Irvine Innovators Making An Impact – Irvine Standard


CEO and co-founder, Turion Space

This SpaceX veteran is now focused on space sustainability, providing orbital space services that include monitoring, repairing and repositioning satellites in danger of being hit by space debris. IN THE NEWS: In June, Turion will become the first in this nascent industry to deploy a commercial satellite (built in its Irvine offices) to track space debris and alert satellite owners. IN HIS WORDS: “There’s about a million objects in orbit large enough to destroy your satellite if an impact were to occur, and only about 48,000 of those objects are being tracked. We’re addressing that issue.”


CEO, Movandi

In 2016, she co-founded Movandi Corp., a communications-technology company known for its breakthroughs in 5G (fifth-generation) mobile-phone service. Rofougaran, who holds over 60 patents for semiconductor technology, has raised more than $90 million in funding while partnering with big-name mobile-technology companies like Qualcomm and Verizon. Her technology is used in home, mobile and automotive communications systems. IN THE NEWS: Rofougaran recently was named to Inc.’s “Female Founders 200” list of 2023’s most dynamic women entrepreneurs. IN HER WORDS: “We are pioneers building this market. We are trying to enable the next generation of wireless. What we’re doing is leapfrogging what exists.”


Chief technology officer, Supernal

Hyundai Motor Group hopes to put a flying taxi in the sky by 2028, and Diachun is overseeing the effort at the automaker’s Supernal division in the Irvine Spectrum District. Supernal forecasts a flight from OC to downtown L.A. would be three times faster than driving, while priced about the same as a luxury car service. IN THE NEWS: Supernal unveiled the cabin design of its five-passenger flying taxi last summer, in hopes of receiving regulatory certification for the vehicles as soon as 2024. IN HIS WORDS: “Tech talent is critical to making advanced air mobility a reality, and that makes Irvine a great place for our engineering headquarters. We’re working on technology to power an entirely new dimension of mobility.”


President and chief operating officer, Sega of America

Curran helps bring Sega’s video games, consoles and films to American audiences, most noticeably its Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. The 1991 video game remains one of the bestselling video games of all time – so popular that it was made into a successful movie. IN THE NEWS: Curran recently moved Sega’s U.S. headquarters from San Francisco to Irvine’s Innovation Office Park. IN HIS WORDS: “One of the reasons I love working in video games is because there is always something new – some piece of software that makes you say ‘Wow’ when you see it demonstrated for the first time. That constantly happens in our Sega offices.”


Global design director, Lincoln

After redesigning the 2015 Ford Mustang and 2017 Lincoln Continental, Curic designed the 2019 Lincoln Aviator, named “best American luxury car in a generation” by Road & Track. Based at Lincoln’s design studio in Irvine, he presides over Lincoln’s global operations spread across the world. IN THE NEWS: Last summer, he unveiled Lincoln’s L100 Concept, an autonomous, ultra-luxury EV hailed for its aero-shaped design, style and elegance. IN HIS WORDS: “Our Model L100 design is one that moves effortlessly – a vehicle that appears to be sculpted by the wind, as if friction does not exist.”


CEO and co-founder, Terran Orbital

Under Bell’s guidance, Terran Orbital has become the world’s leading manufacturer of nanosatellites, having launched over 340 missions since its inception in 2013. The company, with three offices in the Irvine Spectrum District, provides everything from satellite design to production to mission operations for military, civil and commercial customers. IN THE NEWS: Terran recently was awarded a $2.4 billion contract to design, build and deploy 300 low-Earth-orbit satellites for Rivada Space Networks. IN HIS WORDS: “We started in a small space in Irvine and have thrived here. We’re now the global leader in small-satellite technology, deeply involved in NASA’s Artemis program.”


CEO and founder, Vialase

Juhasz helped develop LASIK cornea surgery using femtosecond (a quadrillionth of a second) lasers, a technique that has helped 30 million people. The UCI professor of ophthalmology and biomedical engineering has since developed femtosecond surgery for cataracts and now is conducting clinical trials to treat glaucoma with femtosecond beams. IN THE NEWS: The American Association for the Advancement of Science awarded Juhasz one of five of its 2022 Golden Goose Awards for scientific breakthroughs that unexpectedly benefit society. IN HIS WORDS: “To date, millions of eyes have been treated with femtosecond lasers. This technology has the potential to provide a long-lasting, easy treatment for glaucoma without any discomfort or side effects.”


Associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, UC Irvine

As director of UCI’s Zenyuk Lab, she pioneered a novel approach to convert and store electrochemical energy in an effort to reduce the world’s carbon footprint. For this, she was named the Emerging Innovation/Early Career Innovator of the Year at UCI’s fourth annual Innovator Awards ceremony. IN THE NEWS: Since the February 2022 start of the war in Ukraine, Zenyuk, who immigrated to America at age 15, has raised over $200,000 for UCI’s Scholars at Risk program to host Ukrainian scholars. IN HER WORDS: “As the days passed by, I felt the need to do something to help fellow Ukrainians, and an idea came to mind to host academics here at UCI.”


