An engineer and entrepreneur who transformed innovation at the University of Washington has died.
Vikram Jandhyala was born in 1972, the son of two physics professors. He studied at the Modern School in Delhi, India, before going on to a degree in electrical and electronics engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in the same city (1989-93). He moved to the US for a master’s and a PhD in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1993-98) and worked briefly as a development engineer at the Ansoft Corporation (1998-2000), learning crucial lessons about applied research and collaboration to achieve commercial goals.
After joining the University of Washington in 2000 as an assistant professor of electrical engineering, Professor Jandhyala was promoted to associate professor in 2005 and full professor in 2010. He also proved highly entrepreneurial, securing funding from the National Science Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the semiconductor industry and, in 2006, with a team of graduate students, setting up a company in the field of cloud-based electronic design simulation called Nimbic.
In 2014, keen to ensure that its research achieved its full commercial potential, Washington appointed its first vice-president for innovation strategy. Professor Jandhyala was an obvious candidate and played a major role in transforming what had once been its technology transfer office, CoMotion, into a genuine hub for innovation. His goal, he once said, was to “find common themes across disciplines. I want to use the lean start-up model and support social work, health breakthroughs, and work with the environment.”
As part of a longer-term plan to transform the entire university district into a technology hub, Professor Jandhyala oversaw the opening of a “start-up hall” on Washington’s Campus Parkway. Yet his interest in promoting entrepreneurship extended well beyond Seattle, since he served as a co-executive director of the Global Innovation Exchange, founded by Washington, Tsinghua University in Beijing and Microsoft, to forge “a new model of experiential education and practice to develop leaders in innovation”.
In a tribute published on the Washington website, university president Ana Mari Cauce described Professor Jandhyala as “an innovator in every sense of the word, and someone for whom ‘inclusive innovation’ wasn’t just a catchphrase, but a guiding principle. 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.’”
Professor Jandhyala took his own life on 28 February and is survived by his wife, Suja Vaidyanathan, and their two sons.