A Silicon Valley Pioneer Molds the Next Wave of Innovators at Rice

Xconomy Texas — 

Jack Gill went to northern California more than 40 years ago, becoming part of Silicon Valley’s formation.

He landed there in the late ’60s and founded Autolab, which pioneered the use of microprocessor-based instruments and computers for chromatography laboratory applications and was later acquired by Spectra Physics. In 1981, Gill co-found Vanguard Ventures, one of the Valley’s oldest early-stage venture capital firms.

His twin disciplines—electrical engineering and organic chemistry—gave him an understanding of both how the world runs and the basis of life, he says.

He also wanted to understand the characteristics that define modern-day entrepreneurship. He quizzed the successful entrepreneurs he had met over the years, collecting modern versions of the rags-to-riches stories written by Horatio Alger Jr. in the Gilded Age of the late 1800s. (Gill himself is a winner of the Horatio Alger Award for Distinguished Americans.) “The major factor here is ‘hungry,’ ” Gill says.

Gill’s own insatiable appetite to learn about entrepreneurship led him to academia, where he developed courses that he taught at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California at Davis, and other institutions. In 1999, he and his wife, Linda, formed the Gill Foundation, which focuses on educational projects, including those in entrepreneurship. Today, the native Texan has come home, and is the professor of the practice of entrepreneurship at Rice University.

I sat down with Gill last week to talk about Houston’s budding entrepreneurial ecosystem, who and what the “Goose Society” is, and how he put the just-in-time management philosophy to work in his wine cellars.

Here is an edited version of our conversation.

Xconomy: Why did you want to become part of the Rice academic community?

Jack Gill: By 2000, there was a new generation coming up, and I decided it was time to give back. I thought, What can I do with my Silicon Valley experience?

This course that I brought here, … Next Page »

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