Pioneering a New Coffee Industry in California

Juan Medrano and Marta Matvienko

Juan Medrano, co-founder, and Marta Matvienko, lab operations and bioinformatics, breed coffee plants suitable for growth in California at the UC Davis-HM.CLAUSE Life Science Innovation Center in Davis, California.

In 2017, geneticists from UC Davis sequenced the genome of Coffea arabica —a species responsible for 70% of global coffee production—with the goal of developing new high-yielding and high-quality varieties adapted to the stresses caused by climate change.

Progress from the research enabled the formation of a new company, Frinj Coffee, founded by Jay Ruskey, a farmer, and Juan Medrano, a professor and geneticist from the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, along with Andy Mullins and Lindsey Mesta. The company is pioneering the coffee growing industry in California, well outside the traditional tropical geographic belt closer to the equator.

In 2018, Frinj Coffee joined the UC Davis-HM.CLAUSE Life Science Innovation Center—part of Venture Catalyst’s DRIVE network of incubators—to further develop novel coffee varietals that are adapted to grow within the specific soil and climate conditions of the state.

Frinj Coffee is providing coffee plants, consulting and post-harvest resources to over 40 new farms across Southern California—and has marketed coffee through Oakland-based roaster Blue Bottle Coffee, San Diego–based Bird Rock and premium international buyers.

UC Davis Venture Catalyst partners with The Urban Hive and I/O Labs to build a more robust regional innovation network

UC Davis Venture Catalyst partners with The Urban Hive and I/O Labs to build a more robust regional innovation network


The University of California, Davis, has entered into collaboration agreements through which The Urban Hive and I/O Labs – Sacramento-based innovation, co-working and collaboration spaces – will become the newest members of the Venture Catalyst Distributed Research Innovation & Venture Engine (DRIVETM) network of startup incubators. These new partnerships combine the facilities and resources available through The Urban Hive and I/O Labs with the services, connections and access to resources available to UC Davis affiliated startups through Venture Catalyst to support the translation of ground-breaking research and business concepts into commercial products and services. The addition of The Urban Hive and I/O Labs to the Venture Catalyst DRIVE Network expands access to incubation facilities in Sacramento for UC Davis startups and entrepreneurs to help facilitate enhanced pathways to commercialization of innovative research.

“We are excited to be partnering with The Urban Hive and I/O Labs to support the needs of emerging startups in the region and to help build a more robust innovation ecosystem guided by a regional collaborative network dedicated to economic development,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor of Research at UC Davis and executive director of Venture Catalyst. “This type of coordinated economic engagement is essential to achieving tangible regional impact from university research and technology, and creating an innovation economy that effectively leverages the creativity of the diverse, highly-skilled and talented faculty, students and staff at the university.”

The Urban Hive launched in 2009 with a 6,700-square-foot facility in midtown Sacramento with the goal of supporting entrepreneurial and creative ventures in the Greater Sacramento region by providing access to shared work spaces, private offices, meeting and conference rooms, as well as regular workshops and networking events. The Urban Hive plans to expand to a new 14,000-square-foot facility in the Cannery Business Park development in Sacramento. As part of the expansion, The Urban Hive will introduce product development capabilities, including specialized instrumentation that will allow members to build prototypes and run small-scale production.

This capabilities expansion is being advanced by UC Davis Venture Catalyst with support that includes new equipment and resources for use by local and university-affiliated startups. The investment in maker and related equipment is made possible by funding received by University of California campuses in early-2017 through the UC Innovation & Entrepreneurship Expansion Bill (AB 2664). This bill allocated $22 million to be split equally amongst the UC campuses with the objective of accelerating economic development in the state by expanding university activities and community partnerships that support innovation and entrepreneurship.

I/O Labs, which is also led by The Urban Hive’s founder Brandon Weber, plans to bring 40,000 square feet of innovation space online in downtown Sacramento targeted for initial launch later this year. I/O Labs will create a space where the innovation ecosystem can coalesce, bringing together a unique network of service providers, educational programs and a planned accelerator program to support and mentor entrepreneurs and startups in the facility.

“This collaboration provides enhanced opportunities to both support the needs of university-affiliated entrepreneurs and startups with space, prototyping equipment, and resources and integrate these innovators into a broader network of peers, collaborators, and support providers,” said Weber.  “The successful model established at The Urban Hive, and new resources coming online soon through the Urban Hive expansion and I/O Labs, will help innovative companies establish themselves and grow in the region.”

“I am proud to see our $22 million budget allocation put to good use with the UC Davis Venture Catalyst project with I/O Labs and The Urban Hive,” said Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee on Education Finance. “University innovators and entrepreneurs support small businesses in our communities and impact economic development in the Sacramento region.”

