Duane Roth: The Connector Who Wired Up a Regional Innovation Economy

Xconomy San Diego — 

The seating capacity of the University of San Diego’s Church of the Immaculata is approximately 900, and it is telling that the memorial service held late Friday morning for Connect CEO Duane Roth was standing room only.

The Spanish style church on the USD campus is one of the biggest in San Diego. Somber guests stood in small groups within the 20 side chapels along the central nave. People also spilled out of the doorways. They lined the walls of the cross-shaped church, which is 200 feet long and 148 feet wide across the transcept. Former U.S. Senator Pete Wilson was there. So was Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs, Gateway founder Ted Waitt, UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, and hundreds of other CEOs, scientists, entrepreneurs, and business leaders who came to pay their respects.

Roth’s untimely death on Aug. 3 was the result of a head injury he incurred in a July 21 bicycling accident. He was 63. San Diego’s business and political leaders turned out in droves because Roth touched so many people here.

“He showed the way, but he also cleared the space beneath the boards,” basketball legend Bill Walton said in a moving tribute after the memorial, at a reception held by the Roth family at the exclusive Valencia Resort in Rancho Santa Fe. “When things got tough, Duane was always the one who stepped to the fore and said, ‘I’ll take care of this.’”

Duane Roth

Duane Roth

Roth served the regional innovation community in many capacities—as a biotech CEO and as a member of many nonprofit boards overseeing San Diego’s biotech industry, economic development and policy, healthcare policy, stem cell development, university research, and technology innovation. His varied interests seemed to come together, though, in his role as the CEO of Connect, the San Diego nonprofit group established to promote technology innovation and entrepreneurship. His innate sense of purpose flourished at Connect, which became his bully pulpit, and the eight and a half years he spent there could serve as a case study in how to go about developing a regional innovation economy.

Roth came to San Diego with the 1989 merger of Otisville Biopharm of Otisville, NY, and Fluoromed Pharmaceutical of San Diego. The combined company, renamed Alliance Pharmaceutical, set out to … Next Page »

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3 responses to “Duane Roth: The Connector Who Wired Up an Innovation Economy”

  1. Karina Lion says:

    Bruce, This is a wonderful reportage about Duane, who was a friend and mentor. Thanks for your remembrance of his great contributions to our tech and bio community. Your compassionate coverage of his legacy and untimely passing have helped us get through this tragic loss. Regards, Karina Lion

  2. Mark Leibowitz says:

    Thanks for this compelling description of the memorial and tribute to Duane’s contributions. I found the memorial to be very inspiring and hope that it will serve to motivate the San Diego innovation community to continue Duane’s work with renewed passion.
    Take care,

  3. Chris Stiehl says:

    I loved Duane as a friend, colleague and advisor in the work my wife and I did for CIRM. As Bruce reports here, Duane was always making connections and looking for ways for everyone to win. He gave you his full attention when you asked for his help. His response always considered all of those who may be affected by your actions, both now and in the future. One of our proudest accomplishments was having his support in our work to spread the good news about CIRM. We also saw he and Rene at charity events all over San Diego, often seeing him at two Galas on the same evening! He was a humble giant among men. He will be missed.