From Lemonade Stand to Entrepreneur to Investor, Richard Sudek Carves a New Path to Semi-Retirement

Deep Dive Rising Tide - Mar '21
March 16, 2021 By Jackie Connor

After announcing his retirement from UCI Beall Applied Innovation, Sudek leaves behind a legacy of growth within UCI’s and Orange County’s entrepreneurial communities.

Building a hub for the university, business and collective communities to successfully collide takes a mixture of innovation and entrepreneurship combined with an extraordinary amount of investments and interest.

two black men smile and shake hands at an event

UCI Beall Applied Innovation connects the university, industry and community through many types of events, like networking.

And, according to Richard Sudek, Southern California has the right ingredients.

Sudek, Ph.D., UCI Beall Applied Innovation executive director and UC Irvine (UCI) chief innovation officer, has experienced many different aspects of entrepreneurship – from bootstrapping his own company to becoming an angel investor. This is in addition to teaching and mentoring students and building a place, Applied Innovation, for university and faculty innovation to intermingle with the Southern California community. A lot has changed since Applied Innovation’s opening, and Sudek now passes the baton to transition into a semi-retirement.

“With Applied Innovation, it was about trying to accelerate and improve the entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Orange County and Southern California in a more general way,” said Sudek. “It was about taking what was already here and simply connecting it, growing it and accelerating it.”

woman in blue coat stands in front of a large building

UCI Beall Applied Innovation’s new building located in UCI’s Research Park.

Applied Innovation all started when Don Beall, chairman of The Beall Family Foundation, approached Sudek about the idea of building an innovation ecosystem at UCI that connects the university to the community. In 2014, tasked by UCI Chancellor Howard Gilman, Ph.D., Sudek and his team built UCI Beall Applied Innovation as a central hub for the UCI campus and Orange County community to connect.

“We just did everything we could to get going. And the real enabler was Howard Gillman allowing Michael Arias, who was the Chief of Staff at the time, to provide us support and help in getting things done quickly in a university, which is typically a challenge,” said Sudek.

Applied Innovation’s beginnings, a 1,500-square-foot office space within UCI’s Research Park, grew into one of the premier places in Southern California for people to launch and grow a startup company, engage with UCI’s available technologies and network with investors, fellow entrepreneurs, and so much more.

woman stands with a group of people to cut a ribbon

The Small Business Development Center @ UCI Beall Applied Innovation celebrates their new location at the Cove @ UCI.

“I was certainly interested in helping all the entrepreneurs at UCI, but it was bigger than an entrepreneur center or an intellectual property office for UCI,” said Sudek. “What was really interesting to me was the ability to build something for the community, and help the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the community.”

Eventually 1,500 square feet grew into the Cove, a 30,000-square-foot space that included larger office and event spaces, including “The Beach,” an event space named to fit in with the surf-themed surroundings.

“I wanted to create a space that was welcoming and not too formal – something that reflected the Southern California beach lifestyle vibe,” said Sudek. “We live in a unique part of the country where you literally can surf in the morning and ski in the evening or on the weekend.”

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Sudek introduced business communities to Applied Innovation, and brought investors into the ever-growing space to hold events, hear startups from UCI and the community pitch and become a part of a network of individuals who offer startups free professional guidance through the Innovation Advisor program.

“I think that the public university of the future has to be better connected to the community at large, the business community and the entrepreneurial community,” said Sudek. “Public universities need to bring value to the community and that’s the design behind Beall Applied Innovation – we’re trying to help the community.”

The Cove @ UCI has expanded to 100,000 square feet in University Research Park and has become a staple in the Orange County entrepreneurial communities under Sudek’s leadership. February 2020 marked Applied Innovation’s second grand opening after moving into the large space flush with nothing less than the latest technology, high-quality design and top-notch staff of 65 employees.

man stands at podium and speaks to large crowd

Richard Sudek, Ph.D., speaks during UCI Beall Applied Innovation’s grand opening and five-year anniversary celebration.

But this entrepreneurial success is nothing new for Sudek. And as it turns out, he always had a passion for entrepreneurship since a young age.

At five years old, Sudek was already on the path toward an entrepreneurial career. After starting various endeavors, such as opening a lemonade stand, or seizing an opportunity to wash his neighbor’s cars while they held a party, it was apparent that Sudek already had entrepreneurship on his mind.

Fast forward decades later, at 24 years old and with $250, Sudek founded Nadek Computer Systems, a computer consulting company and, after 17 years, sold the company to multibillion-dollar technology company, Science Applications International Corporation. He was the director at The

man in blue shirt looks up and smiles with building in background

Entrepreneurship Center at Chapman University and gave a TEDx talk about having the courage to fail. As an angel investor, Sudek has viewed over a thousand startup presentations and pitches. Reflecting back on the years of being an entrepreneur and working with entrepreneurs, Sudek doesn’t see much change within the typical entrepreneur personality – intensity, drive and perseverance being mainstays.

“Entrepreneurs are not big risk-takers. However, they have a high tolerance for ambiguity, which means that they don’t know if they’re going to make payroll, they don’t know if the product’s going to work, but they’re calculated risk-takers and they have a willingness to risk failure,” said Sudek.

As he looks toward the future, he wants entrepreneurs to remember that success isn’t always measured by exceptional monetary achievements.

“I think a successful entrepreneur is someone who can build a company, make money and create an environment that people want to work in – a culture that allows people to grow and pay people well enough that they can have a good living, but do it with integrity,” said Sudek.

a large group of people stand together smiling in front of a large building

The 2019 UCI Beall Applied Innovation team stands in front of the new building.

During his semi-retirement, Sudek plans to dedicate a sizeable portion of his time to helping under-resourced and underrepresented entrepreneurs be successful as well as coach entrepreneurs one-on-one.

“Any entrepreneur should be able to get anywhere, and there are certain populations that have not had the access to the networks, mentors and the capital, and I’m working on changing that,” said Sudek.

Learn more about Applied Innovation.

Photos of Richard: Ryan Mahar, UCI Beall Applied Innovation

Watch UCI Beall Applied Innovation’s grand opening and five-year anniversary celebration:

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Applied Innovation has created the Richard Sudek Entrepreneurship Fund, which raises philanthropic gifts to honor Sudek’s vision for a strong, diverse innovation ecosystem in Orange County. Learn more

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