Vikram Jandhyala, UW innovation leader and key figure in Seattle tech, dies at age 47

Vikram Jandhyala, UW innovation leader and key figure in Seattle tech, dies at age 47

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20150817_Vikram.Jandhyala_8949_Uncrop_Color-e1443568633280-620x530.jpgVikram Jandhyala. (University of Washington Photo)

Vikram Jandhyala, the University of Washington’s vice provost for innovation and a key link between the UW and the Seattle region’s technology community, has died as a result of suicide, according to a statement this afternoon by Ana Mari Cauce, the University of Washington president.

RESOURCES: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255;
Crisis Text Line: 741741

Jandhyala, 47, led the UW’s innovation center, CoMotion, for five years. Earlier this year, he announced that he would be stepping down in June. Cauce described him as “an innovator in every sense of the word, and someone for whom “inclusive innovation” wasn’t just a catchphrase, but a guiding principle.”

She wrote, “This was core to his belief in combining innovation with empathy, because as he put it, “Once we understand someone else, compassion is what makes us want to help them.” This advocacy for what Vikram called a “Seattle style of innovation” can be seen in his leadership of CoMotion and in communities not just in the Puget Sound, but around the world.”

According to a 2015 profile in the UW’s alumni magazine Columns, Jandhyala was the son of two physics professors. He graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology in 1993 and attended graduate school at the University of Illinois.

Jandhyala was well-known in the Seattle tech community over the past two decades as a respected professor, researcher, founder, speaker, and champion of entrepreneurship. He first joined the UW faculty in 2000 and founded his own startup in 2007 called Nimbic that was later acquired by Mentor Graphics.

Jandhyala became chair of the UW’s electrical engineering department in 2011 and was named the university’s vice provost of innovation in June 2014. His title evolved into vice president of innovation strategy as Jandhyala led CoMotion, which helps startups through education and access to experts and funding sources.

Under the leadership of Jandhyala, the UW has ranked among the top 10 on Reuters’ list of the world’s most innovative universities for the past several years and cracked the top 10 of the Milken Institute national tech transfer rankings. CoMotion also helped open a makerspace on campus; created an Amazon Catalyst program; and launched the Mobility Innovation Center with Challenge Seattle.

He was the co-executive director of the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), a new U.S.-China joint technology innovation institute run in Bellevue, Wash., by the UW and China’s Tsinghua University, which recently graduated its first class. He planned to dedicate more time to the program after leaving CoMotion.

Jandhyala is survived by two sons, ages 5 and 7, according to a GoFundMe campaign page seeking financial support to cover basic living costs for his children. His wife, Suja Vaidyanathan, writes on that page that she and Jandhyala remained married, but had lived separate lives for a few years.

 Try to be inclusive, not exclusive. Technology is great. Think about how it can solve real problems for all people. Think about how technology itself can include all people.

“Vikram was a complex person and our relationship was equally complex,” Vaidyanathan wrote. “The pressures of two high-stress careers, raising young children and some incompatibilities took a toll on our marriage. We could have worked through one or two of these pressure but our relationship couldn’t take all three.”

Vaidyanathan also said that the two were “highly supportive of each other’s life goals” and that “his life goal was to make entrepreneurship a part of higher education across all disciplines, not just technology.”

The news of Jandhyala’s death has stunned many people in the Seattle tech community. Madrona Venture Group, which provided seed funding in 2006 for his startup Nimbic, released this statement from its managing directors.

“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 devasted by the news of his death.”

Susannah Malarkey, former executive director of the Seattle-based Tech Alliance, called Jandhyala’s passing a “huge loss for the university and a huge loss for the larger community.”

“What I loved about Vikram was that he was willing to think in very new ways,” she said. “He partnered with Ana Mari to really bring the innovation of the university out to the community in a way that it never had before. He was just a lovely man — so smart, so committed, so energetic, and really led by example. He was just a fabulous guy.”

In a Feb. 28 post titled “Transitions” on Medium, Jandhyala shared his thoughts on life changes, writing that he was “personally going through a challenging one right now.”

He said that transitions “whether chosen or forced, are particularly difficult when you are moving on from something you have put all your heart, soul, belief, effort, and time into. It is doubly hard when it is not just you but a dedicated, loving, high-functioning team who believes in a common vision that has put in all that effort. People matter immensely.”

He said that his personal take didn’t offer any business or leadership wisdom, but that he believed “self reflection at times of transition can be additionally focused and energized.”

“Sometimes, to paraphrase (and misquote!) a great role model and technology leader and friend I would have loved to work for and with, it’s time to “hit reset,” Jandhyala wrote, in an apparent reference to “Hit Refresh,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s 2017 book. “And if that soft reset doesn’t work, to turn the power off and back on and hopefully to see something fresh and different.”

In a 2015 Geek of the Week profile, answering a traditional question at the end of our questionnaire, Jandhyala offered these “final words of advice” for his fellow geeks: “Try to be inclusive, not exclusive. Technology is great. Think about how it can solve real problems for all people. Think about how technology itself can include all people.”

GeekWire’s Taylor Soper and Kurt Schlosser contributed to this report.

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