You can expect even more innovation and commercialization of startup ideas coming out of the University of Washington.
The UW Board of Regents today named Ana Mari Cauce as its new president, seven months after the 59-year-old was named interim president. Cauce, the university’s first female president and a member of UW’s faculty since 1986, replaces former president Michael Young, who left for Texas A&M earlier this year.
Young made commercialization of startup ideas a priority at the UW after arriving in Seattle four years ago from the University of Utah, where he spurred a massive overhaul of the tech transfer department in Salt Lake City. He was known for giving technologies developed inside the university a life off campus, and encouraging a more entrepreneurial mindset on campus.
Cauce, a former UW provost who worked closely with Young to develop ideas like Startup Hall and the university’s innovation hub CoMotion, said today that she’ll build on the momentum that Young helped create.
“That’s going to continue,” she said. “In fact, that’s going escalate.”
Cauce noted the enormous amount of research money ($1.5 billion) that comes to the UW each year, but said that it’s not about the numbers.
“What’s really important is the impact that that has in the world,” she said. “We want to make sure our discoveries actually make a difference in the world.”
Despite all the world-class research and bright minds coming together on its campus, the UW isn’t traditionally known to have a reputation as an entrepreneurial hub — a place where innovation is fostered throughout every department, and where the next great startup idea makes it out of the dorm rooms and science labs into the real world.
But that’s starting to change. Along with the creation of Startup Hall, there’s also a recent push from the UW’s CoMotion, the group that used to be known as the UW Center for Commercialization, to help bridge the gap between the UW and the startup world. In addition, the university is making moves to make the University District a hub of innovation.
Others are noticing the shift — in fact, just last month, the UW recently ranked No. 4 in a Reuters ranking of the world’s most innovative universities.
“She’s talked from the beginning about impact, and commercialization is a big part of that,” said Jaech, who also sits on the UW Board of Regents. “She’s done a lot of things as the interim president to push that forward. I don’t in any way see it as a step down from Mike Young.”
Vikram Jandhyala, who was recruited in part by Cauce last year to the new position of Vice Provost for Innovation, said hiring Cauce as president was a “fantastic decision.”
“It would have been a surprise if they had not chosen such an amazing leader,” said Jandhyala, who also heads up UW CoMotion.
Jandhyala, formerly chair of the UW’s electrical engineering department, last year replaced Linden Rhoads — who played an important role in helping boost the number of startups coming out of the university — and has been one of the driving forces behind the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), a new Bellevue, Wash.-based technology graduate school founded as a joint effort between UW, China’s Tsinghua University and companies like Microsoft.
Cauce said today that she’ll continue to focus on helping the UW come up with collaborative ideas like GIX.
“That will be one of the real hallmarks of what we do in the next couple of decades because it’s so exciting,” said Cauce, a native of Cuba who grew up in Miami and received her Ph.D. in psychology from Yale University.
Chris Devore, who helps run the venture capital firm Founder’s Co-op out of Startup Hall, said that it’s exciting to “have a woman, a first-generation U.S. immigrant and a career UW leader who deeply understands the institution as the next UW president.”
“I haven’t spoken with her about the University’s innovation strategy directly, but everyone I’ve talked to within the UW believes that she’ll be an even stronger advocate for the work than President Young was,” Devore added.
Ed Lazowska, the longtime UW computer science professor who holds the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering, said he’s thrilled with Cauce taking over as president. He noted her “huge support” for computer science, data science, and entrepreneurship.
Most importantly, Lazowska said, Cauce is “one of us” — which is important given that the UW has seen a high turnover with six presidents in the last two decades.
“She has risen through the ranks on her very considerable merits, and she is committed to UW,” Lazowska told GeekWire. “Lord knows, we’ve had more than enough of the revolving door in recent years — some who were shoved through it, and some who walked through it of their own volition when offered more money.
“There’s another important positive of being one of us: She knows who to trust and who to ignore. When a new leader arrives from the outside, there’s a lot of jockeying for position. There would be none of that with Ana Mari — she knows us all.”
Based on the overwhelming support for Cauce from people like Jaech, Jandhyala, Devore, and Lazowska, it’s clear that the university picked someone who places importance on commercialization and entrepreneurship on campus.
But beyond what others have to say, this mentality came through from Cauce herself today, particularly when the president talked about how excited she was to visit new Makerspaces inside the UW dorms last month.
Perhaps more important, Cauce also seems to have an entrepreneurial mindset herself.
“I’m not scared of failing,” she said. “I’m not scared of being criticized. There is nothing that can happen to me in this job that will be the worst thing that has ever happened in my life and that I can’t bounce back from. When I say that this just feels right … all those things have really come together to put me here now, doing this. And I do feel prepared.”