Ten University of California startups are hoping to open 2021 with a bang by securing one of two $50,000 prizes at the GCV Digital Forum next month.

Ten University of California (UC)-aligned startups have been handpicked for a shot at one of two $50,000 prizes on offer at the GCV Digital Forum, organised by GUV’s sister publication, at the end of January.

Startup Innovation Challenge curates concepts that University of California regards as potentially game-changing in high-impact spaces such as medicine, fighting climate change and disaster relief.

Allied to entrepreneurs competition organiser Extreme Tech Challenge (XTC), the 2021 edition is sponsored by the University of California Regents’ office of the chief investment officer, as well as Bow Capital, a VC fund anchored by the university.

Carmaker Ford Motor Company is also supporting the contest, as is law firm Orrick, cloud computing platform Amazon Web Services and fintech company Brex.

Participants will be spread across two categories: a growth-stage track for post-series A businesses or companies considered to have proof of product market-fit, and an earlier-stage section for pre-series A businesses.

One winner from each track will be selected to receive $50,000 in prize funding.

All of the contest participants, including applicants not selected for the finals, remain in the running for a spot in XTC’s regional startup competition.

Victoria Slivkoff, global head of innovation and entrepreneurship at UC, said: “The tenacity, ingenuity and the entrepreneurial spirit of UC founders have never been more inspiring than in these unprecedented times.

“As these 10 finalists demonstrate, UC startups are making an impact in so many sectors of the economy. We want to see these innovative solutions reach the marketplace to help build a sustainable, equitable, inclusive, healthy and prosperous world.”

The growth-stage finalists are:

  • MemComputing (UC San Diego), a software developer aiming to capture the performance advantage of quantum computing using classical computing technology;
  • Myogene Bio (UC Los Angeles), a gene therapy producer focused on muscle diseases including Duchenne muscular dystrophy;
  • Sophie’s Bionutrients (UC Davis), which produces meat-alternative proteins using fermentation techniques to reduce land, water and energy consumption;
  • Squishy Robotics (UC Berkeley), a robot manufacturer that produces malleable machines that can survive being airdropped by drones into disaster zones; and
  • SymSoil (UC Berkeley), a producer of chemical fertilisers and pesticides based on biologically active compost as an alternative to synthetic chemical products.

The pre-series A finalists are:

  • Auctus Surgical (UC San Francisco) a creator of a device for treating paediatric scoliosis – a form of spinal deformity – less invasively than existing methods;
  • Fixing CO2 (UC San Diego), which is working on a solar and wind energy-powered reactor to produce fuels and chemicals from carbon dioxide emissions;
  • KovaDx (UC Berkeley), a company working on portable medical tests for sickle cell disease with the aim of treating underserved communities such as regions in sub-Saharan Africa;
  • Takachar (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), developers of thermochemical biomass reactor intended to yield valuable products from materials that would otherwise go to waste; and
  • Xiresta (UC Santa Barbara), which hopes to deliver novel antibiotics to help address antimicrobial resistance and superbugs which can kill patients undergoing critical surgical procedures.