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Education, Collaboration Help Launch Startups at UC San Diego

Design and Innovation Building fosters the entrepreneurial spirit at UC San Diego.

A stylized depiction of a building exterior
From the bottom to the top of this modern 74,000-square-foot building, today's ideas become tomorrow's groundbreaking solutions at the Design and Innovation Building. Photo: Erik Jepsen, UC San Diego

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This article originally appeared in the spring 2024 issue of UC San Diego Magazine as “Designed for Innovation.”

The entrepreneurial spirit runs throughout the UC San Diego campus. It’s part of our conversations and our worldview. It’s what defines us as a Triton community. And now it has a dedicated home.

Steps from the new UC San Diego Central Campus trolley station, this spirit shines in the new Design and Innovation Building, also known as the DIB. It’s a place where people come together and ideas become reality. The  energy from the building — the transit, the constant flow of people and ideas — is palpable. 

“The DIB is a testament to UC San Diego’s commitment to a culture of innovation and working with the community to drive impact for the benefit of all,” says Paul Roben, associate vice chancellor of innovation and commercialization. “It invites those with a passion to join the innovation revolution and redefine what is possible.”

The DIB is a modern 74,000-square-foot space that integrates rigorous education and industry collaboration across its four distinct floors, each uniquely designed and positioned to propel thinkers, dreamers and doers upward as they progress through each level.

The building transcends the conventional classroom setup and boasts a design that creates physical spaces for mentorship, relationship building, interdisciplinary collaboration and hands-on experience. 

And it all starts on the ground floor.

The Basement

The Basement is an incubator and accelerator space, and it’s where innovative ideas begin. Named for its prior location in the basement of Mandeville Center but located on the first floor in its new home, The Basement is a welcoming space for student entrepreneurs, problem solvers and creative thinkers to learn, build bonds and play with their ideas. The open space plan features a prototyping lab, standing tables, computers and large-scale screens to foster collaboration and interdisciplinary brainstorming. The space is also used for interactive workshops, design challenges, pitch competitions, panel discussions, recruitment fairs and social events aimed to connect entrepreneurial-minded students with the larger community.

“In 2015, we launched The Basement with complementary objectives of incubating ideas and student entrepreneurs,” says Jeff Belk ’83, co-founder of The Basement and chair of its advisory board. 

Students are paired with an experienced mentor to guide their nascent startup journey, along with a tailored curriculum, a network of industry and subject-matter experts, prototyping funds, online learning resources and 24/7 access to The Basement’s coworking space.

For student entrepreneur Xiaoyao Li, The Basement was one of the reasons he came to study at UC San Diego. “[The Basement] provides the right environment for me to meet and connect with people who share the same values and mindset, which really pushes me along and keeps me inspired with my own startup,” says Li, founder of Finally Pockets, refined triathlon apparel with pockets. 

Three people stand chatting to a person off camera
The Design and Innovation Building includes four distinct floors that together transcend the conventional classroom setup and instead create physical spaces for mentorship, relationship building, collaboration and hands-on experience. Photo: Erik Jepsen, UC San Diego


Transforming a great idea into a physical entity requires a hands-on approach. Whether prototyping or tinkering, Makerspace is a state-of-the-art workspace to experiment and to create whatever can be imagined. It’s where ideas can take physical shape.

The space is free and available to any UC San Diego student, staff member or visiting group and offers everything, from welders and sewing machines to 3D printers and computer numerical control machines for precision manufacturing. 

“We believe in the transformative power of making,” says David Lesser, director of the Makerspace. With the space and tools to physically build and manipulate 3D objects, dreams quite literally can become reality.  

Karl Johnson ’23, now a first-year graduate student, started at the Makerspace working on hobby projects, including a motorized tripod for taking panoramic photos, before becoming an essential member of Yonder Dynamics, a student robotics team at UC San Diego.  

“The Makerspace is a unique and exceptionally well-equipped resource,” says Johnson. As part of the 2023 University Rover Challenge, the team leveraged the Makerspace’s metal laser cutter, welding studio, electronics shop and other tools and placed fifth out of 104 teams competing from 15 countries.

Two young adults work with objects at a table
Photo: Erik Jepsen, UC San Diego 

The Design Lab

As users make their way to the upper half of the building, they enter the Design Lab, which focuses on research, education and community interactions to advance best practices in human-centered design. Here, design thinking reigns supreme, and prototypes are refined for actual, practical use. 

With state-of-the-art facilities, cutting-edge technology, and invaluable training and mentorship, the Design Lab’s faculty, students, staff and partners remain grounded in designing solutions for real-world challenges. Participants work alongside designers to better understand how products are received by customers. And when the project is complete, participants will have a finished product ready to market and deploy.  

“We tackle the most demanding challenges, disrupt conventional thinking and transform challenges into solutions,” says Mai Nguyen, director of the Design Lab. “We feel that design-driven innovation isn’t just about progress, but it can be a catalyst for profound, purposeful change.” 

Undergraduate and graduate students can develop and apply their research through various multidisciplinary programs and labs. The results include inventions; partnerships to create new and resilient public-health tools; and cutting-edge research in artificial intelligence, data visualization and more.

Three people sit at desks looking at a lecturer
Photo: Erik Jepsen, UC San Diego 

Entrepreneurship Center

The fourth floor is the Entrepreneurship Center where founders forge transformational connections as startups prepares to launch. It’s an important milestone and allows founders to utilize the center’s coworking space, talent and more.

“To have a physical space with all the resources here has given us the ability to refine our technology beyond the research laboratory and create a truly robust product,” says Edward Jay Wang, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC San Diego and CEO of Billion Labs, Inc., which strives to equalize access to health monitoring by transforming smartphones into medical devices by utilizing its sensors and computational capacity. 

At the center’s incubator space, startup founders work alongside other entrepreneurs, creating an environment of networking and idea cross-pollination. And across the hall, founders have access to venture capitalists and angel investors looking for their next investment. 

“We are able to connect and advise early-stage companies that are launching from the DIB,” says Darek DeFreece, adviser at Bow Capital, an early-stage venture fund founded in partnership with the University of California Board of Regents. “Founders need places to ideate, create and connect and to translate those ideas into commercial opportunities. From formal to accidental encounters, the DIB does it all in this one place.” 

 A group of five people five standing in a rough circle stand chatting
Photo: Erik Jepsen, UC San Diego

The Entrepreneurship Center hosts law firms, brand agencies, recruitment organizations and community partners that offer their expertise to support the successful launch of new local startups. 


The DIB is the place where ideas flourish. Where tinkering is welcomed and where ideas take flight. Its premise — to do things better, to find a better way — has always been part of the UC San Diego ethos. It is now in a physical form and available to Tritons with an idea.

This article originally appeared in the spring 2024 issue of UC San Diego Magazine as “Designed for Innovation.”

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