Donald Bren Professor of Electrical Engineering, Caltech

Hajimiri co-directs Caltech’s Space Solar Power Project, pursuing a strategy to capture solar power from space and beam it back to Earth, providing a potentially limitless clean-energy source. Irvine Company owner Donald Bren has supported the project with a 10-year, $100 million grant. IN THE NEWS: In January, the Caltech team conducted its first in-space test of its equipment, launching a prototype device on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. IN HIS WORDS: “This moment, which is the result of the work of so many people, is an important link in a long chain that we hope will make humanity better off.”


Co-founder and chief medical officer, InBrace

Pham uses aerospace technology to make orthodontic braces made with self-adjusting “smart wire” that requires no monthly tightening and cannot be seen because it fits behind the teeth. Pham, who has raised $175 million from investors, has opened two local offices to train orthodontists and treat patients. IN THE NEWS: The Journal of the World Federation of Orthodontists recently deemed InBrace the first orthodontic system to work on “autopilot.” IN HIS WORDS: “Modernizing teeth-straightening to deliver clinical confidence, a superior experience and autopilot is the vision we had for InBrace from the start.”


Vice president of global design, Karma Automotive

Luxury EV maker Karma Automotive hired Christensen to oversee the design of its cars, already among the most eye-catching on the road. Her past work at big car firms, including Honda and Nissan, earned Road & Track’s Performance Car of the Year and Green Car Journal’s Luxury Green Car of the Year designations. IN THE NEWS: Christensen is busy refining Karma’s GS-6, a luxury hybrid that says “looks like a car out of a James Bond movie!” IN HER WORDS: “I’m passionate about cars. Other than a house, a car is one of the most important extensions of your style, and one you get to take around with you wherever you go.”


President and co-founder, Cobalt Robotics

LeBlanc, a Marine Corps veteran and Harvard Business School grad, has created a security robot used by FedEx, Slack, Ally Financial and other Fortune 500 companies. His 7-year-old firm employs 200 and has secured $80 million in funding from the likes of Bloomberg Beta, Sequoia and Coatue. IN THE NEWS: Cobalt was ranked among the top 150 fastest-growing companies in North America in the 2022 Deloitte Technology Fast 500. IN HIS WORDS: “AI-powered robots have really become the new standard for security and facility maintenance. We are extremely proud of our science and engineering teams designing the next generation of autonomous robots.”


Assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science and biomedical engineering, UC Irvine

Esfandyar-Pour and his team have invented a health-monitoring wearable many times thinner than a human hair – that operates without a battery. The self-powered monitor can be applied to a bandage, watch or wristband and wirelessly transmit vital signs to a smartphone. IN THE NEWS: He recently published a paper in the journal Nano Energy describing the invention, built via 3D printing of nanomaterials, which can monitor heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure and more. IN HIS WORDS: “This self-powered and wireless device allows you to monitor someone’s vital signs without relying on a battery that can lose its charge or overheat.”


CEO and founder, Trubify

Tyszka created an award-winning, music-technology platform that allows independent artists to earn money from content they are currently giving away on social media. As a session guitarist with hundreds of song credits, he’s now helping music artists earn what they deserve. IN THE NEWS: A recent “Most Fundable Companies” competition ranked Trubify in the top seven of 4,200 startups. IN HIS WORDS: “Irvine is a growing hub for entrepreneurs. Groups like the Cove Fund provide resources for startups like us. And UCI provides top talent to support a startup’s needs at all stages of development.”


CEO and founder, Rivian Automotive

Rivian, producer of the world’s first and fastest electric truck, relocated to Irvine in 2020 to “access top talent, the beach and the diversity that California has to offer.” It now employs thousands in fields that range from engineering to design to propulsion. IN THE NEWS: Consumer Reports in March named Rivian’s R1T “the most satisfying new EV,” while Amazon recently reported it has more than 3,000 Rivian delivery vehicles on the street, tripling its fleet over the past six months. IN HIS WORDS: “Electrification and technology can create a truck that’s incredibly capable and fun to drive.”


CEO and president, Iceye U.S.

Satellite maker Iceye operates the world’s largest fleet of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites, capable of viewing Earth’s surface day or night, even through thick cloud cover. Jensen’s team in Irvine serves as a mission-operations center for U.S.-licensed spacecraft used to monitor natural disasters for humanitarian relief and natural-resource management, among other things. IN THE NEWS: Last month, NASA awarded Jensen’s team a five-year contract to receive data for its Earth Science Division. IN HIS WORDS: “It’s our privilege to support NASA’s objectives advancing earth science and, in doing so, demonstrate the value of commercial SAR satellites for the scientific community.”


