Xcelerating Innovation at UC Berkeley
July 29, 2019 | Scott Murphy
Since 2005, the Sutardja Center at UC Berkeley has fostered innovation in the Bay Area and beyond. Jocelyn Weber Phipps, Director of X-Labs and Executive Programs, explains how the center is empowering entrepreneurs to develop new technologies and solutions in emerging industries.
Please briefly describe the roles of the Sutardja Center, X-Labs, and Blockchain Xcelerator at Berkeley, as well as your responsibilities.
The Sutardja Center was founded in Berkeley’s College of Engineering in 2005 with a mission to educate students and professionals on tech-centric entrepreneurship and innovation. Our X-Labs focus at the applied boundary for emerging technologies – currently blockchain, data/AI, and alternative meat. The Xcelerator grew out of the groundswell of blockchain activity on the Berkeley campus among faculty and students and leverages that tremendous ecosystem to move blockchain startups across a variety of applications forward to validation and adoption. I currently focus on the Xcelerator effort, as well as our industry-focused education programs.
Tell us about your background. What sparked your interest in this field?
I’ve always been interested in new technologies and how they create new markets and companies. I had the opportunity early in my career to work on introducing new technologies at Hewlett-Packard in both engineering and marketing roles, and found the process fascinating. Blockchain is at a critical point where it is finding success in some applications and dealing with regulatory and technical challenges in others – again, it will be a fascinating journey to be part of.
When and why did you choose to join Berkeley? What makes Berkeley’s alumni and entrepreneur communities unique?
UC Berkeley is renowned for creating successful startups, as highlighted by a recent Crunchbase report, which states “University of California at Berkeley, is multiples above the rest of the field when it comes to graduating funded founders.” I have had the opportunity to work with many students at Berkeley, as well as alumni who have successfully founded companies, and I am always amazed at the sheer talent that exists in the UC Berkeley community. It is an honor to work among so many talented students, faculty, and alumni.
How is the Sutardja Center and its programs changing the status quo? What are some key initiatives of X-Labs and the Blockchain Xcelerator?
I’ve worked at Sutardja Center for five years now on many of our programs that we offer to Silicon Valley engineering directors, as well as innovation leads from around the world. These leaders truly value working with UC Berkeley and take away so many great lessons from our programs; they report back to us that we have influenced the direction of their firms and their careers. It’s very impactful and satisfying! Most recently, I have had the opportunity to focus much of my time in the blockchain space and collaborate with Berkeley’s Haas School of Business on their Haas Blockchain Initiative and the highly impressive Blockchain at Berkeley student group, which has done everything from consulting to blockchain education.
Together with these two groups, we launched the Berkeley Blockchain Xcelerator. In our first batch, we sourced teams that ranged from Silicon Valley veteran to student-founded teams, as well as startups from Toronto, London, Berlin, and as far as Moscow. We are currently accepting applications for our Fall 2019 batch, and invite participation from the broader global blockchain ecosystem. More details can be found here.
Which trends are you most excited about in blockchain, entrepreneurship, and/or technology in general? Are there any trends that concern you?
The pace of change is always accelerating. The tools and resources broadly available to founders foster this speed, which is exciting to witness among the students at Berkeley and among our startups in the Xcelerator. The concerns around AI are considerable, but there are many efforts at Berkeley and other organizations (such as OpenAI) that seek to ensure AI develops in a manner consistent with society’s values.
At our Center, we seek to educate our students in a manner that is holistic and takes broad perspectives into consideration. We typically offer several classes each year that are focused on entrepreneurship for positive social impact, and there are other groups on campus that do the same. We hope these efforts aid in creating a positive impact for our society as a whole and ensure technologies develop to benefit everyone.
Which resources or sources of inspiration (podcasts, books, blogs, mentors, etc.) are most useful to you on a regular basis?
There are so many resources that are inspiring on the Berkeley campus alone, from guest speakers in our programs (we recently had Adam Cheyer) to the students’ entrepreneurial projects coming out of our Challenge Lab classes each semester. Prime Roots, which produces plant-based meat and seafood products, is a key example from the startups that have sprung out of our X-Lab activities; they’ve had great traction and will be raising a series A soon.
I also read as much as I can each day from a wide variety of sources, from The Wall Street Journal to The Block. And, I enjoy the humor in CB Insights’ newsletters; always great to have a little comic relief!
Is there anything else you’d like to share about yourself, your work, or the industry?
It’s an honor to be a part of the Berkeley Xcelerator, work with our blockchain startups there, and be surrounded with amazing students and founders each day. I encourage those who haven’t been following the blockchain and entrepreneurship activity at Berkeley to do so, to see #whatsnext!