Supporting innovation at Yale and in New Haven: A Q&A with Josh Geballe
In February, Josh Geballe ’97, ’02 M.B.A., a technology professional who had been serving on Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont’s leadership team, returned to Yale as the university’s first senior associate provost for entrepreneurship and innovation.
In the new role, Geballe will serve as managing director of the newly announced Yale Ventures to nurture an already robust innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem at Yale and in Greater New Haven.
Geballe served as chief operating officer for the state of Connecticut since February 2020 and as commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services since January 2019. Prior to his time with the state, Geballe spent 17 years in the technology sector.
He sat down with Yale News to talk about why he’s excited to be back at Yale, his goals in this new role, and the launch of Yale Ventures, a new initiative to expand innovation and entrepreneurship across the university and throughout New Haven.
What drew you back to Yale?
Josh Geballe: I always thought the next chapter of my career after my stint in public service would be back in the New Haven startup ecosystem. It's a great community. It's got so much potential and has a lot of momentum. I thought that maybe I'd do another startup or maybe I'd work with other startups. But when this opportunity came up, and I saw the chance to do all of that and rejoin Yale, to help leverage the Yale platform to create more opportunities for other people, I was immediately attracted to it.
This is the type of work that I really love. My 25-year Yale College reunion is this spring. Over the course of those 25 years, I've been fortunate to do a lot of different things. But working with entrepreneurs, working with people who want to see their ideas and inventions have a huge impact on the world — I just love working with that type of person, and I hope that I can be helpful to them.
You have a long history in the technology industry. How do you see that experience informing your work at Yale?
Geballe: I spent 11 years at IBM and then I left to become the CEO of a small software company. We grew that significantly and, ultimately, we were acquired by Thermo Fisher Scientific. Through that journey, I lived all of the highs and lows that go along with building a startup and being the leader of a small business. And I think that perspective will be very helpful in this role because that journey is hard to explain unless you've lived it. And once you have, you accumulate a lot of knowledge and lessons learned that can be very helpful to others who are embarking on that journey for the first time. So I'm really excited about being able to use those experiences to help entrepreneurs here at Yale.
What are some of your goals in this role?
Geballe: We talk about goals in three main categories. The first has to do with service. A lot of the programs that we're responsible for, whether it’s our core tech transfer services to protect and license Yale’s intellectual property or through the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale [Tsai CITY] or other entrepreneurship or innovation programs at the university, we really want to start with service in mind. In particular, service to faculty, students, and staff who want to innovate, who want to solve hard problems, who want to translate their research into new startups or new partnerships. So we're very focused on examining and enhancing the services that we provide that help make that journey easier and more accessible for those stakeholders.
The second goal is around impact. In the end, why we're doing all of this is to have the greatest possible positive impact on the world. The other aspect of impact is when we're successful, innovation has an impact on our community as well. It helps drive economic growth, helps create opportunity in our communities, helps create jobs, helps attract and retain the best scholars and students.
The third goal is about community. We see an opportunity to establish New Haven as one of the top entrepreneurial ecosystems in the world. We've made so much progress over the last decade, but we are also just getting started. And as we continue to grow and build those connections between the entrepreneurial ecosystem — within Yale as well as within that broader New Haven community and even across Connecticut — we have the opportunity to get that flywheel spinning faster in ways that help make these challenges easier for everybody. Easier to find employees that you need to grow your business, to access capital and mentorship, to find locations to expand your office, to have interesting events and speakers, to have a network that people want to join and stay and be part of it.
You’ve just announced the launch of Yale Ventures. How did it come about?
Geballe: Mike Crair, the vice provost for research, really started thinking about this topic well over a year ago, evaluating the landscape of entrepreneurship and innovation at Yale. He spent a lot of time talking to faculty, talking to other universities about what's working, where there are opportunities for us to do more. I joined a couple months ago and have been working to build on the foundation that he established, to see what the structure on top of that foundation is going to look like. And that's what's become Yale Ventures.
How do the university’s existing resources fit into Yale Ventures?
Geballe: Yale Ventures is going to be organized into four primary teams. The first is called Intellectual Property and Licensing Services. Made up of most of what has been known as the Office of Cooperative Research [OCR], the team will be working with Yale innovators to patent and license out their discoveries and technologies.
The second is called Innovation Training and Startups, and this is the team that will comprise the programs designed to help faculty and students develop their ideas and, in many cases, spin them out into new startups. This will include programs like the Blavatnik Fund, the Center for Biomedical Innovation and Technology [CBIT], and Tsai CITY.
The third team will be focused on corporate partnerships to help attract more resources that enable us to accelerate research and innovation across the university. This will be done in close collaboration with the Office of Development who already build alliances with corporations who want to invest in Yale scholarship and Yale projects.
And the fourth team is called the Innovation Community. This is the team that will be focused on helping to build the ecosystem, making sure people are aware of the events, programs, and everything going on. They’ll help develop and build out our mentorship and investor networks as well as celebrate and recognize successes, which we've historically not done enough of.
What new resources will be available to the Yale community through Yale Ventures?
Geballe: The university is committing significant additional resources to enhance the staff and the programming for each of these teams. We expect to have more announcements about that in the coming weeks.
How important is community when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship?
Geballe: Entrepreneurship is often a lonely road. It's a very risky proposition. And typically, first-time entrepreneurs have to learn a wide variety of domains that they probably have never been exposed to before and may not have anything to do with their core area of expertise. Building the community in a way that gives them the ability to learn from and benefit from others who've been down these paths before and have the scar tissue built up from when things have gone the wrong way is incredibly important and helpful.
In addition, when you have a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, it builds confidence — and not just in the founders, but in everybody — that it's a good place to grow professionally and it's a good place to put down roots. You know that if one venture doesn't work out, you're part of a community where there will quickly be other opportunities that you can jump on board.
Are you collaborating with the city of New Haven on Yale Ventures?
Geballe: We are in active conversations with the city and state on this. I met with the mayor and many people from university administration meet with the city regularly, and we're incredibly well aligned on both the importance of building the entrepreneurial community in the city and the steps we want to work together on to make that a reality.
The city is an incredibly important and supportive partner in this, as are a lot of the other institutions including other businesses in New Haven, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. We’ve also created a group of New Haven-area CEOs and founders who've started to meet regularly to discuss opportunities of how we can work together to help propel this ecosystem forward.