Sam Castañeda, Co-Chair
Sam Castañeda graduated with a B.A. in sociology from San Francisco State University, and has worked for the University of California (UC) — at the Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses — for more than 20 years. During this time, he created innovative programs that lent support to international students and scholars. Concurrently, Sam also held leadership positions with the California chapter of NAFSA: Association of International Educators. At the national level, Sam is currently chair of the newly recognized NAFSA Postdoc Special Interest Group and is the institutional liaison between NAFSA and the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA).
At UC Berkeley, Sam was instrumental in the development of the Visiting Scholar and Postdoc Affairs (VSPA) Program- the first postdoc office in the UC system and one of the first in the United States.
As director of Berkeley's VSPA Program, Sam is responsible for the oversight of postdocs at Berkeley, who are provided with a variety of professional support systems such as lecture series, networking events, and other tools which help to broaden career and professional development opportunities for Berkeley's 1,500 postdocs. With an extensive international student and scholar background, Sam has won recognition for a variety of customized courses serving the international research community.
Sam is founder and managing editor of UC Postdoc Newsletter, an electronic journal that connects more than 6,500 postdocs with 500 faculty and staff administrators who work together to enhance the postdoctoral experience at UC.
Naresh Sunkara, Co-Chair
Naresh Sunkara is a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. Previously, he was a postdoctoral scientist at UC Berkeley developing novel technologies for delivery of RNA based drugs for treating viral infections. During his time at Berkeley, Naresh founded and chaired the Berkeley Postdoctoral Entrepreneurship Program (BPEP) since 2010. The mission of BPEP is to educate and mentor graduate students and postdocs to bolster their entrepreneurship skills and values for the purpose of transforming university research into startup companies.
Over the last three years, Naresh has worked closely with the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and the Intellectual Property and Industry Alliances Office (IPIRA) at UC Berkeley as well as with their counterparts at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. As a result, Naresh was designated Special Assistant for Postdoctoral Affairs to the Vice Chancellor for Research. In this role, Naresh has successfully implemented several new initiatives including an internship program for graduate students and postdocs to train them in the evaluation of technologies coming out of UC Berkeley and license them to interested companies at the IPIRA office.
Naresh is also the CEO of a startup company, Nosocom Solutions Inc., which develops technologies to reduce healthcare acquired infections (HAI) in hospitals. He is also serving as an advisor to two other companies, Solfice, and Smartkonnexion.
Naresh received his MS from Tennessee Technological University and PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
What started as a conversation between the Visiting Scholar and Postdoc Affairs Program (VSPA), Berkeley Postdoctoral Entrepreneur Program (BPEP) and the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) to organize a joint workshop on life sciences entrepreneurship at UC Berkeley, ended up as "UC Berkeley Inaugural Life Sciences Entrepreneurship Symposium."
The conversation evolved into a wider discussion on existing entrepreneurship programs focused on advanced degree holders at Bay Area institutions (University of California - Berkeley, University of California - San Francisco, University of California - Davis and Stanford University), and on how we can work together to benefit from each other, the fledgling biotech/pharmaceutical industry in the Bay Area, and the entrepreneurial network in the Bay Area. We felt a need for a platform for bringing all these players onboard and explore ways to work together, to bridge the need for alternative careers for advanced degree holders and the need for new ideas for pharmaceutical/biotech companies. We set out to bring together leaders from academia, industry and another key player -- government, to frame key challenges and explore new opportunities in life sciences and biotech field in the area.
We identified key players at the four academic institutions and other key stakeholder in the Bay Area's entrepreneurial ecosystems (NYAS, QB3, Bay Bio Institute and EPPIC). The topics for the daylong symposium evolved after elaborate discussions and input from each of these partners. The discussion about the topics and speakers was so intense that we had to postpone the event several times, to get the best agenda and best speakers for the symposium. One of our partners at Stanford University, Michael Alvarez, moved on to MD Anderson Cancer Center and still continued to participate in the planning process, as he felt a strong need for such a platform. As a result, MD Anderson Cancer Center is now a partner in the symposium.
This life sciences/biotech entrepreneurship symposium is our first attempt to create a network of the players mentioned above, to benefit from each other's strengths and networks and to ultimately strengthen academia-industry relations and improve healthcare. We are hopeful that this symposium will result in some meaningful conversations, which can be followed up by working groups that will continue to work on areas that need continued cooperation. We would like to make this an annual symposium, where we can partner with more players, build meaningful relations and benefit our academic community, which is of highest priority for us.
We welcome your input and hope that we have achieved the goal of providing an annual forum for future collaboration.