Innovation Day kicks off busy month of research-related events

A busy month of research-themed events got under way on Monday, May 6 with an Innovation Luncheon featuring a speaker from a venture capital firm and an Innovation Open House highlighting companies and programs with ties to UO research. Both events were presented by the office for Research, Innovation and Graduate Education.

Kimberly Andrews Espy, vice president for research and innovation and dean of the graduate school, kicked off the luncheon in the Ford Room of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art by pointing to the many research, innovation and graduate education-related events happening on campus. She introduced featured speaker Kirk Washington, a founding partner at the Vancouver, B.C.-based startup investor Yaletown Venture Partners.

Speaking before an audience of about 50 faculty members, entrepreneurs, industry partners and other supporters of UO research and innovation, Washington discussed some of the challenges of being a venture capitalist, including being prepared to make some costly mistakes.

“Training a venture capitalist is like training a fighter jet pilot,” he said. “You have to be willing to wreck at least one $30 million investment and then walk away.”

The opportunity for universities to partner with investors seeking to reduce their research and development costs was another theme of Washington’s talk. He discussed the consolidation of the venture capital industry and explained how the presence of fewer firms managing larger amounts of capital, made it more important than ever for startups to be at the top of their game. He spelled out three crucial success factors for startups: 1. Understanding the value of what you are offering, 2. Expanding your definition of the competition and 3. Marketing early and adeptly.

Washington answered audience questions, discussing some of the ways universities like the UO can encourage venture capital investments in research and talking about some of the limitations and opportunities of operating in a smaller market like Eugene.

Innovation Open House a big draw for supporters of UO research

The luncheon was followed by the inaugural Innovation Open House, an expo featuring 18 different companies, departments and programs with ties to UO research, including:

The event drew dozens to the museum’s Papé Reception Room. Informational booths from the participating startup firms and programs ringed the outside of the room and attendees made their way from station to station.

Sean Thorne, a 22-year-old UO economics major and founder of the startup Hallspot — a company that advertises “a better network for college students” — came to the event to meet other entrepreneurs and help promote his company. He said being a younger startup founder had its advantages and disadvantages. Although investors were sometimes less willing to take a less-seasoned founder seriously, the firm has benefitted from the counsel of local CEOs, entrepreneurs other well-established business people.

Nathan Lillegard, the co-founder of the UO-affiliated spinout Floragenex and the program manager of the UO’s Technology Entrepreneurship Program, took an interest in Hallspot when Thorne first introduced himself.

“He came into my office and said, ‘I’m starting a company,’” Lillegard recalls. “He had a lot of passion, and I wanted to help push him forward.”

Lillegard now serves on the Hallspot board of directors and others — including Charles Williams, the UO’s assistant vice president for innovation who serves as an informal advisor — have gotten behind the firm, which plans to launch its product in fall 2013.

“As with any startup there are challenges along the way,” Thorne said. “We just try not to look at a problem as a ‘problem.’ It’s an opportunity to improve.”

May research, innovation and graduate education-related events

May 7, Presidential Research Lecture, featuring Geri Richmond
Lillis Business Complex, Auditorium 182
7 p.m.

May 8, Graduate School, Three Minute Thesis Competition Championship
Fir Room, Erb Memorial Union
4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

May 9, Graduate Student Research Forum
Multiple Spaces at the EMU
9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

May 9, “Too Many P’s”? Personal, Political, Publics and Potatoes – a conversation about the politics of food and kinship with novelist Ruth Ozeki and five others.
Center for the Study of Women in Society
Fir Room, Erb Memorial Union
6:00 p.m.

May 28, UO Research Excellence Awards
Six awards: Outstanding Career Awards, Early Career Award, and Outstanding Accomplishment Awards

May 28, “Single Cell Analysis in Early Mammalian Development,” 28th Annual Streisinger Lecture, given by Janet Rossant, Senior Scientist and Chief of Research at “The Hospital for Sick Children.”
Institute of Molecular Biology
100 Willamette Hall
4:00 p.m.

May 29, “How Human Beings Got Morality, Religion, Civilization, and Humanity.”
Oregon Humanities Center182 Lillis Hall
7:30 p.m.

May 30, “What on Earth is Happening to Us? Polarization, Demonization and Paralysis in America Politics.”
Oregon Humanities Center
UO in Portland, 70 NW Couch St. Sponsor
7:00 p.m.