The President's Speech

Here is a transcript I made of UW President Michael Young’s remarks on the opening of Fluke Hall as an incubator for UW startup companies, February 2, 2012 from video available at GeekWire. These remarks are the foundation, it appears, for the claim that President Young challenged C4C to double the number of startups. Young’s challenge is the basis for C4C’s claim to have started 35 companies in the past two fiscal years, when the public record indicates only 13 companies, and only 1 in the last fiscal year. That is, C4C has not doubled the number of startups over FY2006-08, but is running at about 75% of that pace, at double the expenditure! At least something has doubled!

Given the loss of the Hall patent and its royalty income, and the amazingly poor record of C4C’s own expenditures over the past five years–a hole of $100M that has to be filled before anything can be called a roaring success–it would appear that C4C is going to have to shed a substantial portion of its budget. Since C4C is spending north of $4M per year on patent work, that is one area to watch closely. What will C4C do? Time will tell.

I have broken President Young’s talk into paragraphs to help with reading. Otherwise, the transcript would read more like Lucky’s speech in Waiting for Godot. In one spot I cannot catch the word and transcribe what I hear plus a possible alternative in square brackets.  I include various hesitation marks–ums and ahs, mostly, but also a few repeated words. I considered whether I ought to “clean up” President Young’s diction, and decided that these marks carried tone and intention, and removing them would alter the conditions of interpretation more than would retaining them. Of course, you can watch the video (as long as it remains up) at GeekWire and hear for yourself.

President Young:

Thank-you. Speaking of forces of nature. [laughter] Um, I’m delighted to be here today. This is an exciting day for the University. A very exciting day for the University, an exciting day for our students, for our professors, and we think ultimately an exciting day for the state of Washington. Now. For hundreds of years universities, um, assiduously courted the title of ivory towers—ah work hard doing great research and, uh, teaching terrific students, um, all designed to do good, uh, but largely hoarding within the university, uh, the knowledge that was generated and created. Uh, in fact, somebody once described the university as a place that accumulates knowledge because students come in at eighteen years old, they know everything, and we not knowing everything, and what they’ve left behind is what accumulates [laughter] here at the university.

Um, and what managed to creep out of the university, often, uh, often against great odds, uh, really was powerful, uh, but over time universities have begun to understand that the process of doing good, not the process of making money, not even the process of creating jobs—all that is a by-product of a very simple principle, which is what we do in the laboratories, what we do in the research mission of this university is really designed to make the world a better place. But if it stays in the university, uh, it doesn’t accomplish its goal. Our capacity to expand that out and get it into the life of real people is what this is all about. Uh, it doesn’t hurt to have a couple of extra Porsches in the faculty parking lot, I don’t deny that for a moment, but that is never the motivation or the central animating force behind it.

What is challenging at universities is to figure out how to do that because one may be a brilliant physicist but developing a marketing plan, figuring out how to get IP protection, uh, moving from proof of concept to, uh, to prototype to first contract, uh talking that bizarre foreign language that investors seem to use, where they actually, uh, want a return on investment. Remember that great line in Ghostbusters where they are standing actually on Columbia’s campus, uh, and at some point they are kicked out of the lab and somebody says, “Well, let’s go to the private sector” and the other professor says, uh, “Oh, no, no, they expect you to produce.” [laughter] Uh, uh, but understanding to try to connect with that business community uh, um, are, are challenges. And the opportunity to think through, What are those challenges? How do we take what is really great and being done here at this university and use with a partnership with the business community, uh, that opportunity to take it out into the lives of real people?

The by-products of that are extraordinary. The by-products are jobs, are businesses, are better lives in so many different ways. Um, there are also extraordinary educational opportunities. Universities, uh, tend to do things well if they keep a very clear focus on their core missions of teaching and research and as, as, as Linden so eloquently suggested, as we draw our students into this process, they often become themselves the interface between the professors and the business community. They themselves often provide the manpower and woman power for actually creating um, uh the value-added that is necessary to really move this, this, this idea from workbench to bedside, uh to move it out into the stream of commerce are extraordinary, tremendous opportunities uh for our students and as they do that they come out much better equipped to operate in the world we are launching them into.

