By Carolyn Gray Anderson
There are accelerators and there are accelerators. Recently, a 100-mile cycling trip proved to be the perfect incubator for Dean Judy Olian’s idea to involve donor and Board of Visitors member Jim Freedman (’78) in the Anderson Venture Accelerator — the 10,000-square-foot state-of-the-art co-working facility in Rosenfeld Library launched in late January by UCLA Anderson and UCLA Library. By the end of the annual Ojai Valley Century bike ride, Freedman, who is chairman and managing director of Intrepid Investment Bankers, found himself persuaded to claim a naming opportunity in the accelerator.
“Having the resources to incubate companies is phenomenal,” he said at an event jointly organized by Anderson and UCLA Library to recognize and bring together Anderson supporters and entrepreneurs. “We didn’t have something like this before.” Senior Associate Dean Al Osborne remembers Freedman as a student in his economics class, and appreciates Jim’s long association with the school, as well as his advice and counsel for almost 25 years as a member of the Price Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation’s board of advisors.
Olian gratefully acknowledged Freedman and fellow donor William Grabe (’63), who could not attend the event, for sharing their success with UCLA’s future entrepreneurs. “Jim’s generosity doesn’t end with what his gift enables here,” she said, “it extends to the advice he gives student entrepreneurs as an alumnus. That engagement is as priceless as anything.”
The occasion featured remarks by Derek Herrera (EMBA ’15), a 2014 John Wooden Global Leadership Fellow and grand prize winner of the primeUC Startup Competition and Knapp Venture Competition. Former U.S. Marine Corps Special Operations Officer Herrera founded his company, Spinal Singularity, as a direct result of his enrollment at UCLA Anderson and the fortuitous proximity to research-oriented campus medical facilities where he sought treatment for the combat injury that left him paralyzed. There he found an opportunity to bring to market advances in medical science that would take much longer to see the light of day if not for his entrepreneurial vision — lending credence to Olian’s observation that “the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Anderson is extending into the larger UCLA community.”
Herrera described himself as a “200-pound, barrel-chested freedom fighter — and closet nerd.” He loves libraries, he explained, praising Rosenfeld librarian Angela Horne and her team for giving the accelerator a home there. Elaine Hagan (’91), executive director of the Price Center, recalled the hurdles the team faced as the Anderson Venture Accelerator was being conceived. She gave credit to colleagues in the UCLA Library administration and to Olian as the accelerator’s prime benefactor, to which the dean responded, “We were inspired to invest because we want to empower people to change the world.”
Alumni like recent grad Rex White (’15), now with AECOM, independent investment banker David Felman (’06) and digital media executive Mariana Danilovic (’94) — who ran an incubator within KPMG for many years and is now managing director at Hollywood Portfolio — were impressed with the amenities the accelerator offers and its potential to nurture business creativity.
Among the student entrepreneurs introduced at the event were Wolfen Entrepreneurial Spirit Award fellow Christina Wang (FEMBA ’18), an entertainment industry veteran whose passion for technology is leading her to create an interactive skin color-matching platform called All Of Us Cosmetics; and UCLA undergraduates Layne Haber (B.S. ’16) and Myko Marcinkevicius (B.S. ’16), whose Arctica Health app to anticipate, manage and intercept bipolar episodes won a $10,000 Cadillac Dare Greatly Award.
Another Wolfen fellow, Alex Gostomelsky (’17), along with classmate Dan Stefanis (’17), will serve as two of this year’s three student directors for the accelerator, acting as resources for other students, and assisting with the coordination of guest speakers, Entrepreneurs-in-Residence and several programmatic activities.
Gostomelsky founded the news aggregator Nopical and is building industry-specific platforms that will benefit incoming Anderson MBAs during the recruiting process. Stefanis has been growing his entertainment technology company SyncOnSet since 2012. He’s also working with classmate Cameron McLain, the accelerator’s third student director, on McLain’s social media monitoring and analytics startup, Beehive.
A common thread that the seasoned and newly minted entrepreneurs shared was their passion, focus, dedication and willingness to risk failure on the way to success.
Olian, Hagan and the Rosenfeld and UCLA Library professionals look forward to the accelerator’s official status as what Deputy University Librarian Susan Parker described as a “multifunctional dynamic space” for disciplines across campus. “We recognize that it isn’t just business skills that go to market,” said Olian. On launching startups, she added, “It’s not just about money, it’s about wisdom.”