November 24

Julie Lenzer, Chief Innovation Officer at the University of Maryland


Julie Lenzer is currently the Chief Innovation Officer at the University of Maryland. In this role, she’s leveraging her national and international public and private sector experiences to drive innovation-based economic growth for the region.

Prior to that, Julie was appointed by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker to lead the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE). In her capacity as Director of the OIE and as Sr Advisor to the Secretary, she drove programs and policies that support innovative economic development such as innovation-based entrepreneurship and regional innovation clusters.

Prior to her appointment, Julie was the Executive Director of the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship (MCE) in Columbia, MD. She is also the co-founder of Startup Maryland and former CEO of the Path Forward Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a nonprofit that helped women expand economic opportunity by starting and building growth-oriented businesses.

An award-winning serial entrepreneur, Julie founded her first company, Applied Creative Technologies, Inc. (ACT), in 1995 as an IT solutions firm focusing on manufacturing operations and inventory control. With Fortune 500 clients, she grew the company to multi-millions in revenues, winning several national awards for workplace excellence. Through her 10-year leadership, ACT developed and commercialized ACTrax, a leading-edge production and warehouse management system, for which she negotiated the sale in 2005.

Julie was recognized as one of 25 Women Who Mean Business by WBJ in 2019, 2014 Influential Marylander, 2013 Trailblazer in Technology, and as AT&T's Innovator of the Year in 2011. She received SmartCEO's BRAVA award in 2014, the Athena Award in 2004, and was named to Maryland's Top 100 Women 2005, 2008 and 2014 at which time she joined the Circle Of Excellence for sustained service to the community. She recently held a Top Secret clearance. 

Contact Julie:


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[Podcast Transcript Using Artificial Intelligence]

Umar Hameed 0:06
Are you ready to become awesomer? Hello everyone. This is Umar Hameed, your host and welcome to the No Limits Selling Podcast, where industry leaders share their tips, strategies and advice on how to make you better, stronger, faster. Get ready for another episode.

Umar Hameed 0:36
Today I have the privilege of sitting down with Julie Lenzer here at what do you call this place?

Julie Lenzer 0:42
It's called the Startup UMD at the Diamondback Garage

Umar Hameed 0:45
Which is a mouthful, and you're the Chief Innovation Officer

Julie Lenzer 0:48
That's right at the University of Maryland College Park

Umar Hameed 0:50
Welcome to the program.

Julie Lenzer 0:52
Thank you.

Umar Hameed 0:52
So the reason I wanted to reach out was just a less than a month ago they had to technical conference upstairs right?

Julie Lenzer 0:58
That's right.

Umar Hameed 0:59
One of the things that struck me was the amount of powerful, amazing capable women that came on the stage. And it wasn't that they were women that were just amazing human beings and it was just kind of nice that they actually had a concentration of that day.

Julie Lenzer 1:15
That's great to hear because I share that same thing. One of my goals when I used to run a nonprofit for women for empowering the women was to make put myself out of business, because we fight you right?

Umar Hameed 1:25
I believe that's the ultimate job.

Julie Lenzer 1:27
Yep, we don't need to anymore. highlight that somebody is a woman, they're just a person and they're at the same level as everyone else, you know.

Umar Hameed 1:34
You know, what kind of pissed me off the other day. I don't get this stuff often. It was they did a spacewalk with an all female thing. It's like get the freak out of here.

Julie Lenzer 1:43
We need to stop talking about yeah

Umar Hameed 1:45
Amazing did that. It's not like it was we expect we allow little women to go do that is what the underlying

Julie Lenzer 1:50
The sad part is that they're still firsts

Umar Hameed 1:53

Julie Lenzer 1:54
For women and you know, other other you know, ethnicities and things like that. Not just based on gender, but other groups where we need to stop focusing on

Umar Hameed 2:04
Like the emotionally challenged, this is the first

Julie Lenzer 2:06
Right right. The time I call it emotional constipation

Umar Hameed 2:08
There you go. So you get to work with a lot of folks in this joint. Some of them would be professors that have a broken idea, but maybe don't have the expertise to really start a business.

