UT in the ‘Changing the World’ Business, Professor Says

Bob Metcalfe—Ethernet co-inventor, engineer and scientist, successful entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and now professor of innovation at the Cockrell School of Engineering—is quite funny.

In between humorous anecdotes about Steve Jobs (a wedding guest and personal hero of Metcalfe’s) and jokes about why he chose old-fashioned notecards over a snazzy Power Point presentation, Metcalfe spoke about “Innovating with University Startups” to an audience of students, entrepreneurs, professionals and techies, and even his wife on Tuesday.

At UT, the silver-haired Metcalfe has started his fifth career as a professor and the Clint W. Murchison Senior Chair of Free Enterprise, a title he loves. Metcalfe believes his role at the University is to teach students how to “operate the machinery of free enterprise,” one of his favorite phrases. He sees university startups as a tool of innovation and a way to ensure freedom and prosperity.

“I’m in the changing the world business,” said Metcalfe, who nonetheless suggested changing UT’s slogan to “What continues here improves the world.”

“Because it doesn’t really start here, right?” Metcalfe reasoned. “I now have 77 students and they came from somewhere else and are just full of capability, and they didn’t really get it here. They came here with it. So we are just continuing the process of bringing them along.”

Metcalfe quickly established the difference between his role at UT and that of the Office of Technology Commercialization, which handles the intellectual property created at the university and is led by Richard Miller.

“Startups at research universities and the Office of Technology Commercialization are not the same thing,” Metcalfe says. “There is an overlap, but they are slightly different. Miller and I are on the same team. We are trying to maximize the impact here, but we have different roles. His role is to deal with IP, and my role is to stimulate startups. Often those are the same thing, but some times they are not.”

To make sense of the messy and complex process of innovation, Metcalfe created what he calls the Doriot Ecology, named after Harvard Business School professor George Doriot, who is said to have founded the world’s first venture capital firm 65 years ago. Metcalfe’s ecology is comprised of research professors, venture capitalists, early adopters, scaling entrepreneurs, strategic partners, and students, all of whom are essential to innovation.

In his class, 1 Semester Startup, Metcalfe teaches his 77 students how to innovate successfully by improving health and stamina, speaking, writing, planning, selling, and listening. They all fall under the umbrella of networking, which is the key to making a startup effective, Metcalfe says.

For more on Miller, Metcalfe, and the effort to produce valuable technology startups out of UT, stay tuned for the “But Will It Sell?” feature in the November|December issue of The Alcalde.

Bob Metcalfe speaks to SXSW Interactive earlier this year. Photo courtesy the Cockrell School of Engineering.


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