CITRIS fosters collaboration, accelerates commercialization with new Innovation Hub led by Jill Finlayson

Collage of three photos: A room full of people talking together at tables; Jill Finlayson smiling; a hand holding a circuit board above a set of schematics.

The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute (CITRIS) at the University of California (UC) has launched the CITRIS Innovation Hub, a centralized program to help UC students and academic, corporate and governmental visitors advance to the next stage of their innovation journeys.

In service to CITRIS’s mission to empower the next generation to innovate technology for social good, the Innovation Hub connects UC students to training, education, research and entrepreneurship opportunities across the four CITRIS campuses and beyond. The hub prioritizes equitable access to its resources so all students, including and especially those from underrepresented populations, can build the skills they need to thrive in their academic and professional careers. 

Jill Finlayson.

The Innovation Hub also introduces a Visiting Affiliates program to enable members of government, industry and academia to develop expertise and forge new connections within CITRIS’s interdisciplinary ecosystem. The program presents a diverse range of experiences, lasting from a single day to a full academic year, where visitors can access cutting-edge research infrastructure and participate in seminars led by leaders in their fields.  

Shepherding these multifaceted, multicampus collaborations is the Innovation Hub’s inaugural managing director, Jill Finlayson

For over two decades, Finlayson served in strategy and leadership roles within startup companies, foundations and consulting firms before returning to her alma mater, UC Berkeley, in 2017 as director of the Women in Tech Initiative at UC, which became the Expanding Diversity and Gender Equity in Tech Initiative (EDGE in Tech) in 2021. 

The seventh annual EDGE in Tech Symposium in spring 2023 convened experts using emerging technologies to advance innovation for more sustainable infrastructure.

She also taught a Challenge Lab on equitable entrepreneurship at the UC Berkeley Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology,  and she currently hosts UC Berkeley Extension’s monthly Future of Work podcast

“We are excited that Jill will bring her considerable knowledge and energy to expanding CITRIS’s role in creating equitable opportunities for participating in emerging technology fields,” said CITRIS Executive Director Camille Crittenden

Finlayson recently shared her aspirations for the new program.

What is your vision for the CITRIS Innovation Hub?

The CITRIS Innovation Hub is focused on accelerating the commercialization of promising deep tech innovations, fostering collaboration with international visitors, and building a diverse and inclusive workforce for emerging innovation areas. It will create and expand inclusive on-ramps in many important tech sectors. 

For students, the Innovation Hub offers internship opportunities that provide hands-on career skills and professional development through our Workforce Innovation Program, and showcases specialized programs across our four campuses such as the CIDER drone pilot training at UC Santa Cruz. Nascent entrepreneurs from all campuses have access to the CITRIS Foundry startup incubator to guide them in moving their inventions out of the lab and into the marketplace. There are also opportunities for pre-university students to engage, including the NexTech Robotics and FLY CITRIS programs led by UC Merced. 

The CITRIS Workforce Innovation Program matched 84 UC students in eight-week paid STEM internships with 45 different host organizations in 2022, its inaugural year.

For visitors, such as international postdocs and cohorts from universities, governments, and companies, the Innovation Hub provides a visiting affiliate experience to help them tap into business networks, pursue research partnerships, and immerse themselves in the mindset and methods of CITRIS and Silicon Valley entrepreneurship. Leveraging our expertise in tech policy and diversity and inclusion in tech, our programs help researchers and practitioners think about policy questions, ethical issues and how to best leverage innovation in the interest of society.

The Innovation Hub also encourages everyone to engage in continuous learning through podcasts, webinars and courses on emerging tech and responsible innovation. 

What led you to this role? 

After I graduated from UC Berkeley, my first jobs were here at the university, supporting faculty research at the University Research Expeditions Program and promoting cross-cultural understanding at the International House — both still quite relevant to our CITRIS goals of advancing IT in the interest of society. 

Over the next 25 years, I worked for startups like eBay, foundations supporting social entrepreneurship, and organizations incubating social ventures and startups using technology to solve the world’s grand challenges. Innovation and inventorship have many of the same challenges and barriers to participation that we see in STEM fields. 

What CITRIS resources do you feel are most valuable for our visiting affiliates? 

CITRIS is well situated to help innovators of all stripes — students, faculty, government, industry, startups and organizations — to focus on deep tech for the public good. We have an amazing bench of talent in climate, health, aviation, artificial intelligence, robotics and tech policy. This expertise creates impressive networking and interdisciplinary research opportunities. 

Having home bases on the UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz campuses places visitors where relevant cutting-edge technology is being invented. Our robust UC startup ecosystem and the proximity to Silicon Valley creates opportunities to see firsthand how startups get off the ground. 

In April 2023, CITRIS co-hosted a special Research Exchange series with the UC Berkeley Artificial Intelligence Research Lab (BAIR). The Distinguished Lectures on the Status and Future of AI featured four leading experts on the science and ethics of this burgeoning field.

Our student-focused programs help the next generation of workforce talent gain real-world experience in emerging tech companies and labs, along with the professional development skills they need in their careers. Our CITRIS Research Exchange talks, webinars, podcasts and growing number of courses make it easy for everyone to dip a toe into complex topics and take advantage of continuous learning opportunities to stay relevant and competitive.

How will the CITRIS Innovation Hub serve all four CITRIS campuses?

Each of the CITRIS campuses is a thought leader in a number of topics. For example, UC Davis is a leader in healthy aging and is spearheading innovation at the intersection of climate and health; UC Merced is blazing the frontiers of smart farms, food tech and ag tech; UC Santa Cruz is kicking off our dynamic new aviation initiative, and UC Berkeley is home to the CITRIS Policy Lab and the Marvell NanoLab, with leading faculty in semiconductors, smart manufacturing, and AI and robotics. 

For researchers on campus, the Innovation Hub offers a way to host fascinating innovators from around the world. The hub also shines a light on all the ways students can engage in new technologies and the career on-ramps at each campus. At its core, the hub encourages responsible and inclusive innovation in the interest of society around the world and helps to accelerate promising innovations for broad social benefit.