UW TechTransfer’s Linden Rhoads Aiming to Nurture More Startups, Entice More VCs to Look at UW’s Research Cupboard

8/27/08Follow @xconomy

Linden Rhoads is fired up. The high-tech entrepreneur-turned-university official has been circulating around town since she started on August 14 to lay the groundwork for a new era in technology transfer at the University of Washington. First on her calendar are meetings with all of the Northwest’s venture capital firms. When that’s done, she plans to make the rounds at the usual Monday portfolio meetings with VCs in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s spreading the word that the UW’s doors are open.

“I want the reputation of the University of Washington to be that we’re excited about doing business with the investment community,” she said last week, in her first interview since starting the job. “If the UW can commercialize the research we do here, there’s a tremendous opportunity to bring tremendous revenue to the university, produce many, many jobs, and bring innovations into the world that can help people.”

It’s certainly no small task. The story of technology transfer hasn’t changed much in recent years. The UW conducted more than $1 billion worth of research in 2007, paid for mostly by Uncle Sam, charitable foundations, and corporations. It ranks second in federal research funding nationally behind Johns Hopkins University. Yet every year, it seems, the local business community complains that it’s a royal pain to spin out university inventions into new startups, or licenses that companies can develop into moneymaking, job-producing products. A recent report commissioned by the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association said the university has a culture that frowns on entrepreneurial activity.

So what is UW doing about it? That’s what I asked in an interview at 301 Gerberding Hall with Rhoads and the woman who hired her, the No. 2 official on campus, provost Phyllis Wise.

Wise made it clear she sees room for improvement in how the university spins out research into the marketplace: “We want to get our ideas out through patents, licenses, startups, or papers and grants. We realize the important role technology transfer can play. We want to make sure we’re taking advantage of every opportunity.”

So far, Rhoads, 41, said she’s been seeking input from lots of people off campus. She’s tapping her rolodex of VC contacts from her past career as an entrepreneur with ChiliSoft, Singingfish.com, AdRelevance, and others. She’s no biologist, so she’s spent some time getting to know key leaders in local life sciences, including Leroy Hood of the Institute for Systems Biology. She’s studying the massive breadth of what the UW has to offer in its research cupboard. She’s working on organizing evening symposia to help VCs mingle efficiently with UW researchers who might have projects with commercial potential. She’s working to get some of her staff of 50 to focus more on mentoring, motivating, and even “inspiring” faculty members to build companies around their ideas, Rhoads says.

“Some of our faculty don’t know they’re sitting on information that can be dispersed in more effective ways,” Wise added. … Next Page »

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