A history of innovation: Berkeley entrepreneurs, companies that changed the way we live

The culture and spirit of innovation at UC Berkeley throughout history can be seen in the changemakers — the Berkeley students, researchers, entrepreneurs, faculty members and alumni — who have helped in countless ways to improve our lives and our world.

The culture and spirit of innovation at UC Berkeley throughout history can be seen in the changemakers — the Berkeley students, researchers, entrepreneurs, faculty members and alumni — who have helped in countless ways to improve our lives and our world. Graphic by Neil Freese.

Well-known innovators from Berkeley include Nobel laureate Jennifer Doudna, whose development of CRISPR is arguably the world’s most important scientific advancement in decades, and alumnus Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple and revolutionized the home computer. The intellectual fingerprints of Berkeley founders and researchers can also be found on companies and inventions that run the gamut from OpenAI and ChatGPT to PCR Covid-19 tests, the polygraph and even the computer mouse.

Jennifer Doudna is the Li Ka Shing Chancellor’s Chair in Biomedical and Health Sciences at UC Berkeley. Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small for UC Berkeley.

Members of Berkeley’s community of innovators have discovered and created thousands of inventions. Today, in the U.S. and abroad, over 2,000 patents issued for those Berkeley inventions are still active. And nearly 300 startup companies and 800 products commercialized have come through Berkeley patent licenses, according to Berkeley’s Office of Intellectual Property and Industry Research Alliances.

Berkeley students, alumni and faculty are continuing to develop innovative research and founding companies like never before, said Berkeley’s Chief Innovation and Entrepreneurship Officer Rich Lyons. An example is Kathleen Collins, a Berkeley biology professor who recently founded Addition Therapeutics, a breakthrough gene therapy company with technology for safe gene insertion into the genome.

UC Berkeley Biology Professor Kathleen Collins launched startup Addition Therapeutics, hailed as the next advancement in gene therapy. Phoot by Brittany Hosea-Small for UC Berkeley.

Berkeley’s newest entrepreneurs run the gamut, from researchers who have launched startups with their innovative discoveries, to students who have ideas for potentially changemaking companies. 

Through Berkeley Changemaker courses, students across many disciplines, and from different backgrounds, are introduced to entrepreneurial thinking. And with over 20 startup incubators on campus, they have constant access to mentorship from Berkeley faculty and alumni to launch their startups and laboratories to conduct research. 

Berkeley faculty are also creating spaces for students that have historically lacked the access to promote their potentially world-changing research.

UC Berkeley Bioengineering Professor Aaron Streets delves into a project with his students at the Next Generation Faculty Symposium Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small for UC Berkeley.

For example, Bioengineering professor Aaron Streets was recently honored with Berkeley’s 2023 Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Institutional Equity and Excellence for being a tireless advocate for increasing diversity in STEM research. Through his Next Generation Faculty Symposium, Streets has given postdoctoral candidates, and potential entrepreneurs, from underrepresented communities an opportunity to showcase their work to the masses.

And these cumulative efforts across campus to expand the depth of Berkeley’s research and startup culture have paid off.

Recently, for the sixth straight year, Berkeley was recognized by PitchBook, a research firm that collects and analyzes data for the venture capital and private equity industries, as the best public university in the world for the number of startup founders it has produced. Berkeley also took the No. 1 spot for the number of companies that its undergraduate students and alumni have founded.

For Lyons, this is further evidence of Berkeley’s leadership in innovation.

“If we’re talking about a more entrepreneurial and innovative way of contributing to society, then a university that has, in its very DNA, a mindset of questioning the status quo, is a profoundly valuable asset,” said Lyons. “At Berkeley, we have doubled down on it, and that has continued to attract real innovators that live with agency and understand the traction their lives can have on the world.”

Visit the original News Center story to read about some of the entrepreneurs and companies with Berkeley roots that have uniquely innovated and continue to do so for the greater good.

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