Q&A With Linden Rhoads: UW’s TechTransfer Leader Brings VC Revolution to Campus (Part 1)

2/10/09Follow @xconomy

Six months have flown by since Linden Rhoads joined the University of Washington as its first high-tech entrepreneur in charge of technology transfer. This is a critical job for Seattle’s innovation community at the nexus of university research, venture capital, and the high-tech and life sciences business. From the minute she arrived on campus back in August, Rhoads made it clear she was ready to shake up an office long criticized for not doing enough to spark the local economy.

This is a job with lots of constituencies, many of them cranky, so it would be easy to rip any new tech transfer boss to shreds. Yet the early reviews on Rhoads’s tenure are positive. UW president Mark Emmert, in an October speech to the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association, said her hiring was an experiment in seeing whether the university could learn something from a business person, adding, “We’ll learn together. If anyone can pull it off, it’s Linden.” Bob Nelsen, a managing director of Arch Venture Partners in Seattle said she is doing, in a word, “Awesome. They are very lucky to have her.”

Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates chair of computer science and engineering, said this via e-mail: “There’s been a dramatic change since Linden’s arrival. The tech transfer officers are crawling all over our building working with students and faculty. An Entrepreneur-in-Residence program has been started. Janis Machala, an incredibly experienced and well-connected startup “coach” who many of our previous startups have worked with, has been brought on-staff. It’s like night and day.”

I sat down with Rhoads at a conference room at the TechTransfer office a couple weeks back to hear directly from her about what sorts of changes she has brought to the place, and her vision. Here are edited excerpts of the first part of the conversation, with more to come tomorrow.

Xconomy: It’s been a little more than six months since you were named to the job, so I figure it’s a good time to ask. How are you doing in this new position?

Linden Rhoads: I’m really pleased with what we’ve accomplished to date. The most important thing we’ve done is revive the mission of this office, to be focused on making the University of Washington the best place in the world to do research. When you think of the direction universities are taking, there’s an extent to which the American university system is becoming somewhat like that in Britain, where there’s Cambridge and Oxford and everyone else. I think you’re beginning to see a little bit of a two-tier system like that here in the U.S.

At the same time, universities are becoming fungible platforms off of which researchers are in a sense free agents. So it’s important that the University of Washington is America’s premier public research university. I’d like to see, and it’s critical for the region, for the university to increasingly be recognized as such over the next 10 or 15 years. Given that we don’t have 200 years of Ivy attached to our name to lend stature, and we don’t have a state government that even in good times has the political will to spend the tens of millions of dollars it needs to spend for starter packages to get star researchers into the university. It’s certainly not enough to provide grounds on which we can compete. The question is how are we going to attract the researchers doing the very most compelling and promising work. How are we going to attract them and retain them. It’s essential … Next Page »

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  • http://www.linkedin.com/profile?viewProfile=&key=6254578&locale=en_US&trk=tab_pro Anthony Rodriguez

    As a graduate student in Bioengineering interested in innovation and entrepreneurship, Linden Rhoads has been a breath of fresh air. Tech Transfer has taking on a whole new mindset toward translational research. From changing of job titles to reinventing or creating new units such as the EIR program or the New Ventures Unit, the attitude at Tech Transfer has been transformed to be more aggressive and proactive. Great work Linden, and thank you and your staff for all of your hard work.