Q&A: Vikram Jandhyala Wants Entrepreneurship to Be Part of UW’s DNA
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VJ: Again, I think you have to look at the history. We’ve made a lot of progress, I would say, from where we were 15 years, 10 years ago. But at the same time, I completely understand there’s more to do to make what we call licensing more frictionless. It should be easy for faculty to go out and do what they want to do, and also for folks from outside to come in and engage. So we want to do that. I think we have more to do on the licensing front, and also in terms of things like equity to make it as transparent as we can, and as easy. I think that’s something we want to work on. I’m going to talk to folks across campus and also in the community to see what are these changes that we need to make. And I’m very happy to keep pushing this forward.
We want to become a university that people say we’re easy to work with in terms of spinning out startups and spinning out licensing.
X: Do you have any specific ideas at this point?
VJ: On licensing and startups, I think there’s certainly more transparency in terms of what the agreements are, which can be made available in the form of a template. So here’s a starting template for most agreements. There might be exceptions based on, did this technology come from multiple places? Are there others universities involved? But at least a starting point so that people can start coming up with terms quickly.
And also sometimes there’s a dual challenge of doing a startup and licensing at the same time, so you want the license done, and you start negotiating terms for the startup. The idea is you don’t do this serially and wait for a long time. You can say we will work on the licensing, and in the meantime, you can start thinking of the startup, so we can start doing things in parallel and keep the timing short. Because ultimately it’s about timing interest from investors and outside sources.
X: Underlying this is a question of funding: How should the Center For Commercialization and associated tech transfer efforts, and some of these broader initiatives you’re being tasked with, be paid for, particularly with the sun-setting of the Hall Patents, which have been a key source of funding in the past?
VJ: That’s definitely going to be a challenge. It was a large revenue source, which is going to go away. The patents are sun-setting. But at the same time there’s lots of opportunities for partnerships.
As an example, we have many federally funded research centers. Most of them want to engage industry, but there’s not been a holistic way of doing this. Each research center tries to reinvent the wheel, negotiate IP, figure out what a consortium might look like. This is a place where I think the Center for Commercialization and in general the vice provost for innovation’s office can work, and actually build value for each center. This would be beyond startups and licensing. This would be helping federally funded centers to grow. We have a neuroengineering center. We have an Institute for Protein Design. We have a brain institute in town. So there’s just many opportunities for large, federally-funded ideas to become not just centers, but to integrate innovation and commercialization into them, and through that also return some funding back to the office.
One way to think about it is, should this office be self-sustaining, or is it more about a partnership. My view is it’s more of a partnership between commercialization and innovation, but also large-scale research, and what we call advancement, so this is donors and industrial relations.
X: You get credit for making what some people call “needed changes” in the electrical engineering department. What was your experience there as department chairman, and what will you take from that to the job of vice provost for innovation?
VJ: Faculty tend to be, across the university, including electrical engineering, extremely intelligent and extremely creative, but they don’t always see how to work together in terms scaling out what they’re doing and being able to do something larger-scale that will benefit not only them, but the department and the college. That’s something we worked on—processes to make it easier for faculty to work with industry. We brought in a new advisory board, which has a lot of folks from industry who have been able to tap into our faculty, and push the word out to industry and our alumni as to what we are doing. That gave rise to new kinds of research funding. We have a new industrial affiliates program, which is industry comes to us, the department, with their challenges and we connect them directly to faculty members. Also, engaging with alumni has been very exciting. [Electrical engineering] has one of the largest alumni bases with more than 8,000 alumni. We’ve now connected to a lot of them.
X: You’ve been an academic who became a startup company founder, raising venture capital funding from Madrona Venture Group, Washington Research Foundation, and Austral Capital, and, last month, an acquisition by Mentor Graphics. What prompted you to launch Nimbic (originally called Physware)?
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