Julie Lenzer 2:22

Umar Hameed 2:22
And then you have other people that just are here that want to start a business. Tell me about the different food groups, and then we'll kind of dive into each one.

Julie Lenzer 2:29
Sure. So yeah, we have brilliant researchers who've made a fantastic discovery that want to see that discovery get out into the world, and oftentimes a startup is the best mechanism for doing that. So we have a faculty member who's cured MS in mice, and whether they actually yeah yeah so whether or not that will work in a human, I don't know, but it deserves a chance to be successful. We have another faculty who's figured out how to detect salmonella and produce and not 48 hours as per the current way it's done for 4 hours. And that's a huge difference and can save lives with that or save just medical bills. And so we've got a lot of really cool thing. So there's faculty members that he great idea

Umar Hameed 3:10
Can we pause just for a second. Let's go back to curing MS in mice.

Julie Lenzer 3:13

Umar Hameed 3:13
Think of how many amazing, life changing world altering inventions never got made. Because that step from idea to letting the world know about it never happened effectively.

Julie Lenzer 3:27
That's what drives me to be here. Honestly, it's if the cure for cancer is sitting in someone's head or in someone's lab, and it doesn't have the chance to realize whether or not it is truly, you know, work that it truly works. That's just not acceptable to me. Every good idea deserves a chance to be successful. And I even say every idea whether or not it's good, who am I to judge, right?

Umar Hameed 3:48

Julie Lenzer 3:48
And so that's what we do here. We activate fearless ideas with the idea that they can drive transformational impact and that I don't want on my watch for us to miss something that you know, didn't get a chance to see the light of day?

Umar Hameed 4:00
Yeah, or somebody comes out 30 years later, you know, I had this idea 30 years ago.

Julie Lenzer 4:05
And that happens all the time, the differences in execution. I mean, you know, I had an idea for an e-reader. Back when I was traveling internationally and carry, you know, five books because I read so fast. I'm like, oh, it'd be really nice to have this on a tablet. I didn't create Kindle, or in creating e-readers, but so execution is all of it. So that's what we focus on here is how do we activate good ideas?

Umar Hameed 4:24
You got this sign on the wall, it's a get shit done.

Julie Lenzer 4:27
That's right. That is our mantra. It's like you can sit around and talk about it and think about it, but nothing happens until you actually execute on it.

Umar Hameed 4:34
And you can execute badly, which is still a blessing. And then you learn and you kind of move forward

Julie Lenzer 4:38
Fail fast, fail fast learn pivot repeat.

Umar Hameed 4:41
Excellent. So the first route group where faculty from the university

Julie Lenzer 4:46
Yup yup

Umar Hameed 4:46
Who are the other ones?

Julie Lenzer 4:47
Yup, we've also got students so oftentimes for students, it's more of a learning experience. So it's part of their curriculum, or it's just part of their whole college experience. Many students who start companies in college won't actually come continue when they with the same company when they get out, but you're creating a mindset and that's what's really important is you're you're teaching them to be possibility thinkers and to be able to realize that they can affect change in the world. And that's really what that's about what the students and some of them do go on continue their companies and build into successful companies. I'm Squarespace is a great example of one that came out of university of Maryland.

Julie Lenzer 5:21

Julie Lenzer 5:22
A student company. And so yeah, so we try to kind of foster that and we want the the cross pollination within like alumni who have started and built successful companies or folks from the community that have been successful entrepreneurs, we want to bring them in, get them in touch with these, you know, kind of emerging entrepreneurs and see how we can help cross pollinate and affect each other.

Umar Hameed 5:44
Yeah, because the ad that comes to mind is Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Mm, you got your chocolate and like peanut butter and you got your peanut butter because it's amazing.

Julie Lenzer 5:53
They are that different.

Umar Hameed 5:54
Some that excites me is when you take someone comes from one discipline Chemistry and they go into Management and they go, well, when you have a catalyst, this happens in Chemistry. Why don't we do that with human beings, we cross pollinate ideas, and you extend that sometimes stagnant industry much further.

Julie Lenzer 6:15
True innovation requires diversity of thought, and perspective.

