As she comes to Kansas University, Julie Goonewardene is all about helping turn faculty ideas into marketable ideas.
And those who worked with her at Purdue University say she’s one of the best around at it. Those former colleagues include KU’s Provost Jeff Vitter, who worked with her as a former dean of sciences at Purdue.
Goonewardene (it’s pronounced goon-WAR-den) came to Purdue in 2005 after working with three different start-up companies.
She has worked at the Purdue Research Foundation in several roles, including as director of business development.
Goonewardene will start work at KU next week as associate vice chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship. She will work with both the Lawrence and KU Medical Center campuses.
She said she has a passion for helping faculty members be as successful as possible with start-up companies, including helping them with business plans and introducing them to potential investors.
“There is nothing in the traditional faculty career path that trains them to become an entrepreneur,” she said.
Dan Raftery, a chemistry professor at Purdue, said he leaned on Goonewardene when establishing his business, Matrix-Bio, which features a diagnostic screening to help with early detection of breast cancer.
He knew he wanted to become an entrepreneur when the business began in 2006, but didn’t know some of the basics, he said.
Goonewardene gave him advice and direction, including shaping his business plan, tempering his expectations and finding angel investors.
“She has a very, very broad network,” Raftery said. “She’s one of the best-connected people in the state. It’s going to be a real loss for Purdue and a real gain for Kansas.”
Goonewardene said, after taking her last venture-capital based software company public, she began to see the opportunities available for working with faculty members.
“I come from an academic family,” she said. “My father and several of my cousins are professors. I care a great deal and have a great admiration for what happens at a university.”
One area of focus at KU will be bringing in many different disciplines of the university to help with entrepreneurship. People skilled in communications, she said, can help new businesses communicate effectively with the public.
Raftery said at Purdue, Goonewardene helped him connect with business students who contributed to his business plan.
Purdue has long been plugged into entrepreneurial opportunities — its decades-old Purdue Research Park on campus is home to more than 140 companies and employs more than 2,700 people.
The park has been a good source of high-quality jobs in the area, and keeps talented students employed in the city of West Lafayette, Ind., especially with Indianapolis looming nearby, Raftery said.
And entrepreneurial opportunities such as the ones Goonewardene offers can help retain quality faculty, too, he said.
When companies successfully license technologies, it can be a financial boon for both the university and the inventor, Goonewardene said. But often, it means more than that, she said. In the case of Raftery’s Matrix-Bio, his potential new screening for breast cancer could save a mother, a daughter or an aunt. And helping people accomplish that type of goal is her real passion, she said.
She said she was looking forward to coming to KU, where she said she sees great opportunities for entrepreneurial success in KU’s strong pharmacy and engineering programs, as well as other areas.
“I think KU’s a little bit of a well-kept secret,” she said. “I think in this central part of the country, we tend to be a little modest. We’ll probably boast a little more about KU than we have in the past.”