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Electrical engineering alumnus crosses the country to give back and re-energize Ohio

Kaitor Kposowa | Feb 24, 2014
David Pidwell

Electrical engineering alumnus crosses the country to give back and re-energize Ohio

Kaitor Kposowa | Feb 24, 2014


A Silicon Valley venture capitalist and distinguished electrical engineering graduate of the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology recently visited campus for a week as part of his mission to help build new industry in Ohio.

David Pidwell, BSEE ’69, MS ’70, has been working for seven years with faculty, staff and students at Ohio University to build a campus culture around entrepreneurial business development and an understanding of why that’s important in the creation of new industry in the state.

“At Ohio University we have two responsibilities: One is to teach the principles of entrepreneurship -- how to take an idea and evolve it into a business -- and secondly, to do research that is worthy of being commercialized and aligned with the new industry Ohio,” said Pidwell, a partner with Silicon Valley venture capital firm Alloy Ventures since 1996.  

Spending his time on campus lecturing, teaching classes, and meeting with researchers and young entrepreneurs, Pidwell said he believes Ohio is facing an uphill challenge with unemployment due to a loss of industry and that the solution is getting Ohians more interested in building new industry.

Pidwell believes that the state has several opportunities for new industry creation. Some examples include the extraction of oil and natural gas from shale, the cure and management of diabetes and obesity, and the development of synthetic rubber from polymer chemistry. He says one of Ohio's biggest challenges will be building a critical mass of skilled workers for each of the new industries.

“I’m encouraging students and researchers to get aligned with local companies and new industry, so we can understand their problems, their priorities, and where they need to advance the state of the art of technology, and then to do research in support of these priorities and license that technology into the business world.”

Pidwell, who is also a visiting lecturer at Stanford University Graduate School of Business, a trustee of the Ohio University Foundation and a member of the Russ College Board of Visitors, travels to campus every other month. He also has hosted OHIO students visiting Silicon Valley.

On this last visit, he dined with Russ College Engineering Ambassadors at the Ohio University Inn, taught several classes with Russ College student attendees, and met one-on-one with students to talk about their business ideas.

Sarah Anderson, an Engineering Ambassador studying industrial and systems engineering, said she was encouraged by Pidwell’s confidence in students and in their potential to move the state of Ohio forward with their innovations.

“It was clear that this was something he was passionate about, and that he was willing to do whatever it takes to help us to reach our goals as well. As an entrepreneur, he made the business world seem very accessible and gave great advice on how to break into it,” she said.

Pidwell remarked that, in turn, the students inspire him.

“I’m blown away by their creativity, insightfulness and understanding of what needs to be done, of what they’re doing, of the new ideas they’re coming up with, and the advancement of innovation,” Pidwell noted.

He said his biggest piece of advice for these ambitious students is to focus.

“The Russ College introduced me to the idea of creativity, the evolution of technology, the idea of taking technology and transitioning it into a product that serves the needs of a customer,” he shared. “You have to stay focused on who your customer is, and what it is that you’re trying to achieve – and do that before you attempt to expand your business and products and try to do more.” 

He believes he creates for good by giving advice such as this to students. His philosophy for life?

“You spend the first 20 years of your active business life developing a know-how: going to school, learning, being trained in a skill,” he explained. “For the next 20 years of your life, you employ that knowledge  to reap the benefits of building a career and contributing to a cause. Then you spend the next 20 years taking your experiences, your know-how, and what you’ve accomplished and sharing that with those who are at the beginning phase of learning. It’s a complete circle,” he said.

Prior to joining Alloy Ventures, Pidwell was CEO of Rasna Corp., a mechanical design automation software company he founded in 1986. The firm was acquired by Parametric Technology Corp in 1995. He was also president and general manager of the Mil-Spec computer division of Rolm Corp., having been with the company for 14 years from the time of its startup. After going public, IBM acquired the company in 1985 with more than 2,500 employees and $1.2 billion in annual revenue.

Colleen Carow contributed to this story.