Christine Gulbranson, senior vice-president, innovation and entrepreneurship, UC Ventures

Christine Gulbranson is a force of nature. It is nigh on impossible not to be captivated by her passion for her job – senior vice-president, innovation and entrepreneurship, at University of California (UC) System – and her dedication to the ecosystem – also notable in her position as chairwoman of the Global University Venturing Leadership Society.

Yet despite her impressive résumé – which begins with five degrees from UC Davis, including an MBA and a PhD in materials science and engineering, and features general partner at VC firm Global Catalyst Partners, co-founder of nanotechnology developer UltraDots and chief executive of startup advisory firm Christalis, to name but a small selection – Gulbranson is approachable and empathetic.

Those characteristics come in handy in a job that requires her to create a network of, and engage, startups launched by UC’s 250,000 students, 200,000 faculty and staff and 1.8 million living alumni. Last year alone, UC companies from licensed technologies brought in $21bn in revenue and $6.6bn in investments, and employed 18,000 people.

They have also come in handy for her responsibilities handling UC Ventures, a $250m initiative that has so far made a $100m cornerstone investment in venture capital firm Bow Capital, led by managing general partner Vivek Ranadivé. Bow Capital is not investing exclusively in UC spinouts and startups but is taking a keen interest in opportunities arising out of the ecosystem – in line with UC’s vision of committing a good proportion – about 40% – of the $250m to the startups being formed by students and faculty.

With governance requiring the fund’s operations to be independent, the mandate was passed to Vivek Ranadivé, founder and managing general partner of Bow Capital, with ideas and support coming from Gulbranson and her team. UC has also committed about $1m to the House Fund managed by Jeremy Fiance to invest in Berkeley startups.

Gulbranson began her job – a new position – in May 2016 and said her decision at the time was driven by the fact that she liked “building things that are new and this is a brand new division in a 150-year-old institution”.

It is difficult to underestimate the amount of work faced by Gulbranson and her team, which includes Wendy Lim, chief of staff in the office of innovation and entrepreneurship, and Victoria Slivkoff, head of strategic partnerships and Asia-Pacific general manager.

It helped that the job offer was with UC. Gulbranson added: “I am a graduate of UC Davis. Throughout my career I have built a wide-ranging skillset, and this job is a culmination of all those skills – skills that I can now bring back to an institution that has given me so much and enabled me to grow in my career.”

The position is also a homecoming professionally. From 1997 to 1999, Gulbranson was director of research collaborations in the UC office of the president, before moving to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where her achievements included the creation of an incubator.

Thierry Heles

Thierry Heles is the editor of Global University Venturing, host of the Beyond the Breakthrough interview podcast and responsible for the monthly GUV Gazette (sign up here for free).