UCSC recently selected Marco Rolandi as the new faculty director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Development (CIED).
Rolandi succeeds Physics Professor Sue Carter, who has held the position since 2015. As Rolandi prepares to take on his new role, beginning on July 1, GT spoke with him to learn more about the center as well as his groundbreaking work at UCSC.
Tell me about yourself and what you do.
MARCO ROLANDI: I am currently a professor and chair of the Electrical Engineering Department at UC Santa Cruz. Broadly speaking, my research area is in bioelectronics, which encompasses ways to interface electronic devices with biological systems.
You were recently appointed faculty director of the UCSC Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Development. What is this center, and why is it important?
The center coordinates entrepreneurial innovation activities across campus for students and faculty and helps spearhead innovation and entrepreneurial activities at UC Santa Cruz. I’m really excited to be the new director so that I can build on past successes and start new activities in that particular field.
In 2017, you co-founded Cruz Foam, a Santa Cruz-based company that makes environmentally friendly foam products, with a UCSC graduate student. What do you enjoy most about working with UCSC students?
I feel that UCSC students have a really strong desire to change the world for the better, and entrepreneurship can be a natural way of doing so. Cruz Foam started from the desire to minimize the plastic pollution that goes into the ocean. The company creates a foam that can be used for packaging. Unlike petroleum-based foam, this foam is completely biodegradable and naturally-sourced. In fact, it is actually sourced from seafood waste such as shrimp shells.
What are you looking forward to most as director?
I look forward to working with the entrepreneurial community both on campus as well as Santa Cruz and the Monterey Bay. My experience co-founding Cruz Foam was absolutely fantastic. Everybody we met along the way was amazing to work with and extremely supportive. It was this feeling of community where people want everybody to succeed. That’s really what attracted me to become the CIED director—to continue working with the entrepreneurship community both on campus and the surrounding communities.
According to Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer, you were selected due to your strong record in developing startups from research. Do you have any projects that you are most proud of?
For me, projects are ways to work with people and to see students succeed. They are a means to an end, and the end is seeing amazing people grow into entrepreneurs and scientists. What I am most proud of are really the students I work with.
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now, we are working on a project that is designed to shorten the time it takes to close a wound by 50%. The project is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It is a large collaborative effort across three campuses with many PIs [principal investigators]. We do so with an intelligent bandage that uses sensors and actuators controlled by artificial intelligence to determine the state of the wound and provide appropriate interventions to the wound in order to make it heal faster.
Do you have any advice for incoming UCSC students looking to get involved in entrepreneurship?
Three things: dream big, don’t get discouraged and don’t be afraid to pivot when needed.