Entrepreneurial Ambitions + Passion = Success
2019 Ignite Conference

The 9th annual Ignite Conference (March 6–9, 2019) brought entrepreneurial students from multiple disciplines and universities together with business professionals and startup founders in an intensive four-day conference at UC Davis.

This collaboration between the UCD Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship created an incredible opportunity to witness innovation in Silicon Valley and connect with inspiring startup founders.

Ignite Conference reception

After starting with a warm reception on Wednesday night, the conference kicked into gear on Thursday with industry site visits in the SF Bay Area. Amongst the many companies in the tour were Tesla, Robinhood, Coinbase, SmartCar and Helix.

These tours provided an unmatched opportunity to network with influential founders and hear their efforts in growing the business.

I chose the opportunity to visit four biotech companies: Evolve BioSystems, Smartcar, FivePrime Therapeutics and Helix. To my surprise, the founders of most of these companies met with us and talked about their entrepreneur journey establishing and growing their companies. Evolve BioSystems gave an exciting tour of their labs and demonstrated the use of their first-ever rapid-response testing kit for levels of bifidobacterium in a baby’s gut microbiome.

At Evolve BioSystems

It was exciting to meet Sanketh Katta, the cofounder/CTO of SmartCar and a UC Berkeley alumni, and hear him describe how he stumbled upon the idea with his brother. Next, we had the remarkable opportunity to meet the founder of Five Prime Therapeutics, Dr. Lewis “Rusty” T. Williams, and hear his fascinating stories. Finally, Helix, an Illumina spinoff, presented to us behind the scenes on developing an online store to sequence the exomes providing 100x more data and making DNA testing personal.

These tours provided an unmatched opportunity to network with influential founders and hear their efforts in growing the business.



Days 3 and 4 were devoted to a series of talks from founders of small startups to well-established companies. I appreciated how the speakers shared the founding stories—including the challenges—of establishing their companies. 

Of the many talks, I found Brad Chisum, Jack Gill (the renowned founder of Vanguard Ventures), Mark Randall and Dr. Pam Marrone’s stories immensely touching and motivating. Each condensed decades of entrepreneurial experiences into an hour filled with advice, pitfalls to avoid, and inspiration. Pam Marrone described the convoluted path of highs and lows that took her to the IPO of Marrone Bio Innovations. Professor Gill’s entrepreneur lessons were fascinating, including one that pointed “leadership is about reading a situation and applying the right leadership style.” 

In the closing presentation, Mark Randall’s emotional story of his challenges in an IPO fallout and the successful acquisition of his second venture by Adobe was very moving.

Mark Randall

Aside from the presentations and networking opportunities, students were excited to partake in the Pub Crawl on Friday night to visit multiple bars and restaurants in downtown Davis. The energy of the students, speakers and organizers made this conference truly memorable and one of the highlights of my Ph.D. career and Business Development Fellowship.

Pub crawl

This conference would not have been possible without the relentless efforts of Niki Peterson, Brad Burke, Joe DiNunzio, Haley Hart and the other organizers at the UC Davis Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship.