Omar Zahr, PhD
Director of Technology
TandemLaunch was my first foray into the technology transfer ecosystem. As a VC with a startup foundry model, TandemLaunch invests in physical science and engineering technologies at universities by building companies around them and spinning out new ventures in the consumer technology industry.
As Technology Director I have overseen the creation of more than 17 deep-tech companies in collaboration with universities in the U.S., Canada and Europe. My experience has centered around overcoming the challenges of commercializing technologies by marrying research with intentional assembly of teams with a focus on diversity. There is immense value in building ecosystems using startups to bridge academia, industry and venture capital.
For three years I have also chaired the MRS iMatSci event to bring investment opportunities for entrepreneurs in materials science, an innovation sector that has unique challenges but has historically yielded dramatic benefits to society when successful.
What experience do you have working on or with a strategic board of directors?
I have cooperated with directors on the boards of some of our own startups but do not have any direct experience.
Please include a brief description of your volunteer experiences within AUTM.
I have dedicated my time at AUTM in sub-chair and chair positions with the Membership Development Committee. I have primarily focused on how to increase the visibility of AUTM Member benefits to non-members, and developed initiatives to increase AUTM's value for universities and industry.
What motivates you to join the AUTM Board of Directors?
I strongly believe that our community is enriched by linking academia, industry and entrepreneurship in a dynamic and cooperative ecosystem. I also believe that AUTM is uniquely positioned to represent such an ecosystem and provide a guide for any institution that wishes to proliferate research for the benefit of society. In my career I sit at the intersection of academia, industry and entrepreneurship, and I wish to leverage the experience and networks that I have grown to empower our Membership. It is my desire to see AUTM become synonymous with technology and innovation leadership.
Have you served in a volunteer leadership role for other organizations? If so, please explain.
I have chaired the iMatSci Innovation Showcase for the Materials Research Society for the past three years. Over this period we have successfully transformed this event from a presentation of innovative research to an actively engaged community of entrepreneurial inventors, industry customers and investors.
AUTM has recently changed how the Chair is appointed each year, with the Chair now selected from amongst the sitting Board members each year. If elected by the Membership to the Board, would you further consider serving as Chair of the Board. Why or why not?
I would currently not consider serving as Chair of the Board until I have gained experience as a Board member first. It is important to me that in any role I take within AUTM I am able to serve that role to the best of my ability and bring objectively better outcomes to our Membership.
Please list specific personal strengths that you believe are valuable to the AUTM Board of Directors and/or the strategic direction of the Association?
In my experience chairing the MDC I have never ceased to be amazed by the ingenuity of our volunteers. First and foremost, I want to maintain open channels to our active volunteers so that their ideas can be used to better our Membership as a whole. My time spent navigating the transition of early-stage technology from research to industry through the vehicle of deep-tech startups also provides me a perspective for the nuanced challenges that AUTM can help address to further the goals of our academic partners. Finally, my specific experience in technology transfer has focused on the physical sciences and engineering disciplines, a domain that has historically not seen many successful outcomes compared to other research areas. TandemLaunch has an unprecedented success rate in creating valuable deep-tech companies spun out of research in these domains and I wish to bring that experience for AUTM's benefit.
What special experience do you have in driving and implementing a strategic plan in other organizations?
As Technology Director at TandemLaunch I oversee the early formation of deep-tech companies. I have developed strategies for technology valuation for sourcing new opportunities, university risk mitigation during the company building process, and technology strategy for the ventures we create. Building companies is a mentorship-first activity, and so I have spent the majority of my time guiding future entrepreneurs in early venture development. At AUTM, we have devised several strategies for growing Membership, including the development of new Membership options for institutions, identifying the unique needs of our international Members and developing new ways to engage industry. All these initiatives have required close collaboration with other AUTM groups and I believe this cross-collaboration to be essential for the strategic initiatives that AUTM will undertake moving forward.
How does the three-year term for the position (both responsibilities and time commitment) fit in with your other responsibilities? Will you have any conflicts of commitment between your full-time position and your volunteer time on the AUTM Board?
I do not expect any conflicts of commitment. My work at AUTM is highly aligned with my full-time position and they positively reinforce one another. All my commitments are aligned with my overarching desire to dissolve the barriers between research and society.
AUTM is committed to addressing issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion both amongst the Board and on behalf of our Members. Briefly describe how your experiences can contribute to the Association’s growth in this area.
TandemLaunch has a primary mandate towards equity, diversity and inclusion. Technology entrepreneurship has a woeful track record for diversity, especially with regards to women and the LGBTQIA+ communities. As a member of the latter community and in my position as director, I have actively applied the TandemLaunch values of EDI to our recruitment strategy. I have learned that in order to make true progress we must create environments for safe, respectful and open communication so that together we can address the enormous challenges facing us in making the goals of EDI a reality.
Is there anything else you would like AUTM members to know about you before they vote?
Over the past few years with AUTM, my fellow volunteers have been an unending source of inspiration. There are leaders at every position of our membership. I will consider my time as a Board member successful if I can bring the voices of these leaders to the fore to shape how we take on the future challenges and opportunities we face as AUTM Members.