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UT System’s Goonewardene: “Our Objective is to Be a Long-term Partner”

Xconomy Texas — 

Austin—Julie Goonewardene grew up in academia; several members of her family are professors.

Still, at the start her of career, Goonewardene choose to go into business, founding a software company in Indiana and serving in the executive suite at others.

In 2005, she became director of business development at Purdue University’s Purdue Research Foundation and then joined the University of Kansas in 2011, working in commercialization. Two years ago, she joined the University of Texas System as associate vice chancellor for innovation and strategic investment where she helms the UT Horizon Fund.

“I was fortunate to be one of the founders of a company that went public and I sold a venture-backed one,” she tells Xconomy in a recent interview. “When I took this job, I knew how universities work, so understanding that’s been very helpful.”

The four-year-old fund has made 15 investments, totaling $14 million. Among them are Apollo Endosurgery in Austin, Decisio Health in Houston, and Austin’s Aeglea Biotherapeutics, which had an IPO last year.

Overall, UT is third in the nation in terms of patents filed and 10th in licensing revenue, according to figures kept by the Association of University Technology Managers. “The UT System’s been on a steady walk upward,” Goonewardene says. “The trend line is positive.”

Here is an edited version of our conversation.

Xconomy: It’s been four years since the launch of the fund. What would you say have been the biggest lessons learned?

Julie Goonewardene: The science is competitive; it’s just really good. The entrepreneurial innovation ecosystem is strengthening at a very fast pace. There’s a real sort of optimism and can-do attitude in Texas that’s very refreshing, for me.

I wanted to do [launch the fund] because this work is very real for me personally. Two of my three kids were twins born three months early. They’re doing great. But if you move innovations out of the university, you save people’s lives. So when [UT System Chancellor William McRaven] says for the betterment of humankind, and impacting the people of Texas, the nation, and the world, that is a very real sentence for me. That’s the best part about getting to do this work.

X: It seems that the focus for Texas-based venture capital firms is increasingly later stage. How has the fund’s mission evolved in response to this?

J.G.: We’re a dual … Next Page »

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