Marc Malandro served as Founding Director of the Innovation Institute from its inception in November 2013, until this month, when he departed to become vice president of operations for the Science division of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
I have been fortunate to have exciting new opportunities present themselves throughout my life at just the right time.
I reflect on this as I depart the University of Pittsburgh on a high note for innovation at Pitt, to become vice president of operations for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s Science program.
That same good fortune smiled on me in 2004, when the startup biotech company I co-founded was acquired, and a new opportunity to join Pitt’s then Office of Technology Management arose. I was instantly attracted by the challenge of licensing technologies out of the same university that helped cure polio, and pioneer the fields of organ transplantation and radio frequency identification, among so many other important discoveries.
The field of university technology transfer was still evolving and trying to find its way and Pitt, like every other university, was doing its best to figure out how to engage its faculty and students in the process, and to develop relationships with industry, investors and business accelerators.
I was thrilled to be chosen to lead the newly formed Pitt Innovation Institute four years ago, first on an interim basis, then as Founding Director. The new organization would give enhanced structure, focus and energy behind the University’s strategic imperative to achieve impact on the region and the world by fostering the movement of knowledge from the lab to the market and by inculcating a spirit of risk-taking entrepreneurship among faculty, students and staff.
The early success of the Innovation Institute is evident in three consecutive years of new records for invention disclosures submitted by Pitt Innovators, the number of U.S. patents issued, and the number of startup companies formed based on Pitt discoveries. Added to this is an explosion of Pitt student entrepreneurship and the steady growth of our programs to support regional small businesses through our affiliated Institute of Entrepreneurial Excellence.
However, numbers alone don’t tell the full story of the blossoming of innovation and entrepreneurship at Pitt.
It is witnessed in the support that Chancellor Gallagher has put behind new funding for promising early stage innovations to help accelerate the path out of University.
It is reflected in the selection of Rob Rutenbar, a veteran of his own startups launched out of Carnegie Mellon, as Pitt’s new Senior Vice Chancellor for Research.
It is seen in the launch two years ago of the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance between Pitt, CMU and UPMC, and the creation of the Pitt Center for Commercial Applications of Healthcare Data, which is at work to identify and fund promising technologies that result from the application of data science and machine learning to healthcare data.
It is revealed in the new entrepreneurship certificate program in Innovation, Product Design & Entrepreneurship at the Swanson School of Engineering, for which the Innovation Institute’s Blast Furnace student accelerator program is a capstone course.
It is displayed in the increased support for student entrepreneurs from alumni and friends of the University, like Pitt Trustee Bob Randall and his family, Michael G. Wells, Laure and Andy Kuzneski and Jonathan Hudson, who all have supported student competitions.
Importantly, it is also seen in the increased interest from startup accelerators, industry and investors in partnering with Pitt to accelerate the commercial translation process.
A prime example is the collaborative agreement reached last month with healthcare giant Philips to train Pitt students in innovation and commercialize Pitt technologies in the sleep and respiratory care space.
It is especially gratifying that Philips has co-located its local research and development offices to the Pitt campus to be immersed in the University’s innovation ecosystem. Pitt and the region at large need to encourage more such partnerships in the life science space to complement what has been done in software, machine learning and robotics with companies like Google, Argo, Autodesk, Apple, Amazon and others establishing beachheads in Pittsburgh to take advantage of our world class research capabilities.
So it is with excitement for the momentum of innovation and entrepreneurship at Pitt, and with supreme confidence in the talented staff I have had the privilege to lead to continue the work of the Innovation Institute forward that I welcome my new opportunity at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
CZI’s Science initiative seeks partners around the world to develop enabling technologies, including development an international Human Cell Atlas — a playbook for the human body and its interconnected tissues and systems — in addition to creation of new tools that harness advances in computing power and machine learning to enable discovery at a speed and scale previously unimaginable.
It will also create challenge networks where scientists form around the world are incentivized to develop solutions for scientific problems.
These are all areas where Pitt excels, so I look forward to the opportunity to continue collaborating with Pitt faculty and students in participating in CZI Science initiatives.
The innovative and entrepreneurial spirit on campus is no one’s to ‘own’, but rather one’s to nurture and care for while they have the privilege of doing so. Hopefully, I have been a good steward while I had the opportunity. Now it’s time to pass it on…
Hail to Pitt!