IVCA Community Conversation: University of Illinois Technology Vice President Avijit Ghosh

IVCA Community Conversation: University of Illinois Technology Vice President Avijit Ghosh

April 22, 2008

CHICAGO - “ The Illinois Venture Capital Association has interviewed Avijit Ghosh, who is the vice president for technology and economic development at the University of Illinois, about the role the university plays in catalyzing innovation.


Illinois Venture Capital Association: How can the University of Illinois best interface with the Illinois venture community?
Avijit Ghosh:
With regard to technology commercialization, the goals of the university and venture community are pretty well aligned. The launch of IllinoisVENTURES has helped to create closer ties with the regional venture community.

The IllinoisVENTURES team has developed a growing network of venture partners co-investing more than $170 million in the last few years in technology start-ups. Of course, some firms and investors prefer to come to campus and look for investment opportunities themselves. We welcome them.

However, it has been our experience that firms appreciate partnering with IllinoisVENTURES since they are grounded here and spend considerable time working with faculty inventors long before the firms are ready to attract any investments. If there are investors who are willing to invest in university start-ups, I would encourage them to contact IllinoisVENTURES.

IVCA: What role does the university have in fostering tech-specific economic development in Illinois and the Midwest at large?
AG:
Since its establishment in 1867, the University of Illinois has contributed to the economic development of the state and the nation through its teaching, research and public service missions. The university is also committed to catalyzing economic growth through the commercialization of new technologies and scientific innovations.

With the combination of a robust licensing engine, research parks, incubators and an early stage venture capital fund, the university has established a comprehensive portfolio of resources to drive technology-based business formation. Our goal is to broaden and strengthen the economy through the commercialization of university technologies and to create jobs, careers and wealth in the region.

We believe this is an integral part of our mission. These efforts advance our teaching and research missions as well by attracting and retaining the best faculty and students.

IVCA: Please describe your relationship with IllinoisVENTURES and how that firm's aim compares and contrasts with other local venture firms.
AG:
IllinoisVENTURES is a university-affiliated seed- and early stage technology investment firm focused primarily on technologies originating at the university. IllinoisVENTURES helps develop start-up companies by bridging the early stage development gaps (prototype development, market validation, model development and management recruitment) that confirm the foundation of an opportunity.

By offering a means to get a business ready for the venture community, the interests of IllinoisVENTURES are nicely aligned with other early stage firms aimed at research-derived work. Its community of co-investors continues to grow because it offers a means to participate in high-quality Midwestern projects while substantially reducing the risks and challenges of the earliest steps in the process.

IVCA: What motivated your transition from dean of the business school to vice president of technology and economic development?
AG:
Serving as the dean of the business school was a great privilege for me. I enjoyed it and still miss many aspects of it. I feel I now have the best job at the university: to leverage the great intellectual assets of this university to impact society and to improve human lives.

The university has established a strong technology commercialization infrastructure in the last few years. Our goal now is to aggressively move that effort into a higher level and do it in a way that is distinctive, effective and impactful.

IVCA: Please talk about the impact the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership has had on stimulating new business development in the university.
AG:
The business school established that academy to encourage entrepreneurialism by supporting entrepreneurship teaching and research throughout the university's curriculum. This the academy has done quite well. It has sponsored the development of new entrepreneurial-oriented courses and faculty throughout the campus.

Because of these course development efforts, for example, we are planning to introduce an entrepreneurship minor in which any undergraduate in the university can specialize. This is a significant change since historically entrepreneurship programs have been limited to business and engineering students.

Through the efforts of the academy and such entities as the Technology Entrepreneurship Center and the Golder Center for Private Equity, the university has been engaged in an important and far-reaching effort to create greater awareness of entrepreneurship and foster an entrepreneurial culture throughout the community.

One recently launched program, for example, is the certificate in entrepreneurship and management for life scientists, which is a joint effort by our college of business and the Institute of Genomic Biology. Similarly, the Golder Center is connecting our students to the world of private equity through a variety of outreach programs, conferences and workshops. Especially noteworthy is its partnership with the IVCA's scholarship and internship program.

IVCA: How many times have you been asked about Netscape?
AG:
Many times. Every time I'm asked the question it's an opportunity for me to remind people that one of the most profound innovations of our times - “ one that has touched the lives of billions of people - “ happened right here at Illinois.