Chief technology officer and co-founder, Lumitron

UC Irvine professor Chris Barty has built a pioneering laser X-ray unlike any in the world – capable of producing images 1,000 times sharper than conventional X-rays while performing radiation therapy with 100 times less radiation. The Stanford grad, who has secured more than $34 million in funding, says the machine will revolutionize radiotherapy. IN THE NEWS: In February, Barty’s machine successfully produced a train of 100 consecutive, high-charge and perfectly timed micro-bunches of electrons at 99.9% of the speed of light. IN HIS WORDS: “This ultrashort duration and high energy has the potential to dramatically reduce the side effects of conventional radiation therapy.”


Donald Bren Professor and Irving H. Leopold Professor of Ophthalmology, UC Irvine

Palczewski, a world-renowned scientist, is working to cure blindness using genome editing. As director of UCI’s Center for Translational Vision at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, he has already positioned UCI as a world leader in eye-health research. Palczewski has won both the Cogan Award for most-promising young vision scientist and the Friedenwald Award for continuously outstanding ophthalmology research. IN THE NEWS: The Biophysical Society recently honored Palczewski as one of its three top scientists of 2023, noting his foundational work and its impact on the structural biology of eye health. IN HIS WORDS: “Studying about vision has been a great passion of mine for the past decades. The new discoveries that have been made allow for preservation and, in our cases, even for the restoration of eyesight.”

Libby Duane Adams

Chief advocacy officer and co‑founder, Alteryx

Adams co-founded what is now a $3.5 billion global enterprise whose data analytics are used by 8,000+ customers, including Nordstrom, Chevron and Netflix. As one of the few female founders of a tech company that successfully went public, she promotes diversity and inclusion. IN THE NEWS: Adams and her Alteryx SparkED organization have teamed up with the Department of Defense Skillbridge program to certify active-duty service members in data analytics, at no cost, to transition to civilian careers. IN HER WORDS: “Everyone needs to be comfortable working with data and analytics. Students should be learning data skills, and educators should understand that data skills are a life skill, not just for a few in business or government.”


Chief science officer, TAE Technologies

Tajima leads a team of UCI-educated scientists pursuing fusion power with a unique reactor that produces no neutrons. They recently took a quantum leap forward, resulting in an additional $280 million in funding from investors such as Google. If materialized, fusion reactors can produce nearly unlimited amounts of renewable energy that generates no radioactive waste. IN THE NEWS: TAE, founded in 1998 by a UCI professor, is now building its next-generation fusion reactor, named Copernicus. IN HIS WORDS: “Because of my mentor’s groundbreaking work and our accomplishments this year, Irvine has become one of the epicenters of fusion energy research.”


Founders, Archytas Automation

Irvine innovators Caswelch and Polk created “Dexter,” a robot that can drive down the cost of automation by as much as 50%. Dexter’s 200 parts can be made with a 3D printer before humans assemble and program it to perform rote tasks like bagging coffee and cleaning laboratory pipettes. IN THE NEWS: Archytas moved into Irvine’s Spectrum District in November 2020 and has already helped small- and medium-sized firms save money by having Dexter do their menial tasks. Last October, the company won the BASF Forward AM Innovation Award in Barcelona, for startups using additive manufacturing. IN THEIR WORDS: “I’ve been around manufacturing assembly plants, and I can tell you that repetitive injuries are common and that very few people wake up every day and say ‘I can’t wait to go put a label on a bag,’ ” Caswelch says.


CEO and co-founder, Frost Giant Studios

Former Blizzard developer Tim Morten co-founded Frost Giant Studios in October 2020 to revitalize the RTS, or real-time strategy, genre of games. He raised over $35 million in funding and last summer debuted Stormgate as a worthy successor to past genre greats. IN THE NEWS: Since Frost’s move to Innovation Office Park, a half-dozen video game firms have followed suit, earning Irvine (already home to Blizzard and Ready at Dawn) the new moniker Gamer’s Gateway. IN HIS WORDS: “What the RTS genre lacked was a modern, free-to-play game with strong social features. We believe Stormgate brings this genre back into the spotlight where it belongs.”


Professor of physics and astronomy, UC Irvine

Xin is a principal investigator in a Department of Energy-funded project to improve lithium-ion batteries. His team recently found a way to fabricate them without using cobalt, a rare and costly mineral often mined under inhumane conditions. IN THE NEWS: In January, Xin’s team published a report in Nature Materials that found nickel to be a promising replacement for cobalt in next-generation batteries. IN HIS WORDS: “Electric vehicle manufacturers are eager to curtail the use of cobalt in their battery packs, not only for cost reduction, but it’s dangerous to mine and handle.”


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