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Irvine Foundation awards $1.9 million to UCR to break barriers for high-tech startup creation by underrepresented groups

Funding supports the launch of the OASIS Innovation Accelerator that will help build an inclusive innovation ecosystem focused on sustainability, equity and social inclusion.

The James Irvine Foundation has awarded the University of California Riverside (UCR) Office of Technology Partnerships (OTP) a $1.9 million grant to jumpstart the university’s efforts to build an inclusive, more equitable technology innovation ecosystem.

The OASIS Accelerator aims to expand opportunities for Inland Empire innovators and entrepreneurs, in particular those from underrepresented groups, to create sustainability and climate technology-based startups with high societal impact. Focusing on equality and inclusivity, the program will address the systemic challenges that technology-driven innovation and entrepreneurship face in the region, evidenced by the underrepresentation of communities in STEM fields and the lack of venture capital funding available.

RUSD Engineering Fair
Students at the 2020 Riverside Unified School District Science and Engineering Fair sponsored by UCR

Focused on exposure and skills transfer, the funding addresses these root problems of underrepresentation of disadvantaged groups in technology-based business creation. Through a series of online and hands-on experiential workshops and laboratory sessions delivered by UCR faculty, community experts, and entrepreneurs from the UCR EPIC SBDC, participants representing K-12 through K-16 institutions from the region, will receive instruction on the use of cutting-edge technology and tools in controlled environment agriculture and modern plant propagation techniques, air quality monitoring and sustainable freight.

All participants will receive training and specialized mentorship on the basic principles of technology commercialization, startup creation, and access to capital. Over the next two years, the program aims to engage over 120 high school graduates from underserved communities and over 200 participants from community colleges and four-year colleges.

Funding for prototype development and pilot testing will be also available to those participants that successfully complete the courses, as well as to community entrepreneurs who want to build high-impact, sustainable enterprises in the Inland Empire.

The OASIS Accelerator is the result of valuable collaborations with partners such as UCR’s Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT),  UCR’s Plant Transformation Research Center (PTRC), UCR Extension, the Riverside Community College District (RCCD), the Black and Brown Collective, and the Growing Hope Project among others.  Federal and private support and funding also make this region-wide initiative possible.

“We are grateful to the Irvine Foundation for its generous support that will allow us to create a pipeline of sustainability-focused technology startups launched by a racially and gender diverse pool of Inland Empire entrepreneurs,” said Rosibel Ochoa, associate vice chancellor of technology partnerships at UCR and program director. “Based on our experience of five years working with high-tech entrepreneurs in the region, we are confident that this robust pipeline of sustainable, diverse startups will also attract investment capital and lead to the creation of good quality jobs for our community.”

Once the program is fully structured, the goal is to expand the platform to other areas of growth and demand such as clean energy generation and accessible health care.

The OASIS Accelerator is one of the programmatic elements of the OASIS Innovation Hub. OASIS, short for Opportunity to Advance Sustainability Innovation and Social Inclusion, is a public-private partnership led by UCR to drive regional economic development through research translation, innovation and entrepreneurship, and workforce development in the Inland Empire.

The OASIS Innovation Hub comprises various initiatives including a cleantech park and the creation of an Agriculture Innovation Center in partnership with the City of Riverside and the Riverside Food Systems Alliance.