New UCSD Chancellor brings open mind and entrepreneurial attitude

Published in UT San Diego, November 20, 2012

By Barbara Bry and Neil Senturia

University of California San Diego, the “brains” behind more than 650 startups in San Diego, recently picked a new chancellor, Pradeep Khosla, who was dean of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. The San Diego entrepreneur community should pay close attention. This guy brings an impressive set of credentials and experience as well as a bold vision for the future of the region.

We were charmed by his insights and open mind when we heard him speak at a recent meeting of TiE South Coast.

Here is the job description, according to the UC San Diego website, “A successful chancellor has to be an executive with the political skills to respond to internal and external constituencies; an administrator with the technical expertise to manage billion-dollar budgets and thousands of employees; and an entrepreneur who can create a compelling vision for the future of the campus that inspires faculty, students and staff, as well as private donors whose support the Chancellor must cultivate.” The only thing missing is the ability to walk on water.

Since 1960, when the campus was established on a former military training ground, UC San Diego has surpassed universities many years older. A few key facts — the university receives more than $1 billion in research funding, pumps $7.2 billion into the state economy, runs a world class health care center, conducts pioneering climate research at Scripps, and educates 29,000 students annually.

Khosla’s leadership skills will be needed. Regarding the issue of technology transfer, a critical university function important to entrepreneurs who want to license UC San Diego technology, Khosla acknowledged, “We have a problem. That’s not an excuse. We need to fix it.” The model of licensing technology for the primary purpose of making money for the university is flawed, he said, a philosophy with which we vehemently agree.

Very few licenses actually make significant money for the university. The idea should be to make it easy for the entrepreneur to get started commercializing the technology. Don’t worry about maximizing the license fees because large contributions generally come from successful alumni and entrepreneurs, who donate because they are grateful, and they want to insure the university’s future for others.

Khosla outlined a few ways that UC San Diego could encourage innovation:

• Focus the faculty on cutting-edge research aimed at solving societal problems. The research needs to involve both undergraduate and Ph.D. students.

• Develop a “can do” culture that is not limited by the bureaucracy of the UC system and the administration within UC San Diego.

• Reduce friction, the barrier between wanting to do something and having the opportunity.

Khosla understands the need for capital for startups, and he would like to see the establishment of a $10 million seed capital fund focused on funding companies started by UC San Diego students and faculty. He added that seasoned entrepreneurs should operate the fund. Acknowledging the current paucity of locally based venture capital, Khosla contended that more outside money can be attracted to the region because of our expertise in the interaction of health sciences and engineering and alternative fuels.

He wants UC San Diego to be a “student-focused university that is solving problems of societal importance in the areas of food, energy and social justice.” He also wants to take a fresh look at land use with the goal of building a “living and learning community” that makes the campus less isolated and attracts more community members to the theater and music venues and as a fun social place to have dinner and hang out with friends.

Most importantly, Khosla said, “I will ask hard questions.”

Bravo. Of course, when you ask questions, you need to be prepared to hear the answers. And we suspect that some of the answers will vigorously challenge old ways of thinking. To that end, it is your voice, the community voice that needs to be engaged.

Rule No. 114: The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

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