University of Florida names new director of technology transfer

April 18, 2017
Sara Dagen

The University of Florida has a new O’Connell to welcome in Gainesville. After a thorough national search, UF has selected Jim O’Connell as the new assistant vice president for technology transfer and the director of the Office of Technology Licensing.

photo of Jim O'Connell

Though he is no relation to the former UF president for whom the newly renovated Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center is named, this O’Connell shot a selfie in front of the building on his first trip to Gainesville.

“Mr. O’Connell will work with internal and external constituents to provide strategic leadership and direction in building and capitalizing on facilities, expertise, and technology at the University of Florida,” said Dr. David Norton, vice president for research.

O’Connell will oversee the Office of Technology Licensing (OTL) program and be responsible for two business incubators, the Sid Martin Biotechnology Institute and the Innovation Hub at UF. OTL transfers technologies arising from the discoveries of UF faculty and staff to the marketplace in order to enhance the university’s educational and research missions.

“I think Jim is the ideal fit for UF,” said David Day, the outgoing assistant vice president and director. “With both his private sector and university tech commercialization experience, we are most fortunate to land him.  We had an outstanding field of candidates, and our search committee performed admirably.  But the feedback from the broad-ranging search process was that Jim was the clear choice.

“He has already seized the reigns and is running things his way,” Day continued. “I am totally confident that he will build upon the existing program and take UF to greater heights.” 

O’Connell replaces Day, who is retiring after serving in the position since 2001. Under Day’s leadership, UF consistently has ranked among the top universities for startup launches and licensing. In the past 16 years, UF OTL has launched 195 biomedical and technology startups and generated more than $1 billion in private investment. Last year the office signed a record 122 licenses and options.

“Following David Day is a tough act,” O’Connell admits. “In addition to building a tremendous office in tech transfer, he has established the University of Florida as a presence nationally.”

As the director of OTL, O’Connell hopes not only to continue the upward climb of the office, but he also intends to join with UF President Kent Fuchs in making the university one of the Top 5 in the nation in research and tech transfer. He comes into the position with a broad range of experiences.

“I’ve been in two startups and worked in the medical device industry,” O’Connell said. “I’ve worked with both the University of Miami, which deals with biomedical technologies on a much smaller scale, and with the University of Michigan, which by research dollars is the largest public research university.

“I hope to bring my experience to bear in aligning my goals with Dr. Fuchs’. I want to make Florida one of the Top 5 public universities in research, tech transfer, and in startups produced.”

O’Connell served in the United States Air Force as a chief evaluator helicopter pilot and still flies helicopters on occasions.

“My other thrill-seeking activities include biking, as in cycling, not motorcycles,” he said. “I ride road bikes, and I’ve done cyclocross competitions. Those bikes look like road bikes but have knobby tires. In competition, you ride off-road on courses that are like an obstacle course.”

(Think “tough mudders” for cyclists rather than runners. Individual riders traverse grass, dirt, mud, gravel, sand, obstacles, and barriers that might require them to carry rather than ride the bike in some sections.) O’Connell took 6th place in Michigan competition, didn’t race last year in Miami, and says “I’m overweight and out of shape” but plans to race again.

“I look forward to watching the continued ascension of the program at UF and take great pride to have been a part of something that delivers so much good to the world,” said Day. “It makes it easier to leave, knowing the program is in such good hands.”

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