Q&A: Vikram Jandhyala Wants Entrepreneurship to Be Part of UW’s DNA

6/26/14Follow @bromano

Vikram Jandhyala, newly charged with driving technology commercialization and a broader innovation strategy at the University of Washington, wears lots of hats already. His Twitter profile lists many of them succinctly: “Professor. Administrator. Entrepreneur. Researcher. Educator. Husband. Dad. Cat Parent. Sports and Health Enthusiast. Bookworm. Generalist.”

Jandhyala, 42, will wear them all and more when he starts July 1 as the UW’s vice provost of innovation, a new position with responsibility for ushering university technologies from campus labs into society—and for making “entrepreneurship a part of the DNA of the university itself,” he tells Xconomy in his first interview since being named to the post earlier this week.

It’s a crucial role. The UW is a foundational piece of the state’s innovation economy, drawing in more than $1.4 billion in federal research funding last fiscal year and producing scores of patents, startup companies, and talented individuals to fuel high-growth industries. Jandhyala will oversee the way the university interfaces with entrepreneurs, investors, large companies, nonprofit groups, other research institutions, and alumni, in an effort to push the impact of that research funding as far as possible.

The job requires balancing a broad range of constituencies on and off campus, often with competing interests, and doing so as the role of—and funding for—university commercialization is being reexamined. While UW technology transfer has lately made great strides, Jandhyala, who will report directly to UW President Michael Young and Provost Ana Mari Cauce, also sees room for improvement.

Jandhyala has worked in industry, academia (including a recent stint as chairman of the electrical engineering department at UW), and as a startup founder. He helps bring together researchers and administrators at the UW and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory as co-director of the Northwest Institute for Advanced Computing—a position he expects to hand off in light of his new duties. He was among the first Presidential Entrepreneurial Faculty Fellows appointed by Young in 2011.

Xconomy caught up with him the day after his appointment was announced publicly. The following interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

Xconomy: The UW has established great momentum toward a more consistent, productive process for technology transfer in the last five years. New funding from Washington Research Foundation for so-called entrepreneurial researchers promises to add more innovations to the pipeline. The innovation economy in the state is thriving. With that as a foundation, what are your aspirations as vice provost of innovation at UW?

Vikram Jandhyala: Linden Rhoads [the outgoing vice provost for commercialization] and the commercialization office, C4C, over the last few years have really improved things a lot from what it used to be. The UW used to be a very difficult place to work with in terms of trying to get licensing, and more importantly, startups out. I think a lot of that has changed for the better. There’s still a lot more we can do, but it’s been a great effort by Linden and her team.

This next phase is to say, How do we take all these changes and actually integrate them more with the educational mission of the university? The idea is how do we make entrepreneurship a part of the DNA of the university itself. There’s a business school, a law school, of course the college of engineering, there’s multiple campuses now. How do we actually create this scalable entrepreneurship across all of these areas, at every level of what we’re doing?

Post-docs and PhD students have typically been very good at working on commercialization. Not so much master’s students and undergraduate students at our university, simply because we haven’t put in the resources or the effort there, so that will be one change, which is, make commercialization and innovation more into the curriculum itself. So you can think of new ways of doing design teams, so you have people from business and law and sociology and computer science and engineering working together on designs. These could be products, these could be business plans.

We’ve really connected well to the venture capital industry in town. We have some very good support here. However, we also have very good alumni, high-net-worth individuals, but also angel investors who are distributed across the world. The Bay Area is one very strong place, but also the Pacific Rim. I recently went to Shanghai and Taiwan, and was just amazed at the cachet and the quality of UW as perceived there. It’s very high. So, how do we leverage both the interest and the resources from areas like that, from the Pacific Rim, from the Bay Area, in order to generate even more interest in innovation and startups. So that would also be my role.

X: Amid all this progress, an advisory committee convened by University President Young found significant flaws in the commercialization structure, with policies set by the same people charged with executing commercialization deals and UW licensing terms that are more onerous than those of other top research universities. Do these strike you as significant problems that need to be addressed? … Next Page »

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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  • Yeah me

    Its difficult to take someone who uses the phrase “its part of our DNA” seriously anymore… please!