QB3's mission is to grow the California bioeconomy. We're UC's hub for innovation and entrepreneurship in the life sciences: a research institute combined with the elements of a startup accelerator. How did we get to where we are now?
We've developed in response to trends in science, the demands of our clients, and the constraints of our region. And we've been driven by the passions of our people.
Why does QB3 support entrepreneurs? We do it because we believe startups are an efficient way to get innovation from the lab bench to market, and we've seen it in practice with companies in our network. California universities generate countless discoveries and the Bay Area and the state as a whole are fertile ground for entrepreneurship. There is a tremendous demand for services and space, and our state needs to capitalize on this opportunity to maintain its leadership in life science innovation. By aiding entrepreneurs, QB3 helps retain innovation and create jobs, growing the California economy. The products and services that we help entrepreneurs create — including medicines, medical devices, research tools, and genomic technologies — will ultimately benefit society.
QB3 was founded in late 2000 by Governor Gray Davis as one of four California Institutes for Science and Innovation. The institutes were envisioned as laying the foundations for future industries in the state. Governor Davis's words at the time are relevant today:
Fifty years ago, there was no Silicon Valley. Thirty years ago, there was no biotech industry. Ten years ago, there was no Internet. Who knows what new enterprises will be created or what medical breakthroughs will result because of our institutes? But this we do know: breakthroughs will occur. And I want to make sure they will occur right here in California. —Governor Gray Davis, State of the State speech, 2000
Of the four institutes, we are the only to focus on life sciences; specifically, the quantitative biosciences, sectors of biology that scientists are exploring using tools and techniques drawn from quantitative fields such as physics, chemistry, and computer science.
The institute began as an academic endeavor, with operations at the UC campuses at Berkeley, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz. Since 2000, led by its campus research directors, QB3 has facilitated major discoveries and innovation, in areas including genome editing, genomics data sharing, and proteomics. Visit the campus research directors page to learn more about our academic achievements, or visit the QB3 campus websites (links in the footer of this webpage).
Space for Startups
In parallel, QB3 evolved as it explored commercialization through startups. Regis Kelly, a former UCSF neuroscientist appointed director of QB3 in 2004, hired Douglas Crawford, a recent UCSF PhD, as associate director. A space marked "Incubator Lab" had been originally designated in UCSF's Byers Hall as a zone for industry collaborations with academia, but was being used to store chairs. Kelly and Crawford decided to open the space to life science startups in 2006 and called it the "QB3 Garage." Within two years, it was clear that this was a winning idea. One of the first six companies, True Materials, was acquired for $25 million, and four of the others attracted Series A venture capital rounds.
Kelly and Crawford saw firsthand the importance of seed-stage capital for the Garage companies. Startups need seed-stage funding to bridge the gap between research grants and Series A venture capital (VC) investment. But seed-stage funding for life science is in short supply, because early-stage technologies take a long time to develop and investment in young companies carries a high risk. To help QB3 startups, Kelly and Crawford decided to create an affiliated seed-stage VC firm, named Mission Bay Capital (MBC), which would return a percentage of its profits to QB3. In this effort they were motivated and guided by venture capitalists Brook Byers and Jack Wadsworth, longtime members of QB3's advisory board.
Byers and Wadsworth's advice and connections enabled Kelly and Crawford to raise $7.5 million (later investments raised the total to $11.3 million) from private investors and launched MBC Fund I in 2009 to invest in technologies emerging from UC. MBC's first investments soon paid off with the exits of portfolio companies iPierian, Redwood Bioscience and Calithera. The fund's success prompted Kelly and Crawford to raise MBC Fund II, which closed at $25 million in 2015. MBC also broadened its scope to invest in California life science startups emerging from both UC and the wider community.
Demand for incubator space convinced QB3 of the merit of opening new lab facilities where space became available. QB3 helped the Mission Bay-based biotech company FibroGen recruit the first tenants for their incubator; the QB3 Garage@Berkeley opened in 2010; in partnership with Wareham Development, the East Bay Innovation Center opened in west Berkeley in 2011; StartX-QB3 Labs in Palo Alto launched in 2014. The amenities vary among these spaces, but what they all have in common is that startups can rent small increments of wet lab space, work near fellow entrepreneurs, and close to the great universities of the Bay Area.
From the Ground Up
Based on our interactions with entrepreneurs through our programs and incubators, we gained a good sense of what they needed. And when we asked them, they specifically said they wanted to work alongside other founders in a shared space that provided essential equipment such as fridges, freezers, and culture hoods. We took this feedback, and, working with a real estate partner, we completely refitted a 24,000 square foot warehouse in San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood for the use of life science startups. The incubator, QB3@953, filled up with tenants within months. It features wet labs, office space, conference rooms, and a dedicated core facility with equipment worth millions of dollars. Forty-five companies currently call QB3@953 home.
Hundreds and hundreds served
In our early years we were able to mentor entrepreneurs one at a time as they strolled over from the Garage for casual chats. Once the number of startups in our network grew, though, we sought a more efficient way to make the connections and provide basic support that most scientists-turned-entrepreneurs need in getting a company going. We created a program called QB3 Startup in a Box that includes legal support with incorporation and IP provided pro bono by leading Silicon Valley law firms; our popular SBIR grantwriting workshop; FTO analysis; and more. Every year, more than 70 entrepreneurs join Startup in a Box, from UC labs and the wider community. To date more than 350 companies have signed up.
QB3, as a UC institute, has strong connections with faculty. Our deep knowledge enables us to build custom teams of researchers, networking them across departments, disciplines, and campuses to tackle questions in basic science such as the causes of aging-related disease, which we are exploring through our partnership with Calico.
At the same time, QB3's position as a startup nexus means that we know what's happening in early-stage life sciences in the Bay Area. We're able to provide industry partners with scouting services to identify promising startups in a range of technical areas.
special focus on medtech
Our deputy director Christine Winoto brings special expertise in the field of medical device commercialization. She founded the Rosenman Institute, a QB3/UCSF partnership, in 2013 in memory of her late husband Dan Rosenman, a medical device engineer. Christine directs the Rosenman Institute, which aids entrepreneurs seeking to commercialize medtech or launch medtech startups. Rosenman startups also rely on QB3 resources such as Startup in a Box. The Rosenman Institute brokers pro bono mentoring from the Rosenman Fellows, 20 of Dan's friends in the field, who bring years of experience in areas such as engineering, marketing, and regulatory matters. The annual Rosenman Symposium in June attracts hundreds of attendees, helping nucleate the UCSF and Bay Area medtech community.
We have our hands full going forward with our many initiatives, but if anything is certain, it's that we're continually changing and open to new ideas, and we need you to join us. Bring us your technology, your startup, your investment, your partnership, or your expertise. Let's grow the California bioeconomy.