College alums launch Berkeley Catalyst Fund

Ted Hou (Ph.D. ’95,Chem), Laura Smoliar (Ph.D. ’95, Chem) and Drew Lanza are the general partners of the Berkeley Catalyst Fund.

At UC Berkeley, the days of business-asusual are over. In February, Chancellor Dirks announced that, due to annual $150 million deficits, the campus would have to undergo a painful restructuring—not a typical short-term budget reduction, but a long-term revision in how the university does its job.

One of the Chancellor’s changes will be “Making new investments to expand our fundraising capacity along with other new areas for external support.” When it comes to innovative fundraising initiatives, the College of Chemistry is ahead of the game, thanks in part to the loyalty and efforts of two former students of Nobel Laureate chemistry professor Yuan T. Lee (Ph.D. ’65, Chem, with Bruce Mahan).

Laura Smoliar and Ted Hou both completed their dissertations in the research group of Lee in 1995. Since then, their lives and careers have taken parallel paths that have converged again with the founding of their business, Global Innovation Foundry, LLC.

The goal of the company is to bridge technology, markets and investments between the U.S. and Asia. As College of Chemistry alums with deep experience in both startups and large high-tech firms, Ted and Laura share similar backgrounds. Yet their experiences are also complementary. In recent years, Ted has worked with large telecom, solar and energy companies in China, while Laura’s entrepreneurial experience has been in smaller and medium-sized display and photonics companies with key customers in Taiwan and Japan.

A high-tech startup must be able to negotiate a complex world where everything from sources of expertise to the locations for producing components can span continents, languages and technical fields. Global Innovation Foundry helps both startups and established companies to find their way in this complex world.

“We are not just match-makers or brokers who link up different companies and walk away,” says Laura. “We form long-term relationships and serve as an international business development resource for the companies we advise.” It is this expertise that Laura and Ted are bringing to the college.”

For many years academia has struggled with how best to turn scientific breakthroughs into useful new products. Prior to 1980, patents and other intellectual property (IP) rights to inventions resulting from federally funded research remained with the government. But federal research agencies were not in the business of technology marketing, and the patents and other IP typically languished.

In the 1970s, two things changed. First, the rise of biotechnology meant that academic scientific discoveries could have immediate commercial potential as new drugs and other biomedical therapies. Second, U.S. companies were perceived to be losing the race for “competitiveness” to German and Japanese firms that innovated more rapidly.

In response, in 1980, Congress passed the Bayh-Dole Act, named for its sponsors, Republican Senator Robert Dole and Democratic Senator Birch Bayh. This act allowed universities and other organizations to retain patents and other IP rights to inventions flowing from federally funded research.

The Bayh-Dole act was greeted with enthusiasm at research universities. Many of them formed offices of technology transfer to handle the patenting and licensing of inventions from faculty and researchers. Some of these offices have been very successful at licensing— examples include Stanford’s Office of Technology Licensing and Columbia University’s Columbia Technology Ventures.

At Berkeley, the office of the Intellectual Property and Industry Research Alliances (IPIRA), headed by assistant vice chancellor Carol Mimura, handles both the patent processing and licensing as well as sponsored research contracts.

One of the campus’s top inventors is chemistry professor Richard A. Mathies. During his years as the dean of the College of Chemistry (2008–13), Mathies began to consider a venture capital fund to help turn CoC inventions into useful products. Mathies had been involved in several startups, either as a founder or as a scientific adviser, and with the declining state support of UC, he felt it was time to consider new income sources for Berkeley. Campus administrators were receptive to the idea, but the critical set of skills necessary to create such a venture fund was lacking.

When Doug Clark became dean in 2013, he continued to look for a solution. This is where Ted and Laura came into the picture. With help from tax and legal experts, they reviewed the original proposal for a venture fund. Next they developed a model that would achieve the goals of the college while complying with legal considerations.

The result is a hybrid venture-fund model that is comprised of a for-profit venture fund and a separate philanthropic fund that is managed by the UC Berkeley Foundation. This arrangement will allow a substantial portion of the investment returns to flow back to the college. The for-profit fund, the Berkeley Catalyst Fund (BCF), is structured as a typical early-stage fund, and it is completely independent of the university.

Ted and Laura are general partners, along with Drew Lanza, whom they recruited out of retirement. Drew was a founder of and executive at five Silicon Valley companies and a venture capitalist with Morgenthaler Ventures, where, for a decade, he ran the semiconductor and systems practices.

Drew brings a wealth of experience and has generously shared his knowledge with all the stakeholders involved in the project, including IPIRA, the UC Berkeley Foundation, the Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration, and the College of Chemistry.

Drew has B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford and served on the faculty there for many years. He also received an M.B.A. with honors from Harvard. Due to his family history, Drew is strongly attracted to the chemistry aspect of the fund. “My dad earned his Ph.D. in chemistry at NYU shortly after World War II,” says Drew. “He moved the family out to California when he became the founding chief technical officer of Raychem, a Fortune 500 specialty materials company in Redwood City. When he joined, he was employee number six. The company grew to employ 10,000 people in over 80 countries.”

Ted, Laura and Drew have structured BCF as a $25 million fund. It will initially invest in roughly 20 companies during a four-to-five-year period and will have a lifetime of approximately 10 years. The main source of startups will be the research of faculty, students, staff and alumni of the college and related Berkeley departments. CoC faculty members are excited by the possibilities, and 14 have been profiled to date in the current edition of the fund’s brochure.

