“Debbie is a knitter,” says UCI Dean of Continuing Education Gary Matkin. “She remembers the names and faces of almost everyone she meets and what they do. Then she knits them together at the right time.” This low-tech image describes Debbie Nielsen’s networking skill in Orange County’s high-tech arena as program coordinator of OCTANe@UCI.

The Orange County Technology Action Network is a private, nonprofit organization helping to create and accelerate biomedical and information technology business in Orange County. OCTANe, operating through UC Irvine Extension, is the companion vehicle, with Nielsen as the driver. She designs and implements the programs that connect companies, entrepreneurs and investors with UCI researchers and their technology projects.

Assisted by the researchers and Office of Technology Alliances, Extension and OCTANe staff, “Debbie hand crafts the programs that involve multiple participants and presenters. She checks every detail, and gets a lot of the right people to attend,” says Matkin.

There was standing room only in The Westin South Coast Plaza ballroom last October at the OCTANe premier event. About 500 corporate leaders, investors, R&D and marketing staff, product engineers and entrepreneurs were there, along with 30 UCI researchers and staff. Nonstop networking, presentations and panel discussions shifted OCTANe into high gear.

“Debbie took the lead on the university side,” says OCTANe Executive Director Gary Augusta. “She helped with an agenda that included Chancellor Ralph Cicerone and Conexant CEO Dwight Decker. “Debbie is involved with every program,” he adds. “She brings communication and tenacity to the process, and she’s talented at addressing the concerns of all parties.”

An Extension staff member since 1995, Nielsen spent seven years designing corporate training programs for companies including Computer Sciences Corp., Northrop Grumman and Southern California Edison. She tailored on-site courses for about 350-500 employees a year. Since April 2004, she has been leveraging those contacts to ignite interest in OCTANe programs throughout Orange County and the state.

At the “Meet the Biomedical Researchers” event last November, seven UCI faculty members presented their innovations – like optical biopsy and lab-on-a-chip devices – to an audience of 72 venture capital groups, entrepreneurs and other business representatives. Dr. Steven George, who holds the William J. Link Chair in Biomedical Engineering, feels his unit’s association with OCTANe@UCI is “well worth the effort” and plans regular programs. Calit2 also is teaming with OCTANe@UCI for a series of events to spark industry awareness of the institute’s early-stage research in telecommunications and information technology.

With an Orange County economy larger than most countries’ and the high performance mind power of the university to work with, says Nielsen, “I just set the stage and let the chemistry between the university and the community take its course.”