Dan Reed took over in his position at the university in October. He had worked at Microsoft Corp. since 2007, most recently as a vice president. His Microsoft experience came after a long career in the academic world, including at the University of North Carolina, where he directed the Renaissance Computing Institute that was a collaborative venture among several of the state’s universities. Reed, who grew up and spent much of his life in the Midwest, hopes to work with area businesses on research initiatives. Recently, Iowa and Iowa State University announced a research sponsorship option that will allow businesses to negotiate exclusive licenses to breakthroughs that grow out of partnerships with the universities.


What interested you in the position at the University of Iowa?

I spent pretty much all of my life in academia. The last few years, I ran Microsoft’s global technology engagement, which means I spent a lot of time traveling around the world talking to governments about the future and the implications of technical change and how we adapt with that. What I saw is that institutions are struggling with the rate of change. At the same time, universities are in huge flux in the U.S. right now because of the economic downturn, angst about tuition and concerns about technology transfer. So the whole compact between universities and society is being renegotiated in some pretty profound ways. It seemed like an opportune time to return to academia and be part of helping solve some of those problems.


What did you learn at Microsoft that will help you in this position?


You learn, in industry, the process via which businesses make decisions, and the constraints under which they operate; the time value of money, and the complexity of dealing with conflicting objectives in a global environment, and also the process via which internally new ideas take shape as real products. The notion of what the process is from innovation and its translation into reality was a real insight. I also managed something called Microsoft’s Innovation Outreach Program. It involved engaging with companies and what increasingly large companies have in chief innovation officers, whose fundamental job is to worry about these same things. What are the technology or economic or social upsets that could destroy a business model? That sort of practical insight was one of the things that I took away.


How do you plan to work with area businesses?

We’re looking at how we preserve the things that make universities state and national treasures, and that universities are really incubators for new ideas and the trainers of a new generation of people who will take those new ideas out. But we want to marry that with the sensibilities and understanding of what enables or limits businesses from taking up new ideas. We want to build better partnerships that match the constraints and opportunity that each of the parties bring to the table. For example, as research ideas are created, what mechanisms can we use to transfer those? One (of those mechanisms) is we license intellectual property to companies. Another thing we are doing is ... the University of Iowa entrepreneurship program. Then there’s a third piece we’re looking at; that is how do we partner with existing companies to help them address their business challenges?


What do businesses need to know about the new research sponsorship option?

Time really is money. If the technology really is valuable, (businesses) want to bring it to market quickly. They want financial certainty, knowing what the terms are upfront. So the terms are really about saying ‘We will give you an option,’ which says upfront we will give you complete certainty about what the intellectual property terms can be. The nature of research is you are asking questions to which you don’t know the answer. But we’re saying, nevertheless, we will guarantee you financial terms for what neither of us know yet that could be discovered.


What do you do for fun?

I’m an amateur astronomer. In Seattle I may have lived in one of the worst places in the country to practice that hobby because it rains a lot. The clear skies here are one of the great things about the hobby, which is being able to go out in the evening and combine my technology passion and taking photos of the night sky, and the contemplation of our place in the universe.