Nearly 40% of the capital the companies raised came in the past couple of years, a timeline that coincides with Sudek’s tenure at the center.

“There’s an upward trend that shows that UCI, and what we’re doing at Applied Innovation, is really accelerating the startup activity here in Orange County and generally for UCI alums,” he said, adding that he’s particularly proud “that about 43% of the money,” or roughly $7 billion “has been invested in startups here in Southern California.”

Sudek left his post as director of the Leatherby Center for Entrepreneurship & Business Ethics at Chapman University in 2015 to join UCI. At the time, Orange County’s entrepreneurial ecosystem was robust, he said, “but it wasn’t fully leveraged and was a bit fragmented.”

His mission was to develop Applied Innovation into a “center of gravity for connections” for local startups, UCI researchers and students, corporations and investors.

Sudek said he was “skeptical that UCI—because of its size and bureaucracy—would really provide me the resources to accomplish this kind of vision, and I am just overwhelmed with how supportive they have been, both in resources but also in how to navigate all the different policies and the organization … and how to really lead the UC system in integrating the university into the community and industry.”

“I’m a bootstrap entrepreneur, and the University of California is a massive system and [not known for] the ability to move quickly. We’ve moved very quickly—we started with a 1,500-square-foot facility just under four years ago. We have 48,000 [square feet] currently, and we’re growing to be over 100,000 next year.”

Sudek was referring to the Cove, a state-of-the-art technological facility and office space that last year hosted more than 700 events, and attracted 45,000 people.

Applied Innovation runs on about $7 million a year that largely goes toward faculty research, patents, development and facilities operations for The Cove. Revenue comes mostly from state and UCI funding, philanthropic giving, and fees The Cove charges. It launched with a $5 million gift from the Beall Family Foundation in Newport Beach to speed the “transfer of technology … and discoveries to the marketplace.”

Earlier this year, Beckman Coulter Diagnostics in Brea formed a strategic collaboration with the university—the device maker set up office space at The Cove and will have access to UCI research in diagnostic platforms, the university to Beckman’s expertise in accelerating commercialization of technologies.

Sudek’s group also helps facilitate connections between local startups and investors, including Menlo Park-based New Enterprise Associates, a venture capital firm with more than $20 billion in committed capital that keeps office hours at The Cove.

“A good ecosystem creates opportunity for accidental collisions and collaborations,” Sudek said. “Corporations want to be in the building because there are startups here that could be strategic investment … And they’re just not startups connected to UCI—they’re startups from the community, and that’s why the VCs and the other investors and angel groups want to be here.”

The Cove, besides providing meeting space, may house community wet labs—a space for startups specializing in life sciences to run experiments or test product prototypes without having to invest millions in equipment.

“This is essential, because we have over 500 medical device companies in Orange County, but we have no wet labs for entrepreneurs to use—they have to either go to Pasadena or San Diego.” Sudek said. “They can come in and rent a bench and pay really a very small amount to get access to very expensive equipment and the right bench space to help develop their product. As they grow and scale up and they get more investment, they can then eventually open up their own labs.”

Sudek, a UCI alum, developed an affinity for entrepreneurship early on, running lemonade stands and washing neighbors’ cars. He founded his first company, Nadek Computer Systems, in 1982 with $250 dollars. The data networking and design-implementation firm had Fortune 100 clients that included Microsoft, Boeing, ARCO and Universal Studios. He sold the business in 1999 to SAIC, a multibillion-dollar international firm. He completed a doctorate in management at Claremont Graduate University in 2007, and began teaching as assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Chapman.

He’s also an active angel investor, and serves as chairman emeritus of Tech Coast Angels, the largest angel organization in the U.S. He’s also a research committee chairman for Angel Capital Education Foundation, a national organization of U.S. angel groups.

Sudek cited a “passion for helping entrepreneurs” as a driving force behind his efforts.

“I enjoy having people see the opportunity here and making the connections to accelerate the ecosystem and the success here,” Sudek said. “When I sold my company … my passion and sort of my efforts changed to helping entrepreneurs, and this is really an opportunity to really accelerate the whole ecosystem.”

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