Meet Jay Jayamohan, Executive Director of HU’s new Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship

The key ingredient to Harrisburg University’s success is its start-up mentality.

Like a start-up company, the University is flexible and nimble, allowing it to adapt, take chances and move forward with innovative, entrepreneurial programs and endeavors that produce real-world results.

This same entrepreneurial spirit is what led Jay Jayamohan to HU.

Jayamohan, an engineer, product manager and entrepreneur with more than 20 years of experience developing startup companies and tech products, admired University President Dr. Eric Darr’s commitment to entrepreneurship in academia. And following a phone conversation with Dr. Darr, Jayamohan, for the first time in more than two decades, considered moving his family from northern Virginia to Harrisburg.

Jayamohan now is the founding Executive Director of the University’s newest Center: The Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

Jayamohan’s long-term goal for the center is very ambitious –  he intends to work with faculty, students, staff and the community “to create a permanent, well designed center of innovation that strategically positions HU to have a greater impact—socially and commercially—through innovations developed not only by faculty, students, and staff, but also by innovative thinkers and entrepreneurs from and around Harrisburg.”

We recently caught up with Jayamohan to learn more about HU’s newest entrepreneurial whiz and to discuss his plans for the Center.

Q: From where did you arrive to Harrisburg University?

A: I’ve lived in Northern Virginia, near Washington D.C., for the last 20-plus years with my wife Leena and two boys – Sid and Sanjiv. This is the first time I’ve considered a move from there, which surprised a lot of my friends and family.

Q: Tell us about your educational background?

A: I completed my Master of Science degree in Management from George Mason University, where I’m now an Adjunct Professor of Strategy at the School of Business. My undergrad was in Mechanical Engineering, which probably gives me a dominant ‘left brain,’ while starting a couple of companies gave me the ‘right brain’ balance to think outside the box!

Q: Where do you hail from originally and briefly tell us a bit about your professional career?

A: I was born in India and lived there until I completed my undergraduate degree. I then spent some time in the Middle East, also London was a brief stop over when the company I started had operations there. I went through most of the immigrant experience shared by most people from Asia – arriving as a grad student in the land of dreams and opportunity, overcoming the culture shock, and trying to get people to pronounce my last name correctly.

I’m an Engineer, Product Manager and Entrepreneur, giving me the skills and experience to help new entrepreneurs innovate and grow their companies from ideas to $50 million in revenue. I started my career with PriceWaterhouse (PwC), where I was lucky to find great mentors, like Thom Tillis, the current US Senator from North Carolina who was a PwC Partner at that time. The challenge of managing expectations of Fortune 100 clients like Sony, British Airways, Chase Bank etc., gave me the experience to conduct quick analysis and deliver strategic advice to CEOs.

I started RollStream, a product company in my garage, and as CEO, I grew the company from concept to over 100 people globally, raising tens of millions of dollars in venture capital. I also won numerous accolades, including ‘Top 100 supply-and-demand chain vendors in 2008.’

RollStream, under my leadership, innovated to define a new space and earned Fortune 500 customers like Walgreens, Tesco, McKesson and Tyco within the first year of product release. The company was acquired in 2011 by GXS, now OpenText. I was also Managing Director of Synteras, a professional services firm, and led the company from startup to more than $25 million in revenue with consistent high net income growth. The company was selected as a Washington Technology Fast 50 firm in 2012. Since then, I’ve been leading the strategy practice for Abscus, a firm I started to help startups ‘cross the chasm’ to growth stage through lean design thinking.

Q: What attracted you to this post at Harrisburg University?

A: It all started with a 30-minute conversation over the phone with HU President, Dr. Eric Darr, who was introduced by a friend. It was a courtesy chat for me about getting to know a smart leader. But Dr. Darr’s passion about HU and his conviction that HU is like a startup in academia and has the flexibility to adapt to the fast-changing higher education space, got me thinking seriously about working for him. Then I met HU Provost, Dr. Bili Mattes, who was like a perfect partner to Dr. Darr and re-emphasized Dr. Darr’s vision.  This led to my high-level concept of what an Innovation center would look like, which I shared with Dr. Darr and Dr. Mattes and many of the faculty members. The feedback was extremely positive and contagious, which made me seriously consider the opportunity. During this time, I had got involved with the MEBA program, the new undergrad business program with a bigger focus on Entrepreneurship, which gave me an even clearer view, and meeting like-minded faculty members like Stephen Penn also played into the draw to HU.

Q: What is the mission of the Center for Innovations & Entrepreneurship?

A: The mission of the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship is to be a multi-pronged, but interconnected, hub that aligns entrepreneurial activities across campus and disciplines, including the sciences, engineering, business, and humanities. The center hopefully features active learning laboratories, technological suites, and a makerspace designed to foster collaboration and support product iteration and prototyping. The Center will also support faculty in developing courses and projects and will guide students along the path to forming innovative ventures.

Q: What are the short-term goals for the Center? Long term?

A: The short-term goal is to provide a more formalized structure to what has been an energetic and fluid system of entrepreneurial efforts both internally and externally. Hopefully this will help faculty and students to be more entrepreneurial without having to worry about the next steps of an idea or research but provides a partner to bring resources to help execute.  If we can take an idea or two all the way from customer acquisition and early investment, so that it can be spun off as a standalone company, that will be a model for others to follow.

Long term is very ambitious – a permanent, well designed center of innovation that strategically positions HU to have a greater impact—socially and commercially—through innovations developed not only by faculty, students, and staff, but also by innovative thinkers and entrepreneurs from and around Harrisburg. Connecting HU innovators to commercial and venture capital opportunities and identifying external partners who are seeking specific expertise to inform their own product development.  Couple of local entrepreneurs told me that they would be delighted to share equity with HU in return for the support. Hopefully we can create a self-sustaining profit center.

Q: Why does the establishment of the center make sense for HU?

A:  Given every great employer is looking for innovative and entrepreneurial employees, the Center would provide the infrastructure and resources to instill that mindset in our students and position them to be more successful

Also, everyone has ideas, but the challenge is to find mentors who have been there before to guide you through best practices and help you mine the ecosystem to start and grow successful companies. The center will be that for the HU community.

Finally, it will create an economic engine for Harrisburg and surrounding areas by attracting innovators and entrepreneurs to this area showcasing the success of Center ‘Alumni’

Q: Are there innovations and entrepreneurial endeavors you already see here that you hope to harness/pursue?

A: This is my second week here so I’m still learning about the lay of the land, even finding the rest rooms. But based on conversations with the faculty and staff, I’m looking forward to better understanding about the work that is being done in Healthcare, Esports, and Aquaponics and get to know the budding entrepreneurs of HU.

About Harrisburg University

Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Harrisburg University is a private non-profit university offering bachelor and graduate degree programs in science, technology, and math fields. For more information on the University’s affordable demand-driven undergraduate and graduate programs, call 717.901.5146 or email, Connect@HarrisburgU.edu.