Vikram Jandhyala, Champion of Innovation at UW and Beyond, Dies at 47
[Updated 3/15/19 11:05 a.m. See below.] Vikram Jandhyala, who built bridges between academia and industry across the globe and at the University of Washington, where he taught and worked, has died, the school said Wednesday. He was 47.
In a statement on UW’s website, President Ana Mari Cauce said Jandhyala’s death was a suicide. He is survived by two sons, ages 7 and 5, who will be cared for by their mother, Suja Vaidyanathan, Cauce said. Jandhyala’s family has created a memorial website and GoFundMe campaign, the proceeds of which will help cover his sons’ basic living expenses.
“Vikram was an innovator in every sense of the word, and someone for whom ‘inclusive innovation’ wasn’t just a catchphrase, but a guiding principle,” Cauce said.
Over the years, Jandhyala worked for large companies, as a startup founder, and as a professor. In 2014, he was named to a newly created position at UW: vice provost of innovation, which Jandhyala at the time called his “dream job.” (The university had since changed the name of his position to “vice president of innovation strategy.”)
Comments from people who knew and worked closely with Jandhyala, as well as some of his own writings, show he championed universities as places of inquiry and discovery. He was driven by a desire to make UW an institution where students, faculty, and other members of the university community can come together to share knowledge and exchange ideas, regardless of what discipline they study or teach.
But Jandhyala, who was a professor and former chair in UW’s department of electrical engineering, also looked to places beyond the school’s campus where technology has raised residents’ standard of living—far-away places like Israel, and ones closer to home, like farm-dotted sections of Eastern Washington.
There is perhaps no better example of Jandhyala’s mission to foster the growth of entrepreneurial ecosystems, both locally and globally, than his work helping to launch the Global Innovation Exchange in 2017. The program, often abbreviated as GIX, is a partnership between Tsinghua University in Beijing and UW that offers graduate technology degrees for Chinese and American students. Microsoft, which is headquartered just east of UW’s campus, in Redmond, WA, helped get GIX off the ground by committing $40 million to the partnership.
Tsinghua University is known as one of China’s top research institutions, and UW is likewise known for its strong (if mixed) track record of commercializing research and spinning out companies. UW claimed the top spot among public institutions on a Reuters list of the world’s most innovative universities, which the news service published in October. The school finished in seventh place in the Milken Institute’s most recent ranking of the best universities for technology transfer.
The university credited the creation of CoMotion, a tech transfer-focused organization at UW that Jandhyala led as executive director, and the restructuring of its commercialization efforts in recent years as factors contributing to UW’s improved stature in the eyes of groups like the Milken Institute.
Not only did Jandhyala work to create an atmosphere where people at UW could turn ideas into businesses: he was an entrepreneur himself. Jandhyala was one of the co-founders of Nimbic, a simulation software company acquired by Mentor Graphics in 2014.
A spokesperson for Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group, which invested in Nimbic and worked with Jandhyala on other projects, said in an e-mail, “Vikram was a close part of the Madrona family for years. He worked with us on the funding of a company thirteen years ago and since then we have worked with him in our business lives as well as had him as a part of our social fabric. He took CoMotion and made it a strong force of innovation for the entire ecosystem, making a real difference in the lives of students and professors. He gave so much to all of us and we are devastated by the news of his death.”
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