The University of Washington community mourns the loss of our friend and colleague, Vikram Jandhyala, a committed educator, innovator, and entrepreneurial leader who made a lasting impact on our campus culture and the community. In addition to his teaching and research, Jandhyala left his mark through his tireless efforts to mentor faculty and students and help translate research into real-world impact via UW CoMotion. He will also be remembered for his enthusiastic leadership of new and innovative partnerships such as the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX) in collaboration with Microsoft and Tsinghua University in China.
Jandhyala began his UW career in 2000 as a professor in what was then known as the Department of Electrical Engineering (EE). He was Founder & Chief Technologist of UW spin-out company Nimbic (formerly Physware), which developed high-speed, 3D electromagnetic simulation solutions used in hardware design that was subsequently acquired by Mentor Graphics. Jandhyala served as Department Chair of EE from 2011 to 2014, during which time he also served as the founding director of the joint UW and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Northwest Institute for Advanced Computing. He stepped down from his role as Chair to become the UW’s Vice President for Innovation Strategy and Executive Director of CoMotion.
“Vikram played many different roles and was a friend to the Allen School in each of them,” said Hank Levy, Director of the Allen School. “As chair of Electrical Engineering, he worked with us to develop a joint faculty hiring program, the Experimental Computer Engineering Lab (ExCEL), which has been incredibly successful in attracting world-class engineering faculty to UW; as head of CoMotion, he helped us to multiply the impact of our technology; and as director of GIX, he built a unique and creative international educational institution. We will miss his positive and collaborative attitude, his vision, and his enthusiastic support for the work of our faculty and students.”
In the nearly five years Jandhyala led CoMotion, he molded it into more than a technology transfer and commercialization office; under his stewardship, it became the entrepreneurial hub for the entire university community. He brought the same collaborative spirit and entrepreneurial zeal to GIX, serving as Co-executive Director since 2015 and celebrating its first graduating class of 37 students from 11 countries last year. According to UW President Ana Mari Cauce, both CoMotion and GIX “will stand as testaments to Vikram’s legacy.”
Jandhyala was joined on the GIX leadership team by his faculty colleague, Shwetak Patel, who led the interdisciplinary faculty group that helped craft the GIX curriculum and serves as its Director and Chief Technology Officer. As director of the Ubicomp Lab, Patel has taken inspiration from Jandhyala to made entrepreneurial leadership a cornerstone of his teaching and mentorship. He has started multiple companies with students and colleagues since his arrival at the UW, including residential water and energy monitoring company Zensi, which was acquired by Belkin in 2010, and SNUPI Technologies, develop of the WallyHome wireless home sensing platform that was acquired by Sears in 2015. He worked directly with Jandhyala and his team on the acquisition of his most recent startup, mobile health sensing company Senosis, by Google in 2017. Patel credits Jandhyala for helping to convince him to come to Seattle and for supporting his career trajectory melding innovative research with entrepreneurial impact.
“Vikram built an infrastructure and culture around supporting an entrepreneurial spirit that cut across the entire University,” said Patel, who holds a joint appointment in the Allen School and the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE). “He laid the groundwork for companies like Senosis to succeed by enabling us to leverage commercialization gap funding, incubation, and other programs that flourished under his leadership.
“On a personal note, Vikram was not only a colleague, but also my mentor and friend,” Patel continued. “He demonstrated through his own work and deeds that you could think big about the future of innovation and play leadership roles that help move an organization into new directions, while remaining grounded in your work with students and faculty.”
Joshua Smith, who is also a professor in both the Allen School and ECE and directs the UW’s Sensor Systems Laboratory, recalled Jandhyala’s vision and generosity in helping Smith to launch a startup company, Proprio, to commercialize a new machine-learning enabled visualization tool for surgical teams.
“Vikram selflessly catalyzed the formation of Proprio by introducing me to Dr. Sam Browd, an entrepreneurial doctor who had identified a medical need,” Smith said. “I will miss his positive, enthusiastic, and generous spirit.
“I first worked with Vikram when I was a researcher at Intel, and we collaborated on an NSF-funded research project,” Smith continued. “He went on to become faculty coordinator of EE’s Professional Master’s Program — a role I now have the privilege of filling — followed by department chair, head of CoMotion, and head of GIX. Vikram was a visionary leader and role model in all of these positions, and I marvel at how much he accomplished and how many lives he changed for the better in the short time he was here.”
Smith worked with Jandhyala on the successful spin-out of another two companies — wireless robot charging company Wibotic and Jeeva Wireless. The latter, which Smith co-founded with a team that included Allen School professor Shyam Gollakota, aims to transform the way we power the Internet of Things by enabling battery-free communication using backscatter technology. After spinning out from the UW, the company raised $5 million in venture capital, grants, and project funding. Gollakota also worked with Jandhyala on a deal with ResMed to commercialize the technology behind ApneaApp, which detects signs of sleep apnea, and the spin-out of health-oriented mobile sensing company Sound Life Sciences, which is commercializing the Second Chance opioid detection app. Both of those apps were developed in conjunction with UW Medicine — two more examples of the interdisciplinary innovation in service to big ideas that was a hallmark of Jandhyala’s leadership.
“Vikram made CoMotion a kind and supportive place that encourages researchers to take the big risks of entrepreneurship. I knew CoMotion was in safe hands because he was at the helm,” said Gollakota. “His smile and enthusiasm were extremely infectious. His death is a huge loss for the university and the Seattle tech community, and a very sad development for all of us.”
“Vikram had a huge positive impact on education, on research, and on innovation at the University of Washington and far beyond,” said professor Ed Lazowska, who holds the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in the Allen School. “Under his leadership, CoMotion completed UW’s transformation from ‘licensing’ to ‘commercialization’ to ‘innovation.’ And the Global Innovation Exchange combined technology, design, and entrepreneurship in a project-based, global context.
“Vikram was a visionary, a friend, and an inspiring leader,” Lazowska continued. “I — and all of us in the Paul G. Allen School — are among the many who understood and appreciated the work that he did to make us all better. We will miss him terribly.”
Read President Cauce’s tribute to Jandhyala here, ECE Chair Radha Poovendran’s tribute here, and articles on Jandhyala’s life and impact in GeekWire, Puget Sound Business Journal, The Seattle Times, and Xconomy.
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