A view overlooking UC Riverside with snow-covered Mt. Baldy in the distance
January 28, 2020

Hot in 2020: Riverside’s startup scene

UC Riverside has helped the city become a testing ground for the technology of the future

Author: Holly Ober
January 28, 2020

With the recent naming of Riverside as a top 50 Surge City, evidence is building that the city fills an important niche in the region’s startup ecosystem — and that niche is sustainable technology. 

The Inc. magazine ranking is one of several accolades for entrepreneurship Riverside has received recently.

CityLab reported that Emsi, a company that analyzes labor-market data, put Riverside County at No. 5 on its 2019 Talent Attraction Scorecard for counties with over 100,000 people. Strong job growth, annual openings per capita for skilled workers, and regional competitiveness among others, helped draw talented workers from superstar cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

In 2018, MSN Money reported that Riverside ranked No. 19 on a GoBankingRates list of 30 cities where small business owners are thriving, noting the city has a higher startup density than over half the other cities on its list. In 2017, Entrepreneur.com listed Riverside as the No. 4 city in the country for minority entrepreneurs.

Over the last three years, UC Riverside has been a key player in efforts to build the infrastructure to support technology startups in Riverside. It has established strong partnerships with Riverside County and the City of Riverside economic development agencies, collaborating on initiatives including the ExCITE incubator in downtown Riverside and the EPIC Small Business Development Center, and working with local angel investors. UC Riverside has invested in the creation of an early stage venture fund, the Highlander Venture Fund, and this academic year launched the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program for undergraduate students.

Investors drawn to Riverside’s potential include the equity crowfunding portal Republic, which launched a new program for high-growth startups in Riverside. Shortly after, Back Porch Homes, a local startup that manufactures tiny homes on wheels, raised over $150,000 through the platform.

Last fall, UC Riverside opened a 3,000-square-foot Wet Lab Incubator — the first of its kind in the region — specially outfitted to house startups in the life sciences, agriculture, biotechnology, and medical technology industries. The incubator is a central asset in Riverside’s new Innovation District.

UC Riverside’s entrepreneurial programs have served 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. 

“Startups that we work with have raised over $14 million in investment and grant funding for their companies. We are proud to see the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem attract the funding required for startups to succeed and launch in the market,” said Rosibel Ochoa, associate vice chancellor of technology partnerships.

UC Riverside’s cutting edge research on environmental resilience, sustainability and agriculture has catalyzed sustainability innovation in the region. Investors, entrepreneurs, and large organizations such as the California Air Resources Board are partnering with Riverside to help build a sustainable future. Many startups aim to apply UC Riverside’s research strengths in clean and sustainable energy, transportation, air, and food supply.

  • FarmSense, a UC Riverside startup, develops intelligent insect pest detection systems which enable growers to minimize the use of pesticides. The company, led by co-founder Shailendra Singh, has raised over $7 million in nondilutive funding. Housed at the ExCITe incubator, the company is in the early stages of manufacturing sensors for pilot field testing around the world.
  • Eco-Bus technology, developed at UC Riverside’s College of Engineering Center for Engineering Research and Technology, is a smart driver aid system that reduces energy consumption for fleets by up to 20%.

Riverside’s efforts have been so successful that other countries seek UC Riverside’s expertise to develop their own thriving startup ecosystems. The Organization of American States has partnered with the university to foster innovation, technology commercialization, and entrepreneurship throughout the Americas. 

UC Riverside, the City of Riverside, and Riverside County are also jointly working to establish the city as an entry point to the U.S. market for foreign startups. PRIME Technologies of Chile, developers of an oral film similar to breath freshening strips for delivery of drugs like insulin, is one of these companies.

“For us, the partnership with UC Riverside has been invaluable, including specialized mentoring and connections with industry and potential investors in the U.S.,” said Juana Castañeda, CEO of PRIME Chile.

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