Entrepreneur Jesse Kramer helps physics students engage with the world
Jesse Kramer (Physics '78) headed west from New Jersey to the University of Colorado Boulder for two reasons: the school's outstanding reputation in the natural sciences and engineering and, like so many students over the years, because he was a skier.
"Ironically," says Kramer, who now lives in Santa Monica, Calif., "I didn't get to do much skiing, because I was broke!"
Memories of his own experiences with the all-too-common undergraduate problem of sparse resources informed the recent creation of the Jesse Kramer Endowed Undergraduate Travel Award in the Physics Department. After he decided to make his first gift to his alma mater, he consulted with department chair John Cumalat and former department chair Paul Beale to find an area of need.
They came up with the idea for a travel fund to support students attending conferences, making presentations and conducting research.
"I thought it was a great idea. There is a real need for it," Kramer says. "You self-select for the best students, because only the best students are doing research or have something publishable. If they don't have money, they can't go present a paper."
The travel fund, formed with a $25,000 endowment, will allow students to share their ideas with the wider world, which appealed to Kramer's entrepreneurial spirit, he says.
While at CU Boulder, he focused on studying — though he also enjoyed the Colorado outdoors as often as he could. After working briefly as a computer programmer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, he was accepted into a PhD physics program at Stanford University. He graduated with a doctorate in applied physics in 1985 and went to work for the aerospace industry in Southern California.
"I was working on satellite communications systems using lasers for a couple of years and ended up in a management position," he says. "That exposed me to the business world, and I decided to go to business school."
Accepted into both Stanford and Harvard, he decided to head back east. He graduated with a master's in business administration from the Harvard Business School in 1989. He then moved back to California's Bay Area and began working for a company that manufactured inspection equipment for the semiconductor manufacturing industry.
"But I was hankering to start my own company," Kramer says.
While putting food on the table with consulting work, he dedicated himself to finding the right business opportunity. He began researching licensing opportunities available at universities and eventually formed a company with two medical professors from the University of California, San Francisco, to make instruments and implants for facial reconstruction surgery.
My CU experience was really good; the university has been good to me. And I have some loyalty to the field; it's an important subject that people should learn about," he says. "And people who study physics, I've found, are often well-equipped to operate in a lot of different areas."
Around the same time, he joined with a colleague, Tom Moore, to help form the Cord Blood Registry, one of the nation's first companies to offer the collection, processing and long-term cryo-preservation of stem cells from the umbilical cords of newborns. Those cells can be used later to aid family members who may get sick.
"We stored them and provided them for hundreds of cases of kids with various types of diseases, mostly to treat pediatric cancer, using cord blood in place of bone marrow for treatment," he says. "We were the gorilla in a little market."
Kramer and his partners sold Tissue Technology, the facial-reconstruction company, in 2002, and the Cord Blood Registry — which today does some $150 million of the industry's annual $300 million business — in 2013.
Since then, he's continued his entrepreneurial career as a venture capitalist and commercial real-estate investor, mostly in the Bay Area.
Although his days working as a physicist are behind him, Kramer said he wanted to make his first gift to his old department in recognition of the kind of to recognize students who are drawn to the field.
"My CU experience was really good; the university has been good to me. And I have some loyalty to the field; it's an important subject that people should learn about," he says. "And people who study physics, I've found, are often well-equipped to operate in a lot of different areas."