Inventor and VC Bob Metcalfe Joins Faculty at University of Texas, Talks About Spurring Innovation by Teaching It

11/8/10Follow @gthuang

Big news in the New England innovation community today. Bob Metcalfe, an inventor of the Ethernet local-area networking standard, founder of 3Com, partner at Polaris Venture Partners—too many qualifications to list here—is joining the University of Texas at Austin as “professor of innovation” in UT’s engineering school as of January 2011. The news was first reported this morning by Scott Kirsner of the Boston Globe.

According to the Globe report, Metcalfe (who is an alum and lifetime trustee of MIT) wanted a change of scenery, and is also at work on a new book called Metcalfe’s Law. He will start teaching at UT next fall, and is scaling back his venture capital duties at Polaris to one new investment a year, at most. The report also details Metcalfe’s mixed record of returns as a VC, including the now-defunct companies GreenFuel Technologies and SiCortex, and Mintera (acquired by Oclaro in July for far less than the venture money invested in it). Metcalfe is still an investor in several energy-focused companies such as 1366 Technologies and Ember.

Reached by e-mail today, Metcalfe talked a bit more about his goals at the University of Texas. “UT already has an extensive entrepreneurship curriculum,” he wrote. “I may teach an existing course, or one of my own design, starting next September. The particular innovation ecology I would like to research, teach, and practice consists of fiercely competing teams of research professors, graduating students, scaling entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, strategic partners, and early adopters.”

He touted the Texas capital’s history of innovation: “Austin has long been a happening place in technology entrepreneurship. And it is the Live Music Capital of the World. And Lance Armstrong lives there, and Whole Foods is HQed there. And I love the motto, Keep Austin Weird. I would like to have impact on moving along UT, Austin, Texas, and the USA in the above innovation ecological style.”

As for his forthcoming book, he said, “It will be about the network effect, especially in innovation. And it has to be a networked book—the readers have to connect to one another so as to get the network effect.” (Metcalfe’s law states that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected nodes or users in the system.)

All in all, the move seems like a drastic change for Metcalfe, who has been a mainstay of the Boston-area tech scene over the past two decades. But Boston’s loss is Austin’s gain. In a press release today, Rudy Garza, chairman of UT’s alumni association and managing partner of G-51 Capital, says, “Bob’s expertise of bridging science and technology into thriving businesses of the future will speed the success we all will experience as we work hard to spur innovation, build world-class businesses and create wealth and jobs in our great state.” (The move also makes me wonder if Metcalfe wants to be closer to an epicenter of alternative fuels and wind power, given his recent focus on energy.)

Lastly, I asked Metcalfe whether the Boston winters finally got to him. He replied that he is “planning to enjoy the Boston and Maine summers.” He added, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only improperly dressed people.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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