Education

For innovation leader, UI picks familiar face

Hawkeye-turned-startup guru returns to leverage research

IOWA CITY — An executive immersed in developing medical devices and guiding health care start-ups — and who played basketball on the University of Iowa’s 1980 Final Four squad — is back at his alma mater in a newly named and evolving role of “chief innovation officer.”

Jon Darsee, also a consultant and occasional Des Moines Register contributor, was appointed to the reshaped post Oct. 19 after a national search. In his role, which pays $238,500 annually, he will lead innovation and economic development at the university, including several endeavors like UI Ventures, Protostudios, the MADE manufacturing and e-commerce initiative and the UI’s Research Park and Office of Corporate Engagement.

The chief innovation officer post is not new at the UI, but rather a reclassification after a director of new ventures retired last summer and after Vice President for Research and Economic Development Daniel Reed stepped down in October 2017.

In the wake of Reed’s departure, the campus hosted two public forums over how to proceed with the department. As a result, administrators decided to return the unit to its roots of fostering support for research and scholarship, and a national search for a new vice president for research is underway.

By hiring a separate innovation officer to lead its research commercialization efforts, the UI branched off its economic development and innovation pursuits.

A five-member search committee interviewed two finalists and offered Darsee the job Oct. 19. He started that same day, as he already had been working as a part-time economic development consultant for the UI since May 2017, earning a total of $261,660.

“Darsee’s lengthy and successful career experience working with start-ups brings unique qualifications and valuable skills to an important initiative at the university,” UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck told The Gazette in an email. “We’re fortunate we were able to find a candidate so qualified without the need of a search firm.”

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Darsee earned a bachelor of general studies from the UI in 1982 and went on to work for medical device development and health care start-ups and firms with global footprints.

From 2004 to 2008, he served as managing partner of Darsee and Associate, a Texas-based consulting firm. From 2008 to 2011, he served as executive vice president of sales and marketing for iRhythm Technologies, a San Francisco company that develops bio-sensing technology and cloud-based data analytics to diagnose heart arrhythmias.

He moved up to executive vice president of corporate sales and payer relations for iRhythm in 2012, and he left in 2017 after helping the Silicon Valley startup grow to 600 employees with $100 million in annual revenue, according to the UI Office of Strategic Communication.

Before his departure and return to Iowa City, according to the UI, Darsee helped iRhythm create and execute a reimbursement strategy that was “pivotal to the firm’s successful IPO in 2016.”

In addition to consulting with the UI, Darsee has continued consulting with iRhythm, Brandon Capital, Global Kinetics Corp., and Oxford Sciences Innovation — a $600 million private equity firm created to fund Oxford University startup companies.

Despite taking on the new full-time job at the UI, Darsee plans to keep consulting with those firms “because they are critically important to his success in his new position,” Beck said. For one thing, she said, the relationships help generate fresh ideas.

“They provide important opportunities to remain connected to the global innovation community and continue to build important relationships that will benefit the university and the state’s economy,” Beck said.

Darsee’s relationship with Oxford Sciences Innovation is “particularly important,” she said, in that it oversees Oxford University’s effort to commercialize its research results.

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“His work with Oxford exposes him to ideas and practices at a world-renowned academic institution that he can leverage to directly benefit research commercialization and economic development efforts at the University of Iowa,” Beck said.

Darsee’s conflict-of-interest disclosures regularly will be reviewed, Beck said. The university has “robust conflict of interest policies and a well-developed system for reporting potential conflicts” with outside work, she said.

UI President Bruce Harreld praised Darsee’s “experience building and managing start-ups from all business angles, from sales and marketing to product development, from raising venture capital to going through an (initial public offering” of a company’s stock.

“He has an entrepreneur’s drive and desire,” Harreld said in a statement. “We’re fortunate he decided to return to Iowa to give something back to his alma mater and his home state.”

UI has focused more attention on innovation and economic development in recent years as state funding has declined — fueling its need for new revenue sources and private partnerships.

The Board of Regents in September approved a $20 to $25 million proposal to renovate the UI’s flood-damaged former Art Building into an innovation center by spring 2021.

Because Darsee’s position is funded by the Regents Economic Innovation Fund, the board “has been kept apprised of the university’s realignment and hiring process,” Beck said, though the university does not believe the appointment requires regent approval.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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