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People of Stanford Research Park: Jennifer Cochran

by SRP on June 22, 2024
Get to Know Jennifer Cochran: A Scientist Entrepreneur

Senior Associate Vice Provost for Research, Stanford University

This Stanford scientist and professor took a leave of absence to launch her own companies. She returned determined to make it easier for her colleagues to follow the same path. Once again, she’s walking the walk.

In 2015, Jennifer Cochran, the Addie and Al Macovski Professor of Bioengineering, was considering a leave of absence. Since 2005, she’d been a professor in Stanford’s bioengineering department, which she helped launch. She’d been granted tenure a few years before, an achievement that opened up options for time off from the university, which professors sometimes take as a sabbatical.

Among the many hats Jennifer had worn over the years, one of them was developer of pharmaceutical drug candidates and drug screening technologies. In her lab, she and her team had made numerous breakthroughs, published manuscripts, and were granted patents, some of which were licensed to existing companies. But something nagged at her. While it was rewarding to see her technologies advance, she was increasingly aware she’d never done so herself. Armed with support from senior mentors and advisors from Stanford she decided it was time to walk the walk.

Making the Leap

During a two-year leave of absence, Jennifer got an exhilarating crash course in what it means to be an entrepreneur—work that surprisingly had a skill set similar to that of a laboratory principle investigator, including fundraising, team building, managing human resources, research operations, and more. She navigated the complex web of taking discoveries out of an academic setting and into a private one, and developing drug candidates towards clinical trials and commercialization.

When her leave of absence came to an end in 2017, she was torn. She’d gained invaluable experience and found entrepreneurship a rewarding and meaningful path for technology transfer. But at the same time, she loved research and teaching, and the unparalleled and endless opportunities afforded at a top-tier institution like Stanford.

Jennifer and her lab members
Illuminating the Path for Stanford Entrepreneurs

Ultimately, Jennifer answered the call back to academia, returning to Stanford Bioengineering to serve as department chair from 2017-2022. Her return to the University did not, however, reverse the fact that she had made the leap from academia to entrepreneur—a leap that hundreds of Stanford professors had made before her. It’s a leap that is practically Stanford lore. Stanford Research Park itself was born when, in 1953, the Varian brothers and their co-founder, Stanford professor William Hansen, located their young company in what was then known as the Stanford Industrial Park. Jennifer was yet another professor who’d followed in their footsteps, launching one of her own companies at Alexandria LaunchLabs, a life science accelerator in Stanford Research Park.

Jennifer’s experience working out of the Research Park underscores the magnitude of Stanford’s unique mix of people, know-how, assets, and opportunities. It’s a mix that allows motivated individuals to take their groundbreaking discoveries out of the lab and into the market. Academics know well just how many discoveries are made on campus, and that many languish for no reason other than unfamiliarity or confusion over next steps. When a scientist or engineer can find a path to entrepreneurship, one plus one can become three; scientific insight can become life-changing and life-improving technology.

Wanting to share with her colleagues the wealth of entrepreneurial knowledge she’d gained, Jennifer and Tina Seelig, a fellow Stanford colleague, launched the Faculty Entrepreneurial Leadership Program (FELP), an application-based bootcamp for Stanford professors seeking an education in entrepreneurship. FELP admitted its first two cohort in 2019 and was a great success. The pandemic put the program on a pause, but the determination to prevent scientific discoveries from being lost to history remains as strong as ever.

In January 2023, Jennifer accepted the role of Senior Associate Vice Provost for Research at Stanford, a leadership role in the Office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Research (VPDoR). In addition to broadly supporting the university’s research mission, one of her charges is to work closely with the Stanford Office of Technology Licensing to help build that well-lit path from scientific discovery to entrepreneurship so that any Stanford professor with desire to take their science to market can do so with clarity and support.

Alexandria Launch Labs in Stanford Research Park
An Invaluable Guide

Stanford Research Park is also working to chart that well-lit scientist-to-entrepreneur path via our Life Science District. While the Research Park has always been home to life science companies at all stages, through the District we seek to make it easier for scientist-entrepreneurs to access resources, secure funding, conduct clinical trials, navigate regulatory hurdles, and hire the specific talent capable of carrying a discovery to research and development and then to market.

As we work to merge and leverage Stanford’s assets, Jennifer’s wisdom, counsel, and experience both on campus and in the Research Park have been indispensable to our effort. We share an excitement over building upon Stanford’s storied history so that academic discovery can fulfill its promise, and we are grateful to Jennifer’s generosity of spirit and knowledge as we do.


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