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Meet Tom Daniel, the new CEO of the Washington Research Foundation – GeekWire

Tom Daniel, new CEO of the Washington Research Foundation (WRF Photo)

Washington Research Foundation appointed a new CEO: TomDanielthe former founding chairman of the Department of Biology at the University of Washington.

Daniel will take the helm of WRF on October 1 as interim CEO Susan Colitonwho took over after the retirement of the longtime CEO Ron Howell More than a year ago.

WRF was founded in 1981 to help commercialize and license technology from state universities and research institutes. This role is now largely performed by in-house technology transfer offices, and WRF’s mandate has since expanded.

The organization has provided more than $137 million in grants to state institutions to support postdoctoral salaries, faculty research, fledgling startups, and more. WRF supports innovation and entrepreneurship even before tech transfer offices get involved, and it also drives them forward through WRF Capital, which has invested in 119 startups since 1996.

“Their role in the ecosystem is that bridge, more than being strictly venture capital,” said Daniel, a former MacArthur ‘Genius’ fellow. “They do everything. And there aren’t many organizations that do that.

GeekWire spoke with Daniel, 68, about WRF’s future and how the new position fits in with his other roles, including serving on the federal advisory board of the National Science’s Biological Sciences Branch. Foundation (NSF) and the Board of Directors. for the Allen Institute and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

He also directs the UW Weill Neurohub program, which advances treatments for brain diseases. “These are all synergistic activities,” said Daniel, who rose to professor emeritus status this month and plans to continue researching the biomechanics of movement and flight in the giant butterfly. manduca sexta. He is an interdisciplinary scientist and has held adjunct positions in computer science and engineering, bioengineering, and mechanical engineering.

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Geekwire: What are you most excited about the future of WRF?

Tom Daniel: Take this life sciences sector and accelerate what’s happening out there in this region. And I use the words very carefully. I didn’t say life science startups. The life sciences industry understands startups, it understands innovation, it understands people doing science. My role as CEO is to grease the shoes of WRF staff and the projects and businesses the region is trying to move towards. WRF can inform this. If there is a partnership that can help bring the private and public sectors together, we should do it.

The WRF has primarily focused on life sciences. Do you think there are opportunities to expand the type of disciplines supported by the WRF?

It’s a bit early to tell because we’re going to do some strategic planning, and it’s going to be teamwork. It’s not easy to separate the fields: “It’s biosciences, it’s engineering, it’s environment.” The reality is that things are happening at the confluence of all of this. For example, human health and environmental conditions: look outside and there is climate change. Devices and biosciences overlap heavily in areas such as neuroscience. I struggle to find exciting new areas that don’t have a touch of machine learning and AI.

Over the past 40 years, the WRF has provided more than $570 million to Washington State nonprofit research institutes through grants and license payments. (WRF chart)

WRF has strengths in supporting early career researchers, grantmaking, and promoting and funding startups. Are there other ways to stimulate innovation?

It’s really the beginning, so I don’t know how it all unfolds. But WRF’s main goal is to enrich innovation in Washington State, supporting research and start-ups through grants and investments. There are many ways to do this. Among them are partnerships, not only with venture capital, but there can also be partnerships with the National Science Foundation – for example, if an institution wishes to create a large relevant center for technological innovation.

There are so many synergies with what WRF is trying to do and NSF’s strategic mission going forward. There is a new directorate at NSF called Technology, Innovation and Partnerships. And everything the NSF talks about — there’s a mirror in what the WRF does.

That’s a pretty interesting potential intersection.

I’ll give you another connection. I sit on the board of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. And he’s funded a whole range of efforts that aren’t in the biosciences, because that’s on the Allen Institute side. The foundation is much more focused on conservation, climate, things like that, although it also has a thrust in biosciences. Another example of partnership, and this is not unique to the WRF, is that the foundation has partnered with the NSF to fund the development of technologies for monitoring biodiversity in the context of climate change.

Do you think you are in a better position to help promote these broader goals through WRF than the UW?

Yes. WRF’s partnerships are not limited to UW. I’m an avid fan of the UW and everything there, and I’ve loved my career there, but there are awesome things happening all over the state. Our agriculture and veterinary fields are pretty thin at UW and they’re really important to the state’s economy; these are strengths at Washington State University and elsewhere. Things that directly impact the health and well-being of people in the state, that’s where the WRF can step in. There are real challenges with agriculture today and the climate.

You have also expressed an interest in increasing diversity in science and entrepreneurship, can you tell us more about the role of the WRF?

The WRF offers greater diversification of the STEM pathway, greater inclusion from discovery to translation, for example through its funding of post-docs and a recent award at Seattle Children’s. I care deeply about this. There can be no innovation in the region without a diverse pool of innovators.

What excites you about the startup ecosystem in Washington?

It was dominated by the IT sector until fairly recently, and the biotechnology sector is now starting to thrive here. It’s really interesting. And why does he start doing it? That’s partly because these two align: the IT sector within the biotech sector. And there are few places in the world that can match that alignment that we have here. This includes the strength of research institutes in this region.

There’s one research-intensive institution with this strong UW-Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center partnership, and then there’s this area immediately around with Seattle Children’s, the Allen Institute, and others. But in the Bay Area, you have institutions like Berkeley and Stanford working more separately. Boston is similar. You don’t quite get that street dress coordination we have here. It’s quite unique.

Tell us something cool about moths.

Moths have the most exquisite chemical sensing abilities in the world.