In its search for inspiring best practices, UIIN had the privilege of discussing the Cyclotron Road programme with Rachel Slaybaugh, the Division Director of Cyclotron Road since January 2021, about how the programme helps entrepreneurial scientists and engineers transform their projects for global impact.
Located in San Francisco and founded in 2015, Cyclotron Road is a programme from Berkeley Lab’s Energy Technologies Area and co-run in partnership with Activate, a non-profit organisation that partners with US-based funders and research institutions to support scientific innovators. More precisely, the Cyclotron Road programme supports entrepreneurial scientists and engineers who are developing technologies targeting three broad impact areas: advanced manufacturing, clean power, and electronics. All fellows receive the same programme, regardless of impact area.
How it started
Most Cyclotron Road sponsors are from governmental agencies such as ARPA-E, who started to notice gaps in researchers’ development trajectories. The university path for PhD students had little focus on commercialisation, with most universities not sufficiently equipped for this. At the same time, students, especially in applied research areas, wanted to work for or create their own technology company that changes the world in a positive way. Therefore, the initial idea at Cyclotron Road was to attract more funding and resources for those early-stage companies coming out of the university and to provide an alternate path for more innovative students with a commercialisation mindset.
Additionally, as many national labs (such as the Berkeley Lab) have underused space, the idea emerged to leverage resources that the government had already invested in and bring in those early-stage companies, for the opportunity to benefit from world class scientific facilities and people, while giving them entrepreneurship training and two years of funding.
Every year, a cohort of entrepreneurial scientists and engineers is recruited from around the world to join the programme. For two years, these innovators are embedded in the Berkeley research ecosystem, where they receive funding and access to Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley resources as well as a programme of intensive mentorship, professional development, and networking. Selected fellows receive a yearly living stipend, plus a health insurance stipend and travel allowance, thereby enabling the participants to focus on their projects full-time. Each project also receives $100,000 of research support from the host laboratory, made possible through sponsorship from investors and corporates, as well as philanthropic organisations and the government.
Who can attend the programme?
Fellows of the Cyclotron Road programme tend to be individuals who have recently completed their PhD or a postdoc, and they can be at any stage of their career. However, one of the key requirements is they need to be first-time technical founders and must be the technical leader(s) of their project, with a PhD or equivalent experience in a technical field. Participants must be working to advance a hard-tech concept based on an innovation in the physical or biological sciences, or related engineering disciplines. The programme looks for early-stage companies who have a very strong scientific foundation and an innovative mindset. Ultimately, the team is looking for people who have the potential to succeed, and who want to benefit from coaching and training. As an indicator, for the 2021 cohort, the programme received over 300 applications, leading to 11 selected fellows.
Since 2015, the Cyclotron Road programme has supported 65 fellows from 47 companies focused on advanced energy, materials, and manufacturing technologies, selected from a pool of over 1000 applicants. Those fellows have gone on to raise over $310M in follow-on funding to support the development of their technologies into products, build over 25 prototypes while in the programme, including multiple world-record devices, hire over 330 employees in the US and file at least 19 patent applications, 12 of which were joint with Berkeley Lab.
What distinguishes the Cyclotron Road programme from any other incubation programme is the relationship-building and the community among the fellows, in part due to a strong alumni network, which provides camaraderie, co-learning and support. The combination of a strong brand (UC Berkley), a quality programme provided by Activate and a location in Silicon Valley certainly helps to attract great talent, which in return creates a unique inspiring community.
Authored by Amelie de Rooij, EU Research Officer.
Featured Image retrieved by Rachel Slaybaugh’s LinkedIn profile.