In Memoriam: Duane Roth Was a Driving Force in Our Innovation Economy
Duane Roth was a very special person to me and to the San Diego life sciences community. After he took over as the CEO of Connect at the end of 2004, he took on a larger role for the entire technology community—or as Duane would call it, the “Innovation Economy.”
For Duane, San Diego has been a showcase for the entire country, a demonstration of what the new Innovation Economy should look like. To compete against China and Europe, he believed that more U.S. cities should emulate San Diego. There was no better spokesman for the Innovation Economy than Duane, who died tragically in the prime of his life last Saturday, following a July 21 bicycle accident.
He followed in the footsteps of the late Bill Otterson, the founding CEO of Connect, but he propelled Connect onto the national scene. He even opened an advocacy office for the innovation community in Washington, DC. Visitors from all over the world come to San Diego each year to learn how we became a cradle of invention, and to learn how Duane has helped to expand and sustain our culture of innovation.
Duane was an activist. He would always “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk.” As the CEO of Connect, he took on politicians, would-be governors, and mayors to secure their support of technology, entrepreneurship, and innovation for San Diego and beyond.
After the economy crashed in 2008, funding dried up for biotech startups in San Diego and elsewhere. But rather than simply waiting for things to turn around, Duane attacked the problem. He invented a new model for biotech investing that addressed the root causes of the crisis, publishing a paper called, “The Distributed Partnering Model for Drug Discovery and Development.” And then he went on the road, arguing for this new model in presentations from San Diego to Washington, D.C., Cambridge, MA, and beyond.
He was also a unifier, and the strength of his personality brought people together. Largely due to his efforts and enthusiasm, many successful technology industry entrepreneurs and managers contributed many hours to assist Connect with its core mission—providing startups and would-be entrepreneurs with the expertise and help they needed to commercialize their scientific breakthroughs.
Under Duane, Connect supported conferences, breakfast meetings, special dinner meetings, annual recognition events, educational programs, films, and a program to install the best and brightest from our Innovation Economy in a San Diego “Entrepreneur Hall of Fame.”
These gatherings and programs cross-fertilized different disciplines, creating a camaraderie among fellow scientists, entrepreneurs, and executives—and a culture of collaboration in San Diego that would be hard to match anywhere else in the world.
To me, Duane was the “go-to” player on any issue related to San Diego’s preeminence in technology industries as well as the biological sciences. For his vision and generous contributions of time and ideas, he was asked to sit on the nonprofit boards for many scientific institutions and other organizations, including the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Duane’s involvement in the nonprofit world of science and technology also extended to the arts, including the La Jolla Playhouse and the San Diego Opera.
He was also the person I went to see to get ideas for a new event that I was asked to chair at the La Jolla Playhouse that was intended to bring together the technology “players” with San Diego’s theatrical “players.”
I asked Duane what title he would suggest giving to such an event. The San Diego Opera already had Life Sciences Night and High-Tech Night. Without hesitation, and I guess predictably, he said you have to call the event “Innovation Night at the La Jolla Playhouse”—technology innovation alongside innovative theatre. Innovation Night has been a huge success from its inception and takes place each winter. At the upcoming event, November 20, we will dedicate the evening and the performance to Duane Roth.
Connect, under the intelligent leadership and devotion of Duane Roth, was the driving force behind San Diego’s eminence in the life sciences, and as a showcase of the Innovation Economy. He helped to create a culture in which bright people from different fields, different institutions, and different geographies can collaborate in pursuit of broader objectives.
We will miss his passion, his drive, his sly smile, and his sartorial splendor.