LSEC Venture Grant Program

IGI Prof Ross Wilson pitching 1,000 investors at SkyDeck's Demo Day, Sept 2023
Image credit: 
Marla Aufmuth


The mission of UC Berkeley’s Life Sciences Entrepreneurship Center (LSEC), created in June of 2021 is to foster life sciences entrepreneurship by leveraging, coordinating, and building upon existing campus resources.

Berkeley has numerous campus resources supporting life sciences entrepreneurship, including:

  • Bakar BioEnginuity Hub (BBH) and Bakar Labs: facility that supports life science and deep tech entrepreneurship with lectures, programming, advisor resources, and a world-class wetlab to grow a company.

  • Bakar Fellows Program: fellowship support for faculty, graduate students and postdocs interested in translating research to commercialization.

  • Bio Track @ Berkeley SkyDeck: top startup accelerator investing $200k per company, and providing extensive programming and hundreds of expert advisors.

  • UC Berkeley Drug Discovery center: Fully equipped small molecule therapeutic discovery center with a 200k compound library and expertise in discovery and development through FDA approval.
  • QB3: startup-supporting labspace and graduate career resources.

  • Research Infrastructure Commons: first-of-its-kind program allowing startups to use idle research tools on campus and own the resultant IP.

  • Nucleate Bio Bay Area: student-run life science-focused startup accelerator, offering education, mentorship, and a pitch showcase.

LSEC’s first year focused on building programs:

  • I-Corps @ LSEC: industry-standard program to test an idea for market viability. Within a year, 34 academic teams conducted over 400 interviews.

  • Bio Startup Speed Teaming: matching scientists with business experts. 36 participants to date held 160 ten minute meetings, resulting in the formation of new companies.

  • Berkeley LSEC - Nucleate Venture Fellowship: experiential program for PhD students and postdocs interested in venture capital and entrepreneurship, 10 fellows to date, dozens of companies researched and prospective opportunities mined.

  • LSBE/LSEC Expert Council: 50+ experts willing to help Berkeley startups.

With these foundational resources - unique to Berkeley - we’re now building companies.

Berkeley LSEC Venture Grant Program


The March 2021 Regents Working Group on Innovation Transfer & Entrepreneurship identified the funding gap between “academic-based discovery and commercial application” as one of the top five ways to strengthen entrepreneurship at UC. The group noted a need for “proof of concept” funding to aid the “formation of spin-out companies.” See page 4 here. Lack of translational research funding was also one of the top pain points discovered during interviews performed while creating Berkeley LSEC. 


  • $100k unrestricted R&D grant to academic teams to promote translation of Berkeley life sciences technology to commercialization. Funded and administered by Berkeley LSEC.

  • Up to $200k investment from the Berkeley SkyDeck Fund ($100k for 5% of startup, plus an additional $100k for 2.5% upon mutual agreement), with pro rata investment rights in future rounds.

Educational Benefits and Requirements

  • Admission to SkyDeck's Invested Cohort, including access to 600+ advisors, 70+ workshops, dozens of investors, and a huge demo day

  • Opportunity to present to David Kirn's BioEng 153/253: Biotechnology Entrepreneurship course

  • Required participation in I-Corps @ LSEC and Bio Startup Speed Teaming

  • Participation in QB3’s SBIR Grantwriting Workshop

  • Optional participation in Berkeley Law's IP Practicum course, to help refine your IP strategy and assess freedom-to-operate

  • Optional participation in Berkeley Haas's Lean Transfer course, to help further refine product-market-fit

Resources and Other Benefits


  • Academic teams of at least two members (a combination of Berkeley faculty, PhD students, postdocs, other biosciences graduate students based in an academic lab, as well as graduate-level business and engineering students), who are ready to incorporate a company

  • Life sciences field (therapeutics, diagnostics, medical device, research tools, not digital-only)

  • Innovation based on IP owned by UC Regents (or if in development, to be assigned to UC Regents), and invented at Berkeley

  • Applications for the second cohort are open now, deadline Jan 26, 2024, and we will award two grants in March 2024.

FAQs re LSEC Venture Grant Program

Do I need to have started a company already?

No, and we expect most Venture Grant awardees will not have already formed a company. This is a program to help you do it.

Am I really expected to start a company?

Yes, and we’ll help you do it!

Do I need to quit my day job?

No, and we don’t expect you to. Many academic startups begin with grad students, faculty, postdocs all continuing their usual research. In fact, because the $100k LSEC grant goes to an academic lab to support translational research, we expect you’ll still be doing academic work.

Do I need a team?

Yes, and we’re not likely to support solo founders. The makeup of the “team” is flexible, though – it doesn’t have to be people with complementary skills. In fact, the expectation is many Venture Grant awardees will be just a grad student or postdoc and their PI.

Does the IP and team need to be from Berkeley?

Yes, this program is built for UC Berkeley faculty, PhD students, postdocs, other biosciences graduate students, as well as graduate-level business and engineering students, looking to commercialize Berkeley IP.

How will applications be evaluated?

Case-by-case. In general, we’re looking for the raw materials to make a moonshot startup. We understand the timeline may be slower as a venture emerges from an academic lab, but we’re looking for a pathway to success.

Is the award in exchange for equity in the startup?

Yes, and no. The $100k LSEC grant is non-dilutive, and the first $100k investment from SkyDeck Fund is pursuant to a SAFE with a $2M post-money cap. The optional second $100k SkyDeck investment is for an additional 2.5% equity, making the overall investment equivalent to the standard SkyDeck terms for Batch 18. $300k (and other enormous benefits) for 7.5% of a just-incorporated company is a generous valuation. We believe in you.

Can we just get the LSEC grant and not the SkyDeck investment?

No, they're both part of the program. Do you expect that particpating in LSEC's Venture Grant program will increase the value of your startup by more than 5-7.5%? If so, this program is for you.

Are there any limitations on how the money may be spent?

The $100k LSEC grant may be used only for academic translational research. The $100-200k investment from SkyDeck is unrestricted.

I still have questions. Where do I get more info?

Find a time to chat with LSEC here.