Incubating innovation: UCI Beall Applied Innovation is helping make Irvine a growing startup hub

By: Christine Byrd

Photo by: UCI News

An award-winning innovator who started an agricultural technology company. A UCI alumnus who founded a medical device company. A UCI professor who’s producing rapid tests for COVID-19 and other diseases. Their backgrounds are as different as their companies, but they all launched their ventures at UCI Beall Applied Innovation.

The city of Irvine recently landed on WalletHub’s list of the best big cities in which to start a business and was ranked first for access to related resources. That’s no accident. Irvine’s success is part of a concerted effort that kicked into high gear in 2014 when Applied Innovation opened its doors, bringing together a treasure trove of tools for entrepreneurs.

Martha Montoya, who was named an Orange County Business Journal Innovator of the Year in 2020, launched her startup at Applied Innovation because of its connections with talented, experienced industry mentors.

“It’s like Christmastime,” she says. “Applied Innovation’s No. 1 asset is the people in the ecosystem. I can just grab someone who sold a company for $1.5 billion and ask for advice.”

In 2017, Montoya was driving around University Research Park looking for UCI’s startup incubator to help take her business plan from paper into the real world. After a couple of wrong stops, she located Applied Innovation’s beach-themed space, dubbed the Cove, which at that time was constantly buzzing with activity. Pre-pandemic, the Cove typically welcomed more than 200 daily visitors, from angel investors to executives attending pitch competitions, educational talks, and Monday night football watch parties with startups pitching during halftime. Today, in-person activity is gradually returning to its usual pace.

Montoya got support from Applied Innovation through its Small Business Development Center and Wayfinder incubator, which provides classes, access to experts and investors, and space at the Cove. Her technology company, AgTools – an online platform that tracks billions of data points for fresh produce being grown and shipped around the world – now has headquarters in Irvine as well as satellite offices in Washington, New Jersey, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.

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