Don’t expect the unexpected departure of University of Washington President Michael Young to put a damper on the university’s startup efforts.
That’s the common thread running through reaction of Seattle’s entrepreneurial community, both inside and outside of the UW, to the news this week that Young is leaving after three years to become president of Texas A&M University.
Young was known for promoting commercialization, giving technologies developed inside the university a life off campus, and encouraging a more entrepreneurial mindset on campus. “It doesn’t hurt to have a few extra Porsches in the faculty parking lot,” he famously quipped at the 2012 opening of the New Ventures Facility at the UW Center for Commercialization. “I don’t deny that for a moment.”
Matt McIlwain, managing director at Madrona Venture Group and co-teacher of a course on venture capital in the UW Computer Science Department, says he thinks Young’s contribution to the “innovation ecosystem” is how he made it a priority. “My hope is that the regents continue to emphasize the importance of how the UW intersects with the commercial and non-profit world in their selection of an interim and then new president,” McIlwain adds. “I believe they will do so.”
Others emphasize, too, that the innovation train started moving before Young arrived, and his departure won’t stop what are now years of momentum.
Chris DeVore, an investor who has operated inside the new UW Startup Hall and is now managing director of Techstars Seattle, says, “calling it Young’s legacy is probably not giving the institution enough credit.” DeVore says the university’s innovation agenda was already set in motion by its board, and Young was hired to help enact it. “Any change of leadership creates risk and opportunity,” DeVore acknowledges, but expects the core commitment to entrepreneurship to continue.
“Entrepreneurship and innovation have been flourishing across the University of Washington for more than a decade,” observes Connie Bourassa-Shaw, director of the UW’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship. “It’s part of the fabric of the Pacific Northwest.” Young, she says, shined a “a spotlight on the importance of more innovation, more startups, more opportunities.”
Ed Lazowska, who holds the UW’s Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering, doesn’t “want to minimize the role of the president or the impact that Mike Young has had.” But he points out that the “UW is one of the nation’s and the world’s top universities … One person does not run an enterprise of this scale.” All of the many others — provost, vice-provosts, deans, branch campus chancellors — “are not going anywhere,” Lazowska notes. “And all of these people would quickly agree that the Administration Building is not where the work of the University gets done — it’s in the trenches, where the faculty, students, and staff carry out the discovery, teaching, and outreach that’s our mission.”
“I hope the tech community will support us through this transition,” Lazowska says, “as it has always supported us in the past.”