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Not to be outdone by StartX, the accelerator loosely affiliated with Stanford University that officially opened the doors to its biotech lab last week, a group of UC Berkeley students are launching a new program to help health-tech entrepreneurship flourish on their own campus.

Catalyst@Berkeley, a student-led incubator program focusing on health tech, is kicking off tomorrow with its first informational session aimed at recruiting applicants for its first batch of health-enthusiastic entrepreneurs. In other words, the program wants to attract undergraduate students seeking to take the plunge into health tech.

For the duration of a semester, Catalyst will provide participating students with education, guidance, resources, and mentoring needed for them to build a function prototype, a key goal for Catalyst’s founders, as co-founder Zach Zeleznick told me yesterday.

After student teams apply to the program (although a startup is not required to apply), the Catalyst’s founders will select four lucky teams to participate, plus four or five promising students who are expected to eventually join existing teams. This keeps the opportunity open even to students who might not have a team at the time of the application process, Zeleznick said.

Once accepted, the student entrepreneurs will attend various talks and field trips to help them vet and hone in on their startup ideas before the building process begins. Throughout the semester, participating students will be enrolled in a three-unit DeCal class, whose student-led curriculum will integrate Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad and Idea to IPO courses, Stanford’s Biodesign program, and UC Berkeley CET’s Method of Entrepreneurship curriculum.

Although the incubator is focused on health tech, students are free to work on any type of technology, be it hardware, mobile apps, software, biotech, or other … as long as it falls under the health umbrella.

Moreover, the team has already a secured an impressive group of advisors, including Divya Nag, who co-founded StartX Med and recently joined Apple to work on health-related initiatives; Mike Cassidy, a Google X director, among others. Catalyst is also partnering with The Foundry@Citris.

Not just a school project

The goal for participating teams is to build a working prototype during the incubator program.

“Students should walk out with a working prototype that shows a validated need,” said Zeleznick. Each team will get at least $1,000 from the program to help with prototyping and supplies costs.

While students often take entrepreneurship and other business classes in college that feed them theories and sometimes ask them to create fictional projects, Zeleznick wants Catalyst’s participants to truly come out of the program with a working product they could continue to build into a full-fledged company if they so wish.

According to him, “solving problems that don’t exist,” understanding the regulation process, and understanding the customers are the biggest problems students face in health-tech entrepreneurship, and these are the areas Catalyst will help with.

“Our intention is to let all teams walk out with IP,” he said.

Although the Catalyst team has secured a partnership with UC Berkeley’s Skydeck accelerator — it’s providing space for tomorrow’s event and likely work space for the startups — the team still needs to secure a “wet lab,” space equipped for chemical and biological experiments. Intellectual property rights come into play here, which is why it’s taking Catalyst longer to negotiate and secure lab space.

André Marquis, the executive director of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship at UC Berkeley and advisor to Catalyst, also echoed Zeleznick’s sentiments about students building a prototype during the program.

“The thing I like, is to get the students doing. You can sit around and talk about it, but doing is a completely different thing,” Marquis told me via phone.

Zeleznick co-founded Catalyst, with Taner Dagdelen, Ashish Nag, Sivan Marcus, Deepika Bhatnagar, and Ori Hoxha rounding out the founding team.


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