Colleagues, friends, family share memories of former UW innovation leader Vikram Jandhyala

Vikram Jandhyala. (UW Photo)

Innovator. Scholar. Researcher. Entrepreneur. Leader. Athlete. Musician. Poet. Mentor. Father. Friend.

Vikram Jandhyala was a renaissance man who impacted so many people within the Seattle tech ecosystem and broader community. That much was clear yesterday on campus at the University of Washington, where friends, family, colleagues, and others gathered for a celebration of life.

Jandhyala died on Feb. 28 at the age of 47 as a result of suicide. He was the UW’s vice provost for innovation and a key link between the UW and the Seattle region’s technology community.

“To many of us, he was a role model, an inspiration — someone to emulate and admire,” said Sandhya Mclaren, his cousin.

Jandhyala was described by speakers on Thursday as an “absolutely brilliant” thinker who balanced incredible intelligence with a goofy sense of humor — someone who didn’t take himself too seriously, despite the far-reaching impact of his research and work.

“He never made anyone feel uncomfortable about how smart he was,” said UW Electrical & Computer Engineering Chair Radha Poovendran. “That’s truly a gift.”

The son of two physics professors, Jandhyala graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology in 1993 and attended graduate school at the University of Illinois. He first joined the UW faculty in 2000 and founded his own startup in 2007 called Nimbic that was later acquired by Mentor Graphics.

“He was not just technically brilliant,” said Eric Michielssen, a Ph.D advisor to Jandhyala at the University of Illinois. “He had a clear sense of direction and he was uncharacteristically mature, even as a fresh grad student. He absolutely knew where he was going, and he was clearly going places.”

“It’s fair to say that he always operated a decade ahead of the rest of us,” Michielssen added.

Jandhyala led the UW’s innovation center, CoMotion, for five years and planned to step down in June. He was also the co-executive director of the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), a new U.S.-China joint technology innovation institute run in Bellevue, Wash., by the UW and China’s Tsinghua University, which recently graduated its first class.

Shwetak Patel, an endowed professor of computer science and electrical engineering at the UW, credited Jandhyala for helping weave entrepreneurship across the UW campus. Jandhyala recruited Patel to the UW and immediately became a mentor. Patel, a prolific inventor who has sold three startups, said he learned from Jandhyala how to pursue entrepreneurial ideas while maintaining a connection to research.

“He really practiced what he preached: have fun, have the impact that you want to have and be able to do it your way,” said Patel, who helped craft the GIX curriculum with Jandhyala.

Greg Gottesman, a longtime Seattle venture capitalist who invested in Nimbic, recalled days playing golf with Jandhyala in Chile or playing ping pong in the Nimbic offices.

“I loved playing ping pong with Vikram more than anyone else in the world,” Gottesman said. “Playing with Vikram was not like playing with a normal human being. You could get a master tutorial in ping pong every time he played. I couldn’t return his serves, so he would stop the game and explain to me what he was doing — the spin, the physics, the angle, the swing. When the game resumed and I started to return his serves well, Vikram would light up. He was happier about my progress than I was — Vikram as teacher, Vikram as my friend.”

Other speakers at Thursday’s celebration included University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce and Jandhyala’s wife, Suja Vaidyanathan, who attended with their two sons, ages 5 and 7.