Uh, all of this is a very long-winded way of saying that this is a complicated process that requires deep, intimate and profound partnerships, and so today we really stand here thanking you for your willingness to be partners in this, in this enterprise. Um, we have made tremendous strides in our capacity to commercialize, and the work that has gone on under Linden’s office uh in terms of uh connecting to the business community, creating much uh smoother transitions, reducing transaction costs, being able to help people see what the possibilities are in terms of research has been nothing short of extraordinary. Absolutely nothing short of extraordinary. Uh, there is only so much we can do within the university because ultimately we have to connect with the business community uh to do the other half of this, of this operation.

The exciting thing about this building today is it provides us a wonderful physical manifestation of both our commitment to do this, uh, and of um uh the kind of connections that are essential. The fact that a professor gets to stroll down here rather than frantically riding his bicycle for miles is powerful and profound. The fact that our students have access uh to this makes a difference. The fact that we have some parking spaces for the business people who come up here is absolutely critical uh because it is that, it is that, uh the geography will be to some degree destiny in our capacity create.

It also provides another opportunity, which is allowing the University’s professors and the work that goes on in the laboratories to remain for some significant period of time connected to the business operation. Uh, at the end of the day as we, as you all know much better than I do, very often it is the second, third, fourth generation of technology that really turns the corner of business. Um, if, if the business goes, spins away from the university too quickly, we lose that capacity for that connection and that real value-added. We also lose it in the state, uh, when businesses spin too quickly out of their university uh, uh, uh geography. Uh, the reasons for staying in the state begin to reduce and all of a sudden sunny sunny climates and higher degrees of venture capital and so forth begin to appeal.

Uh, and that is despite the fact that the real value added is staying connected with the university for some period of time until it really has proved its worth and has shown what that market niche is, and has developed that technology that truly is significant and truly is transformative.

Uh, so this is much more than a building for us. This is a flag-raising exercise. This is an opportunity for us to say that this is an important part of what we do. As a university our central animating theme and passion is to do good. And this is a vehicle, a tremendous vehicle and uh a recognition of the centrality of that particular mission here on this campus.

And so I echo Linden’s thanks ah to everybody who made this possible. These things do not happen by accident, they don’t happen by the enthusiasm of of of one person and uh it doesn’t matter what my commitment is, it doesn’t matter what Linden’s commitment is. What matters in the end is how many we can draw into this process with us uh to engage in an exercise like this. So this is an exciting day in the University uh and we are very pleased uh to be able to open this and to thank you, all of you who have made such a difference in making this possible.

Um, concominant [concomitant?] with that, it seems to us that uh uh large uh opportunities should, uh, should, uh, uh, occasion large ambitions as well. And we are uh possessed of those ambitions. Uh we have seen tremendous progress uh over the past few years in uh our capacity to assist in the commercialization process. Uh, we’ve seen a rise in the number of licenses. The number of uh spin-off companies, the number of disclosures have all gone up and gone up just uh exponentially. I uh, uh, uh, was pleased to try to see Utah try to lead the way a little bit, but I think it, I think it has been lapped by the University of Washington and uh I’m even more proud of that.

Ah, but in that context we are not going to sit on those accomplishments. We are today committing ourselves to over the next few years doubling the number of uh disclosures and um companies that will be spun out of the technology of this university. We do uh this last year a billion and half dollars worth of extramural research funding came into this university. Uh, each of those dollars represents some sort of transformative work that’s going on, that’s second highest in the nation, um and compared to Stanford’s I don’t know what Stanford’s one point one billion, one point two, um, and we’re delighted to help Stanford become a better university [laughter] as soon as we tell them how to do this.

Um, ah, that is, that is an enormous amount of exciting energy at work that is, that is reposed in this university. And our commitment ah is to over the next, the next few years double the number of uh, of, of companies and licenses and disclosures that reflect moving that technology out. And when we’ve done that then we are going to announce that we are going to double it again. Um but today we are announcing that is our goal and uh we uh, uh ask for your help, your assistance, and your continued engagement in this enterprise to help us reach that behalf on behalf of not only this great university and our terrific professors uh but also our state and indeed our nation and all the people who benefit as well as very importantly our students.

So, thank-you for being with us today. Linden, thank-you for what you do and the remarkable leadership you’ve shown in this, in this entire enterprise. Uh, and we look forward to continuing to work with all of you, uh, in in all of this. Thank-you. [applause]

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