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Friday, June 25, 2010

People: Former Venture Capitalist Bill Shelander Joins Berkeley Lab
By Julie Chao

Bill ShelanderSo you think your scientific breakthrough might be worth millions. Should it be licensed? Developed in partnership with a major corporation? Or should you get some funding and start a company to bring it to market? And how does one get venture funding anyway?

Scientists know many things, but these questions are normally out of their bailiwick. Enter the Technology Transfer and Intellectual Property Management department, which recently hired Bill Shelander,  who is charged with furthering the Lab’s outreach to venture capitalists and entrepreneurial resources for Lab researchers. With more than 25 years experience in starting and funding companies, much of that as a venture capitalist, or VC, Shelander will work with scientists and other tech-transfer professionals to explore how and whether to commercialize their inventions.

"Bill brings extensive knowledge and experience in venture funding and new company launch,” says Cheryl Fragiadakis, head of Tech Transfer. “His expertise is highly complementary to that of the existing staff. He will help us increase the number of quality startups that come from Berkeley Lab."

In his two months on the job so far, Shelander says he is impressed with both the breadth of science being done at the Lab and the gap between the Lab and industry that often exists. “VCs want to see products specified, a marketing team, a competitive analysis. The vocabularies of the world of science and the VC world are very different and barely overlap at all,” he says. “One revelation is how big the gulf is between those two worlds. There’s an awareness but not an understanding. I view my role as to bridge those worlds.”

Shelander hopes to facilitate continuous feedback between industry and scientists, so that industry has a better understanding of what Berkeley Lab can offer and scientists can provide better guidance as to how their discovery might translate into a product. 

For researchers who might be interested in starting a company, Shelander can help ask the right questions. “There are a lot of questions to be asked before you can determine whether a business is worth doing,” he says. “As a VC, I’d literally read 1,000 business plans a month, and we’d invest in one per quarter. A lot of the time, you just have to say, this would be better pursued if you licensed it, or partnered with a corporation.”

Shelander has an undergraduate degree in systems engineering from Georgia Tech, a masters in chemical engineering from West Virginia College of Graduate Studies, and an MBA from Stanford University. He came out to California in the late 1970s when Silicon Valley’s now-famed venture capitalists were just setting up shop on Sand Hill Road. He was the first non-Japanese person to be hired at JAFCO Ventures, a Tokyo-based VC firm, where he helped launch dozens of companies in 10 years.

In his spare time, he dabbles in astronomy: he serves on the board of the San Mateo Astronomy Club and enjoys introducing the night sky to children. Shelander speaks some German, Spanish, and Japanese.

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