Vikram Jandhyala, the University of Washington’s innovation leader and a conduit between the school and the region’s tech community, has died at 47 years old.
Mr. Jandhyala was at UW in one capacity or another since coming to Seattle in 2000 as a faculty member. By 2016, Mr. Jandhyala told The Seattle Times his business cards had to be printed sideways in order to list all the jobs he held at the university.
After leading the department of electrical and computer engineering, he overhauled UW’s startup office by changing its focus and rebranding it CoMotion. As the creator of two startups, he was a natural choice to revamp the office. Under Mr. Jandhyala’s leadership, the office’s mission shifted from helping fledgling tech companies to bridging innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the university. Last month, Mr. Jandhyala announced he planned to step down as executive director of CoMotion after five years of leading the center.
In the true spirit of an entrepreneur, Mr. Jandhyala then helped launch and became the co-CEO of the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX). The graduate institution was a new kind of partnership between UW and China’s Tsinghua University. The Bellevue-based GIX graduated its first class in December.
“We were all fortunate to witness what he helped create through CoMotion — evolving it from a tech-transfer office into a true hub for innovation and innovators — and through the groundbreaking Global Innovation Exchange,” UW President Ana Mari Cauce said in a statement. “Both will stand as testaments to Vikram’s legacy.”
Microsoft President Brad Smith worked closely with Mr. Jandhyala to launch GIX, which Microsoft helped fund. Smith said Mr. Jandhyala was the driving force behind launching the institution and its evolution.
“Every step that we have taken has been based on this vision and commitment and persistence, and quiet problem-solving ability and sense of diplomacy, that I will always associate with Vikram,” Smith said.
Mr. Jandhyala died by suicide, according to the statement from Cauce.
News of Mr. Jandhyala’s death hit Seattle’s tech community hard. Madrona Venture Group’s managing directors put out a joint statement because each of them knew him so well.
“Vikram was a close part of the Madrona family for years,” the statement said. “He worked with us on the funding of a company 13 years ago, and since then, we have worked with him in our business lives as well as had him a part of our social fabric. He took CoMotion and made it a strong force of innovation for the entire ecosystem, making a real difference in the lives of students and professors. He gave so much to all of us and we are devastated by the news of his death.”
Mr. Jandhyala is survived by his wife, Suja Vaidyanathan, and two sons ages 5 and 7. On a GoFundMe page set up by Vaidyanathan, she describes a man adored by his boys and passionate about bridging gaps between disciplines.
“We were highly supportive of each other’s life goals,” she wrote. “His life goal was to make entrepreneurship a part of higher education across all disciplines, not just technology. My life goal is to drop my kids off at school and pick them up every day while pursuing my entrepreneurial passion in the time I had left between drop off and pickup.”