It’s no secret that the Inland Empire’s economy is growing by leaps and bounds. As part of this development, technology innovators have been working to grow an entrepreneurial ecosystem that’s taking on a life of its own with the help of recent grants to UC Riverside by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, or EDA.
Since 2016, the EDA has awarded $3.8 million dollars to UC Riverside’s Office of Research and Economic Development to spur economic growth in the Inland Empire. Projects supported by the funding include citrus research, the Entrepreneurial Proof of Concept Center (EPIC), and the life sciences startup incubator. The agency’s latest grant of $300,000 will secure the second $5.5 million phase of investment in the UC Riverside-affiliated Highlander Venture Fund. The program will also build and activate an angel network to increase access to capital in the region.
Over the last three years, UC Riverside has been a key player in efforts to build the infrastructure to support technology startups in the Inland Empire. It has established strong partnerships with Riverside county and city economic development agencies, collaborating on initiatives including the ExCITE incubator in downtown Riverside and the EPIC Small Business Development Center.
“EDA’s investment has been critical in laying the foundation needed to support innovators and entrepreneurs who want to start and grow their ventures in Inland Southern California,” said Rosibel Ochoa, leader of three of the EDA grants and associate vice chancellor for technology partnerships. “This investment has been enhanced by an additional $13.2 million dollars in federal, state, and private funds to broaden access to entrepreneurial education, mentorship, facilities, and capital in the region.”
UC Riverside’s entrepreneurial programs have worked with and mentored more than 220 entrepreneurs and 120 startups in the Inland Empire since October 2016. UC Riverside faculty and alumni alone created more than 15 high-growth companies in the last seven years. Grants aim to accelerate the pace of translation and commercialization of university discoveries to benefit society. Yet access to capital is one of the most serious challenges these startups encounter; many leave the Inland Empire to seek funding in metropolitan areas where venture capital is already well established.
The new EDA grant will be used to conduct regional workshops to train potential local investors on angel investment and present qualified startup investment opportunities. The funding will allow experimentation with innovative financing models for early-stage entrepreneurship, such as regional microfinance and crowdfunding.
The grant will also support finalizing fundraising for the Highlander Venture Fund, created in 2017 by UC Riverside to address the lack of venture capital funding. The Highlander Venture Fund is the first early-stage seed capital fund in the region. It provides seed capital and early-stage investments, 70% of which must go to qualified applicants from UC Riverside and Riverside County. Two startups have already received support from the Highlander Venture Fund.
Official announcement of the award can be found here: https://www.eda.gov/news/press-releases/2019/07/23/ris.htm.