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Berkeley’s Bakar BioEnginuity Hub opens its doors

May 6, 2022
By: Ivan Natividad
A crowd of people outside of the BBH building.
Over 250 people attended UC Berkeley’s Bakar BioEnginuity Hub grand opening Tuesday to celebrate the transformation of the building and the innovations that will come from its startups. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

UC Berkeley’s campus community this week celebrated the grand opening of the Bakar BioEnginuity Hub (BBH), the campus’s bold new home for research and innovation.

The remarkable facility, located in Woo Hon Fai Hall — the former Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive — pairs the Bakar Labs incubator with fellowships and programming for Berkeley students and researchers, equipping STEM entrepreneurs with labs, offices, equipment and shared community spaces.

After two years of seismic upgrades and renovations, BBH celebrated its opening this month. Bakar Labs, the facility’s flagship life sciences incubator, has been operational since mid-November, offering space to tenant companies.

Carol Christ speaking at a podium.
UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ told the crowd: “The Bakar BioEnginuity Hub takes us to the next level, providing a gathering place where entrepreneurs at every stage of their careers can share ideas, resources, and the energy and ambition that drive innovation.” (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

Tuesday night’s grand opening gathered the vast community of Berkeley researchers, entrepreneurs and change-makers who have supported the transformation of the building since its inception.

“Once a space for quiet contemplation, the former galleries are now filled with world-class wet labs and collaborative areas, where startup teams can test, develop, and grow their ideas — one bench at a time,” Chancellor Carol Christ said Tuesday. “The transformation of the building is itself a work of art … It took many villages to help us reach this moment.”

Attendees mingled in outdoor areas where they learned more about the newly renovated space, and a “strolling dinner” in the building’s lower terrace featured interactive displays by student and startup entrepreneurs.

Tours of the four-story building were also provided, including a look into the 40,000 square feet of lab and office space that startups are currently using to support their research, which range from gene and cell therapy, to food technology for meat alternatives and advance agricultural crop production.

The facility was created in a collaboration between UC Berkeley and QB3, a University of California-wide institute that supports entrepreneurship and UC research programs. Nearly 20 startups have already moved into the space, which has the capacity to support more than 50 companies.

“(We) are going to be an incredible model for the country on how to translate technologies to benefit society. Our tenant companies are solving important challenges in medicine and the environment, at the same time as creating high-value jobs,” said BBH Director, David Schaffer, who is also a UC Berkeley professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, bioengineering, and molecular and cell biology. “In addition, we at BBH and QB3 are launching undergraduate and graduate training programs with Bakar Labs companies to help train the future workforce of California.”

Amy Herr, David Schaffer, Reg Kelly, Tammy Hsu, and Kwasi Apori celebrate the opening of the Bakar BioEngenuity Hub (Video by Jenny Chu, Stefanie Kalem and Michael Lin.)

Guests were also treated to a conversation between 2020 Nobel Laureate, and Berkeley chemistry professor, Jennifer Doudna, and Sue Desmond-Hellmann, former CEO of the Gates Foundation. Founding BBH Director Amy Herr also spoke Tuesday, about the “immense challenges facing humanity” and how Berkeley is responding.

“In a uniquely Berkeley way, the BBH offers a magic spark designed to ignite truly original ideas from people who think differently, by not just looking to today but, very importantly, by looking ahead to tomorrow,” said Herr, a bioengineering professor at Berkeley. “While we are celebrating the opening of BBH, we are implicitly celebrating that magical spark that is UC Berkeley: being relentlessly impatient in heeding the call to create a better future for all.”