The college has also created a parallel philanthropic fund—the Berkeley Catalyst Philanthropic Fund (BCPF). Several alumni have started donating to the fund to help college faculty, students, alumni and staff commercialize technology emerging from their labs. Together, the BCF and the BCPF will enable college researchers to develop their discoveries and create new companies.

Says Laura, “The Berkeley Catalyst Fund has helped expand the conversation around philanthropy, especially with alumni in industry. Sometimes we bring new investors and donors to the college because of interest in the BCF/BCPF, but they decide they are more interested in funding a building or another project. We view it all as win-win for the college.”

Knowing that successful relationships are built by face-to-face meetings, Ted and Laura encouraged Dean Clark and his wife Molly to travel to China and Japan last summer to meet some of the leaders of Asia’s dynamic high-tech industries.

“It was a whirlwind tour,” says the college’s director of major gifts and alumni relations, Camille Olufson, who accompanied the Clarks for a portion of the trip. “The dean spent four days in Chengdu, four in Shanghai, three in Shenzhen, one in Hong Kong and three in Tokyo. Ted made the introductions in Shenzhen, and Laura took over in Tokyo. Doug also gave an invited talk in Tokyo, attended by many local companies and members of the Berkeley Club of Japan.

“Ted and Laura have been a huge asset for college outreach in Asia,” adds Olufson, who has known them since their days as graduate students. “We are so grateful that they have been willing to be both ambassadors for the college and to share with us their technical and entrepreneurial expertise in helping to create and manage the Berkeley Catalyst Fund.”

About Ted Hou

Ted Hou was born in 1969 in Wuhan, China. As a child he lived in Guizhou Province and later attended high school at the Fuzhou No. 1 school in Fuzhou, Fujian Province. He graduated from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), in Hefei, Anhui Province, in 1989.

His wife-to-be, Sophie Wang, graduated in the same USTC class. They both came to the College of Chemistry for graduate school. They were married here in 1992 and have two children. Ted was a student of Y.T. Lee while Sophie was a student of Judith Klinman. Both earned their Ph.D.’s in 1995. Says Ted, “Since our Ph.D. advisers’ last names, Klinman and Lee, were next to each other in the alphabet, to our surprise we found ourselves lined up next to each other for commencement.”

Ted Hou and spouse Sophie Wang at the 2015 Dean’s Dinner.

Ted’s postdoc took him to IBM’s Almaden Research Center, where he was a staff scientist from 1996 to 1999. He spent the next decade in the fiber optics communication industry, working as the director for product line management at Oplink Communications, a rapidly growing company that went public in 2000.

Ten years later he was a manager for JDSU (formerly JDS Uniphase), one of the biggest fiber optics communications companies in the world.

In 2010 Ted switched to a new field, solar power. For two years, he worked in a variety of technology and marketing positions in Shanghai and Suzhou, China. He then returned to the United States to become the product strategy vice president for NRG Energy in Emeryville, CA.

Ted left NRG to found NEEM Scientific, a privately held early-stage startup that is creating novel nano materials for the consumer electronics, energy, environmental and healthcare markets. In 2014, Ted, along with fellow Y.T. Lee group alum, Laura Smoliar, started the Global Innovation Foundry to foster technology, market and investment alliances between the US. and Asian businesses and institutions.

About Laura Smoliar

Laura Smoliar was born in 1968 in New York City and later moved to a suburb of Detroit with her family. In 1986, Laura returned to Manhattan to attend Columbia College, where she performed undergraduate research with the late chemistry professor Brian Bent, a former student of Gabor Somorjai. (Bent earned his Berkeley chemistry Ph.D. in 1986). She graduated summa cum laude in 1990. “When it came time to apply to grad schools,” she says, “I visited the labs of Somorjai and Y.T. Lee and decided Berkeley was for me.”

In 1994, Lee returned to his home country of Taiwan to serve as President of Academia Sinica, an association of leading government scientific institutions. Laura spent her last year of graduate school with Lee in Taiwan, earned her Ph.D. from Berkeley in 1995, and returned to Taiwan for a postdoc as an Academia Sinica Fellow. She says, “My experience in Taiwan changed the course of my career, and I have worked collaboratively with companies and institutes in Asia ever since.”

After her postdoc, Laura chose to work in Silicon Valley. She started her career with Seagate Technology, a leader in the data storage industry. She then worked in displays, lasers and other optical hardware technologies. Throughout these years, she worked closely with companies in Japan, especially Sony, Hitachi, Disco and NTT.

Laura Smoliar and spouse Mark Arbore at the 2015 Dean’s Dinner.

In 2005, Laura founded Mobius Photonics, which developed high-power fiber-based UV and green lasers. As CEO, she raised several rounds of financing from investors in the U.S. and Japan, and she exclusively licensed key technology from Harvard. The company was acquired by IPG Photonics.

Laura and her husband, Mark Arbore, owned their own engineering services firm, Peppertree Engineering, which specialized in outsourced product development that required deep exper tise in optics, lasers and LEDs. The couple sold the company in 2013, and Laura later joined forces with Ted Hou to create Global Innovation Foundry, LLC in 2014.