On your way to Cyclotron Road?

27 September 2021

Berkeley Lab’s Cyclotron Road initiative provides a unique opportunity for science innovators to translate their ideas into high-impact technologies. Joe McEntee reports.

Rachel Slaybaugh

Entrepreneurial scientists and engineers take note: the next round of applications to Cyclotron Road’s two-year fellowship programme will open in the fourth quarter, offering a funded path for early-stage start-ups in “hard tech” (i.e. physical hardware rather than software) to fast-track development of their applied research innovations. Now in its sixth year, Cyclotron Road is a division of the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley, California) and is run in partnership with non-profit Activate, a specialist provider of entrepreneurship education and training. 

Successful applicants who navigate the rigorous merit-review process will receive $100,000 of research support for their project as well as a stipend, health insurance and access to Berkeley Lab’s world-class research facilities and scientific expertise. CERN Courier gets the elevator pitch from Rachel Slaybaugh, Cyclotron Road division director. 

Summarise your objectives for Cyclotron Road

Our mission is to empower science innovators to develop their ideas from concept to first product, positioning them for broad societal impact in the long term. We create the space for fellows to commercialise their ideas by giving them direct access to the world-leading scientists and facilities at Berkeley Lab. Crucially, we reinforce that support with a parallel curriculum of specialist entrepreneurship education from our programme partner Activate. 

What are the benefits of embedding the fellowship programme at Berkeley Lab?

Cyclotron Road is not a one-size-fits-all programme, so the benefits vary from fellow to fellow. Some of the fellows and their teams only loosely make use of Berkeley Lab services, while others will embed in a staff scientist’s lab and engage in close collaborative R&D work. The value proposition is that our fellows have access to Berkeley Lab and its resources but can choose what model works best for them. It seems to work: since 2015, Cyclotron Road fellows have collaborated with more than 70 Berkeley Lab scientists, while the organisations they’ve founded have collectively raised more than $360 million in follow-on funding. 

What do you look for in prospective Cyclotron Road fellows? 

We want smart, talented individuals with a passion to develop and grow their own early-stage hard-tech venture. Adaptability is key: Cyclotron Road fellows need to have the technical and intellectual capability to pivot their business plan if needed. As such, our fellows are collaborative team players by default, coachable and hungry to learn. They don’t need to take all the advice they’re given in the programme, but they do need to be open-minded and willing to listen to a range of viewpoints regarding technology innovation and commercial positioning. 

Explain the role of Activate in the professional development of fellows 

Activate is an essential partner in the Cyclotron Road mission. Its team handles the parallel programme of entrepreneurship education, including an onboarding bootcamp, weekly mentoring and quarterly “deep-dives” on all aspects of technology and business development. The goal is to turn today’s talented scientists and engineers into tomorrow’s technology CEOs and CTOs. Activate also has staff to curate strategic relationships for our fellows, helping start-ups connect with investors, industry partners and equipment suppliers. That’s reinforced by the opportunity to link up with the amazing companies in Cyclotron Road’s alumni network.

How does Cyclotron Road benefit Berkeley Lab?

There are several upsides. We’re bringing entrepreneurship and commercial thinking into the lab, helping Berkeley scientists build bridges with these new technology companies – and the innovators driving them. That has paybacks in terms of future funding proposals, giving our researchers a better understanding of how to position their research from an applications perspective. The knowledge transfer between Cyclotron Road fellows and Berkeley Lab scientists is very much a two-way process: while fellows progress their commercial ideas, they are often sparking new lines of enquiry among their collaborators here at Berkeley Lab. 

How are you broadening participation?

Fellows receive a yearly living stipend of $80,000 to $110,000, health insurance, a relocation stipend and a travel allowance – all of which means they’re able to focus full-time on their R&D. Our priority is to engage a diverse community of researchers – not just those individuals who already have a high net worth or access to a friends-and-family funding round. We’re building links with universities and labs outside the traditional technology hot-spots like Silicon Valley, Boston and Seattle, as well as engaging institutions that serve under-represented minorities. Worth adding that Cyclotron Road welcomes international applicants in a position to relocate to California for two years.  

Further information on the Cyclotron Road fellowship programme:

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