Ethernet inventor to join UT faculty as program leader

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The Cockrell School of Engineering selected Robert Metcalfe, a venture capitalist and inventor, to oversee innovation and entrepreneurship at UT.

Metcalfe brings to the University a variety of experiences, said Gregory Fenves, dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering.

“We have been looking to strengthen our entrepreneurial sector. The key was finding the right person to do it,” Fenves said. “Bob Metcalfe was that person. In addition to working with students, Dr. Metcalfe will be fostering more dynamic interaction among faculty, research associates and graduate students, and venture capitalists, industrial partners and early adopters of technology.”

In the 1970s, Metcalfe worked in the Computer Science Laboratory of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, where he invented today’s local-area networking standard, Ethernet. During the 1990s, Metcalfe published InfoWorld and wrote an Internet column with half a million weekly readers.

He was also a consulting associate professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University from 1975-83. Since 2001, Metcalfe has been a partner of the Massachusetts-based venture capital firm Polaris Venture Partners and will continue advising the firm.

“I have an established pattern of changing careers every decade,” Metcalfe said. “This is the right change for me. The [Cockrell] School of Engineering is a top-10 school, and I’ve always been an engineer at heart. I thought this would be a great place to make an impact in the field of innovation.”

He said he did not agree with the idea that the ability to innovate was an innate quality.

“Innovators are not born, they are made,” he said. “People see innovation as randomness. They don’t believe that there is any way of understanding or making sense of that randomness. I want to set up a robust system to face that randomness.”

Metcalfe will work as director of the programs centered around entrepreneurship and innovations in the School of Engineering and will work with the McCombs School of Business through Texas Venture Labs.

“[Metcalfe] is not only one of the great American entrepreneurs, he is also an experienced venture capitalist and a respected pundit,” said Jon Flint, co-founder of Polaris Venture Partners. “Those attributes will be a huge asset to UT and the entrepreneurial community in Austin.”