Katehi touts university's partnership with Sacramento tech alliance
February 19, 2010
By Mitchel Benson
As a young assistant professor at the University of Michigan in 1991, Linda Katehi joined with a colleague and a graduate student to consider launching a start-up company. It might have been the right place, but it was the wrong time.
“It was a very difficult environment. Basic research was the thing faculty members needed to do to get tenure,” the UC Davis chancellor recalled in a Feb. 17 speech at the seventh annual Tech Index celebration, sponsored by the Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance, or SARTA. Katehi spoke to a sold-out luncheon audience of 440 at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Sacramento.
“To create a company was another thing to worry about,” Katehi said. “Applied research was not seen as valuable.”
Katehi would eventually be part of a small start-up, but not until after 1994, when she was promoted to full professor of electrical engineering and computer science, with tenure.
Today, Katehi said, "I have been blessed with many patents (16, with six more pending), but at the same time I can tell you I have many scars.” Throughout the 1990s, she told the audience, “filing for patents was not respected or, back then, allowed.” She said it took her many years “to feel comfortable sharing the contribution” to science and engineering with other faculty members.
But the environment is different today, as UC Davis and other universities openly encourage and embrace the public-private partnerships that are vital to transferring technology from the lab bench to the market, and to providing a new and surging revenue stream for public research universities.
“I can’t tell you how important this is for my institution and the region” to partner with SARTA and its other members to boost the Sacramento technology sector, Katehi said.
In particular, she congratulated SARTA for its successful leadership, following the state Business, Transportation and Housing Agency’s recent naming of a SARTA-led proposal as one of only six new state “innovation hubs.”
UC Davis is a partner in the SARTA-led “iHub,” which will focus on accelerating clean-tech and medical technology-based entrepreneurship in the Sacramento region.
SARTA, founded in 2001, is a tech-focused non-profit organization that supports entrepreneurial programs, companies and technology investment in Butte, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Solano, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.
The organization is based on the public-private partnership of UC Davis InnovationAccess, which works to commercialize discoveries, promote research collaborations with the private sector and support new businesses that spin off from the campus; the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce; and the Golden Capital Network.
Developments like the iHub make Katehi “very optimistic about the future for us,” especially, she said, because of the creativity and leadership of the people attending SARTA’s Tech Index celebration.
Katehi invited those in the audience to join her and the larger UC Davis community in drafting the campus’s “vision for excellence,” a framework that will help guide the university in its second century and build on the university’s strengths and its mission as a land-grant institution.
During the process, she said, “We are looking for advice or feedback from our constituencies” regarding, among other things, how UC Davis can better cultivate a long-term culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, and develop a clear roadmap for partnerships in economic development.
“We are questioning everything that we have been doing,” Katehi said. “We’re trying to learn from our successes, but we’re also trying to learn from our failures. We have made a commitment to only achieve excellence, and nothing else. And excellence is a journey, not a destination.”
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