Jerry M. Woodall, the new director of Purdue University's ambitious entrepreneurship center, enjoyed an illustrious career spanning three decades at International Business Machines Corp.
But for the 66-year-old New Englander, a job at New York-based IBM emerged only after another public corporation, The Gillette Co. in Boston, rescinded its offer. It did so, oddly enough, after learning he had only one eye. A cataract led doctors to remove his left eye after birth.
"I distinctly remember them telling me I'd be an industrial risk," he recalled, noting the research laboratory in which he was to work sat near Gillette's razor-blade factory.
Now, Woodall will counsel fledgling entrepreneurs confronting their own risks in launching their companies. Purdue named him to lead its Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship in June. His tenure officially began this month, however, as he relocated from his New Haven, Conn., home.
Builders finished the $7 million center, which encompasses 31,000 square feet on two stories, in June 2004. The facility is the first to be completed at the university's interdisciplinary research hub known as Discovery Park.
Woodall said his initial role will be to "grease the skids" for faculty members whose research may lead to startup businesses. The consultative position had been absent, as innovative ideas previously were jettisoned to the Purdue Research Park with little guidance.
With Woodall acting as a liaison, entrepreneurs can receive the mentoring they need to determine whether their venture has potential-before advancing to the research park.
Having the consulting and research activities in separate areas differentiates Purdue from other state universities that feature entrepreneurial activities, said Steve Beck, executive director of the Indiana Venture Center. Purdue, Indiana University, University of Notre Dame, Ball State University and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology all are partners in the not-for-profit venture center.
Further, Beck said Woodall's diverse background as a researcher and entrepreneur should benefit those seeking advice on business plans.
"The signal [the center is] sending to both the business community and to the university is that it will have a significant influence on Purdue, and hopefully, the economic development of Indiana," Beck said. "This is a significant commitment to recruit Jerry from Yale [University] to come in and do this."
Back for more
Woodall arrives at Purdue-for a second time-with impeccable credentials. His first tenure at the West Lafayette campus lasted from 1993 to 1998, when he departed to teach computer engineering at Yale. He found himself lamenting his decision to leave, however, and is glad to be back. Aside from his duties at the entrepreneurship center, he holds the title of distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering.
He spent 31 years, beginning in 1962, at IBM Research. There, he invented semiconductor technology used in telecommunications. He has been issued 67 patents and received nine NASA Certificates of Recognition and four Outstanding Innovation awards from IBM. His most significant honor came in 2001, when President Bush awarded him a National Medal of Technology.
During the past decade, he has launched three companies, one of which remains in operation. Light Spin Technologies, based at Yale, is bringing to market specialty compound semi-conductor devices.
Charles Rutledge, vice president for research at Purdue who served as executive director of Discovery Park until July 20, said Woodall's varied background should fit the entrepreneurship center's mission well.
"He came back here mostly because of Discovery Park and the concept of taking this high-tech technology from the laboratories of professors and moving it into the commercial marketplace," Rutledge said. "But the main thing is, he's a very enthusiastic, creative and innovative person who students can really learn a lot from."
One of a kind
Besides the entrepreneurship center, Discovery Park will host the e-Enterprise Center, Bindley Bioscience Center, the Birck Nanotechnology Center, Discovery Learning Center and a biomedical engineering building.
David Millard, chairman of the Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg LLP law firm's entrepreneurial services practice group, said the park is a formidable part of the university.
"What they're doing up there continues to be very impressive and unprecedented in the country," he said. "It is phenomenal for Indiana businesses, because we are seeing the results of innovation that they have seen in Minneapolis, Silicon Valley and the Research Triangle [in North Carolina]."
One of Woodall's first assignments is to take an extended tour this fall of major business schools and their entrepreneurship activities, and compare their programs to those of Purdue's.
Woodall is confident Purdue will fare well against the competition.
"There is no other place like Discovery Park on the face of the earth that we know of," he said. "The people of Indiana should be proud that it's there. I'm really excited about it."
Woodall earned his undergraduate degree in 1960 from MIT and his doctorate from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1982.
The Burton D. Morgan Foundation, established by Morgan, who died in 2003, funded the entrepreneurship center. A Purdue alumnus from Hudson, Ohio, Morgan started 50 companies.