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Initiative Launched To Accelerate Downtown San Diego’s Innovation Economy


A partnership of the University of California San Diego and the Downtown San Diego Partnership has launched the Collaboratory for Downtown Innovation, a two-year initiative aimed at supporting and strengthening Downtown’s growing tech ecosystem. Funded by a foundation and private donations, the CDI was spearheaded by UCSD Downtown Extension dean and vice chancellor of public programs Mary Walshok and DSDP president/CEO Kris Michell and is operating out of DSDP's offices. 

CDI is leveraging resources from the academic, civic and private sectors to create an inclusive, collaborative environment for developing talent, ideas and entrepreneurial businesses. The initiative will provide a variety of programs to support entrepreneurs through lectures, workshops and collaborative opportunities with other innovators.

The Collaboratory kicked off in July with a thought leadership lecture by UCSD associate vice chancellor for innovation and commercialization Paul Roben on how tech-savvy people with big ideas, like the founders behind Facebook, Uber and Airbnb, can transform the world.

Last week, USCD biotechnology professor and algae geneticist Stephen Mayfield, who has developed a method for engineering green algae for mass production, provided a program on future uses for engineered algae. His company, Solazyme, funded by the US Energy Department, created polyols used to create polyurethane material from algae oil. Surfboard manufacturer Artic Foam is using the material to manufacture algae-based, sustainable surfboards (shown above). The product could replace fossil fuel-based polyurethane used in various products, such as building insulation and auto interiors.

Mayfield’s research team is exploring engineered algae biomass that can be used for fuel, food, medical therapeutics and other biomaterials.

The initiative’s three-prong approach includes:

  • Ideas Forum aimed at encouraging collaboration and the exchange of ideas by bringing tech entrepreneurs together with academic and private sector scientists and researchers to collaborate, share ideas and identify new business opportunities.
  • Talent Accelerator to leverage the UCSD Extension’s certificate and pre-college offerings to provide educational and job-training programs for youth in underserved communities. Programs will focus on developing computer science and information technology skills.
  • Entrepreneur Exchange program that offers entrepreneurs support and mentorship to launch and incubate startups, including skills development workshops and pre-accelerator programs.