Vikram Jandhyala, UW innovation leader and key figure in Seattle tech, dies at age 47

Vikram Jandhyala. (University of Washington Photo)

Vikram Jandhyala, the University of Washington’s vice provost for innovation and a key link between the UW and the Seattle region’s technology community, has died as a result of suicide, according to a statement this afternoon by Ana Mari Cauce, the University of Washington president.

Jandhyala, 47, led the UW’s innovation center, CoMotion, for five years. Earlier this year, he announced that he would be stepping down in June. Cauce described him as “an innovator in every sense of the word, and someone for whom “inclusive innovation” wasn’t just a catchphrase, but a guiding principle.”

She wrote, “This was core to his belief in combining innovation with empathy, because as he put it, “Once we understand someone else, compassion is what makes us want to help them.” This advocacy for what Vikram called a “Seattle style of innovation” can be seen in his leadership of CoMotion and in communities not just in the Puget Sound, but around the world.”

-Jandhyala was wellknown in the Seattle tech community over the past two decades as a respected professor, researcher, founder, speaker, and champion of entrepreneurship. He first joined the UW faculty in 2000 and founded his own startup in 2007 called Nimbic that was later acquired by Mentor Graphics.

Jandhyala became chair of the UW’s electrical engineering department in 2011 and was named the university’s vice provost of innovation in June 2014. His title evolved into vice president of innovation strategy as Jandhyala led CoMotion, which helps startups through education and access to experts and funding sources.

Under the leadership of Jandhyala, the UW has ranked among the top 10 on Reuters’ list of the world’s most innovative universities for the past several years and cracked the top 10 of the Milken Institute national tech transfer rankings. CoMotion also helped open a makerspace on campus; created an Amazon Catalyst program; and launched the Mobility Innovation Center with Challenge Seattle.

Jandhyala is survived by two sons, ages 5 and 7, according to a GoFundMe campaign page seeking financial support to cover basic living costs for his children. His wife, Suja Vaidyanathan, writes on that page that she and Jandhyala remained married, but had lived separate lives for a few years.

“Vikram was a complex person and our relationship was equally complex,” Vaidyanathan wrote. “The pressures of two high-stress careers, raising young children and some incompatibilities took a toll on our marriage. We could have worked through one or two of these pressure but our relationship couldn’t take all three.”

Vaidyanathan also said that the two were “highly supportive of each other’s life goals” and that “his life goal was to make entrepreneurship a part of higher education across all disciplines, not just technology.”

In a 2015 profile on GeekWire, answering a traditional question at the end of our Geek of the Week questionnaire, Jandhyala offered these “final words of advice” for his fellow geeks: “Try to be inclusive, not exclusive. Technology is great. Think about how it can solve real problems for all people. Think about how technology itself can include all people.”

GeekWire’s Taylor Soper and Kurt Schlosser contributed to this report.

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