UW Honors Medical Device Entrepreneur Joe Eichinger For 35 Years Of Service

1/29/10

About 40 prominent researchers, physicians, and businesspeople gathered at the University of Washington’s bioengineering department Wednesday night to honor Joe Eichinger for mentoring students and faculty about how to best apply their inventions in the business world for the past 35 years.

Matt O’Donnell, the dean of the UW College of Engineering, and Paul Yager, the chair of the bioengineering department, presented Eichinger with the first ever volunteer award from the department. It was a short, but heartfelt reception for Eichinger at UW’s Foege Hall. While nobody mentioned it in the public remarks, everybody there knew that the award had extra special significance because Eichinger was diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer in November.

That is an ominous diagnosis, but Eichinger was still there in person and said he was feeling good. He said he was deeply honored by the reception.

“We couldn’t imagine anyone who has given service to the department better than Joe has,” Yager told the crowd. “Joe, you may not be the last person, but you are forever going to be the first person.”

Although he never attended UW as a student, or worked there on the faculty, Eichinger dedicated much of his time over the last three decades working to advance the bioengineering department through his extensive expertise as a leader in the field of medical technology. He’s served on innumerable committees and hiring boards, sits on the Coulter Translational Research Partnership Program oversight committee, and advises researchers on medical startups through the University’s Center for Commercialization, to name just a few.

Perhaps his greatest accomplishment is the entrepreneurial spirit he’s instilled into the bioengineering department, Yager said. Eichinger encouraged researchers to take their best technology born inside the university “and move it out towards the patients.”

Joe and Mary Eichinger

Joe and Mary Eichinger

Eichinger was nostalgic during his own remarks, and occasionally humorous. (When O’Donnell asked him if ever actually had a job during all those years of volunteering time at UW, Eichinger played along with the joke. “Nope,” he said.)

Seriously, though, Eichinger said he tried to act as the “glue piece” between the medicine and the technology.

“If you have a medical problem, there’s technology over here, an engineer with an idea, a frustrated doctor over here. There’s got to be someone who helps put those things together,” he said.

To Yager, Eichinger’s award represented a noble community of people—researchers, faculty, medical entrepreneurs—all working toward the same goal of developing technology that can treat illnesses and save lives.

“Someone has to take the risk, that is, the entrepreneur—the person who actually puts their life, their time, their riches on the line for actually making these things happen. We can’t operate without these people,” Yager said. “We cannot possibly thank him enough for his role.”

When Eichinger first began working with the University of Washington in the ’70s, he was an employee at Bothell, WA-based ATL Ultrasound, now part of the global operations of Philips Medical. Years later, his wife, Mary, was pregnant with their first son, Joey, and she needed … Next Page »

Thea Chard is a correspondent for Xconomy Seattle. You can e-mail her at theachard@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/theachard. Follow @

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  • http://www.ekoscorp.com Doug Hansmann

    Joe is one of the true entrepreneurial ‘rainmakers’ in the PNW and a tireless promoter for medical devices. I proudly acknowledge him as my co-founder of EKOS Corporation.

  • Janis Machala

    I am in awe over the service from Joe Eichinger. I can honestly say I have never encountered an executive with such a commitment to entrepreneurship and science and engineering all wrapped together.
    He has been an amazing gift to UW and it was thrilling to see his efforts honored in such a way. Joe has NEVER turned me down for any request I needed for another start-up in our community, for something I needed to support another entrepreneur, or for any UW effort that needed some elbow grease. He’s a role model for us all in terms of servant leadership. And he’s from Chicago and Czech to boot!