In addition to collaboration through the Venture Catalyst DRIVETM Network, the university has also committed to work closely with I/O Labs to help lead renewed efforts around the California Governor’s Office of Business & Economic Development (GO-Biz) statewide Innovation Hub (iHub) program with a shared objective of advancement of a robust regional innovation ecosystem through the Sacramento Region Partner Network.

UC Davis partners with Sacramento business incubator Hacker Lab

UC Davis partners with Sacramento business incubator Hacker Lab

The University of California, Davis and Hacker Lab, Inc., a Sacramento nonprofit organization, have entered into a collaborative agreement to include the business incubator as the third member of the university’s Distributed Research Incubation & Venture Engine (DRIVE™) Network.

The alliance pairs the established facilities and resources at Hacker Lab with the services of the university’s Venture Catalyst unit to support the translation of research into commercial ventures. The DRIVE Network is being developed by the university to ensure that campus entrepreneurs have affordable access to business incubation spaces with industry specific resources.

Hacker Lab was founded by Gina Lujan, Charles Blas and Eric Ullrich to nurture business startups in the Sacramento region. They opened their doors to entrepreneurs and creators in 2012 with their first location at 1715 I Street in Sacramento. A second location was opened at 4804 Granite Drive in Rocklin in 2015. The innovative business incubator has a fee-based membership model, with fees varying by service level selected. There are currently over 500 members.

Hacker Lab Class

Hacker Lab’s business model emphasizes networking and community. In 2015 Hacker Lab taught 1,600 students and offered 500 classes and workshops at its two locations, all focused on design, business, coding and fabrication.

The facility in midtown Sacramento has 10,500 square feet of space and offers 24/7 co-working spaces, 13 offices, kitchen, private conference rooms, private mailboxes and lockers, a gigabit internet connection, laser printers and copier. Each location is equipped with a computer lab as well as a well-equipped maker-space with a wood shop, metal shop, welding equipment, an electronics lab, a textile lab, 3D printers and a laser cutter.

Co-founder Eric Ullrich feels Hacker Lab is a good fit for UC Davis entrepreneurs. “Hacker Lab can be a conduit for the UC Davis community to connect to the greater innovation community in the region. It’s a place for people to access fabrication equipment as well as meet potential employees, mentors and partners who can help launch a business.”

In addition to providing space where people can work and create, Hacker Lab also emphasizes networking and creating a sense of community. “We are heavily focused on being a conduit or hub for the community through our events and classes and also our meeting spaces” explained Ullrich.

Established in 2012, Hacker Lab’s goal is to spark innovation with community-driven resources and education.

Hacker Lab’s network of connections includes its membership base plus connections to local enterprises like Intel, VSP, SMUD and now UC Davis. In 2015 Hacker Lab taught 1,600 students and offered 500 classes and workshops at its two locations, all focused on design, business, coding and fabrication. In 2015, Hacker Lab also launched a startup incubator boot camp, Startup Hustle, an accelerated program designed to help entrepreneurs who have an existing prototype or are launching from an idea phase. Classes are free to members but are also open to the public for a fee, attracting local innovators and entrepreneurs from the community.

“Through our partnership with Hacker Lab, the most recent member of our DRIVE Network, we are working together to foster regional economic development and technology innovation,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor for Research at UC Davis and executive director of Venture Catalyst. “Our collaboration provides an opportunity for Venture Catalyst to facilitate access to quality co-working and maker-space facilities for UC Davis-affiliated startups.”

Each university-based company accepted into the UC Davis DRIVE network has access to support resources offered by Venture Catalyst. This includes a suite of services provided through the Smart Toolkit for Accelerated Research Translation (START™) Program, designed to equip UC Davis entrepreneurs with the tools they need to form and grow successful companies.


Hacker Lab Shopbot

Access to tools is a key component of Hacker Lab membership. Each location is equipped with a computer lab and maker-space with a wood shop, metal shop, welding equipment, an electronics lab, a textile lab, 3D printers and a laser cutter.

About UC Davis

UC Davis is a global community of individuals united to better humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the California state capital, UC Davis has more than 34,000 students, and the full-time equivalent of 4,100 faculty and other academics and 17,400 staff. The campus has an annual research budget of over $785 million, a comprehensive health system and about two dozen specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and 99 undergraduate majors in four colleges and six professional schools.

About Hacker Lab

Established in 2012 in Sacramento, Hacker Lab is a nonprofit organization that aims to educate people and spark innovation with community-driven resources. Offering co-working space, maker space, classes, meet-ups and events, Hacker Lab believes technology can change the world and the starting point is education. Hacker Lab has over 500 members with locations in Sacramento and Rocklin. Learn more at the Hacker Lab website:


AJ Cheline
Director of Marketing and Communications
UC Davis Office of Research
[email protected]
(530) 219-8739

Eric Ullrich
Co-Founder, Hacker Lab
[email protected]
(916) 514-7044