Some business ideas start in the lab. Others begin in dorm rooms. And a growing number of universities are offering programs that help students translate these ideas into startups.

Steve McCloskey and Keita Funakawa, co-founders of Nanome, dreamed up the idea for their business after graduating from the University of California, San Diego.

McCloskey, who got a degree in nanoengineering, was frustrated by the lack of options for 3-D modeling. He teamed up with Funakawa after the two met at a film festival.

Nanome is currently working on building a platform that would allow drugmakers to visualize proteins, DNA and other molecules through a VR headset. The company closed a seed funding round in 2017, one year after it had incorporated. It had also gone through UCSD’s incubator program, The Basement.

Gloria Negrete, director of The Basement, said startups that go through the program often get a strong start with mentorship and help coming up with a business plan. Later on, some of these companies, such as Nanome, come back with jobs for UCSD students or graduates.

Tremendous Resources

“Early on in their academic careers, they’re exposed to these kinds of resources where they can really experiment and play,” she said. “When they get to the later stages (of a startup) with their idea, they can accelerate and be successful with their first startup.”

The Basement was created in 2015 as an alumni-backed program at UCSD. It had 20 teams in its first cohort. Since then, it has grown significantly, with additional funding and 69 teams participating in the incubator. Currently located in UCSD’s Arts and Humanities building, The Basement will be able to house more startups after moving into a new space next year.

The program is open to students from all colleges, from engineering to business to humanities, as well as both undergraduate and graduate students. Some students even choose to go to UCSD specifically for The Basement.

“We do see students very early in their academic programs wanting to explore an idea they’ve been kicking around, and wanting to develop into a startup,” Negrete said. “We de-risk having to build products in your dorm, or look for space in a coffee shop on campus or elsewhere. It helps to have the space, the network of mentors and additional resources.”

Culture Incubator

The Basement has three tracks for its yearlong incubator program: a beginner, intermediate, and advanced track, depending on how far along founders are in their business. It also is offering a culture incubator for the first time this year, as the university sees an increasing number of students with an interest in social impact businesses.

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