Umar Hameed 6:18

Julie Lenzer 6:19
You can't solve I think it's one of my favorite Einstein quote, you can't save solve the problem from the context in which it was created.

Umar Hameed 6:25

Julie Lenzer 6:25
So you need people. And so we do a lot of and some of our innovation catalysts whom you met earlier, there are students that we pay as interns to be here, and they help us with some administrative work, but they're working on projects. They're actually involved in our ecosystem. And so but but we know that just them seeing some of that is really crucial.

Umar Hameed 6:46
Absolutely. So the two groups, students and faculty

Julie Lenzer 6:50
Primary yep, those are our primary customers.

Umar Hameed 6:52
One of the things that gets in the way of us becoming awesomer is ourselves.

Julie Lenzer 6:59
Oh, always

Umar Hameed 7:01
Julie, as you get professors coming in here, sometimes you know, they really have an idea locked into their head, which is, you know, this, my baby is beautiful. This is what we're going to do with your experience, sometimes, you know, that's not the right path to go, what techniques do you use to get them to see the light or at least be open to the possibility?

Julie Lenzer 7:19
So a lot of times like anyone, you have to let them fail a little bit before they realize and so they have to struggle, kind of like raising children, right? You got to let them do it on their own. You got a lot of struggle, and then you can come in and say, well, so let me explain to you how you can fix this or how you can do this differently. So we've had a faculty member who had one of his investors wanted to come on board and be a team member wanted, you know, a significant portion of equity. And it didn't turn out well. And then he realized that he doesn't know how all this business stuff works. We had another one who's brilliant researcher, was able to you know, was having trouble raising money. Because he needed a CEO, but then finally he was able to raise because of the technology a large chunk of money. But part of the caveat was that he had to find a CEO.

Umar Hameed 8:08

Julie Lenzer 8:09
And so the way I explain it is it, you know, it's not how starting a business isn't rocket science, but a rocket scientist doesn't know how to do it.

Umar Hameed 8:17
Which is perfectly true. So here's something that happens quite often, that you've got a venture capitalist that's investing in the company, and they say you need a CEO to come in, which is absolutely true.

Julie Lenzer 8:17

Umar Hameed 8:18
But here's how it can go sideways. That CEO that comes in has a team they've worked with in the past.

Julie Lenzer 8:35

Umar Hameed 8:35
They take a culture that's already exists, that may be good or bad or in the middle, but then they force another culture upon it.

Julie Lenzer 8:43

Umar Hameed 8:44
And so that can go sideways to how do you guard against that? Or how do you

Julie Lenzer 8:47
We can't I mean, it's, we can educate our faculty on how to, you know, you know, what their role is it but they're, you know, they've never done a business before. They're really the scientists. And so we try to protect them in our licenses such that if the company gets a license that that and the company goes in one direction that there's maybe a way that the intellectual property can come back or that they can carve out another piece or another field of use for the intellectual property so they can create another company around the technology but in a different field. I mean, so we look for ways to try and protect them but but it doesn't always work. I mean, I think one of the companies that was in the news recently was one of our companies that the the founding IP the researcher was forced out and then the company went bankrupt and so he lost all of his equity in the company and

Umar Hameed 9:40
Did you lose the IP as well?

Julie Lenzer 9:42
So the university's, no because University owns the IP, yeah, so we that's our job is to try and sometimes it's protect them from themselves.

Umar Hameed 9:52
Nice. We were you when my hero Tesla was giving the rights to his invention to Westinghouse to save them. I was wondering, why don't you ask with stock it wouldn't cost them anything.

Julie Lenzer 10:06
They don't always know.

Umar Hameed 10:07

Julie Lenzer 10:07
Yeah, they don't always know.

Umar Hameed 10:09
So one of the things that was kind of interesting about Tesla, if you believe it, is, of course, he was buddies with Mark Twain. And he used his coil to also generate x-rays. So you took an x-ray of Mark Twain, which is allowed to be one of the first x-rays ever taken.

Julie Lenzer 10:25
Interesting. Well, you know, and and the interesting thing about intellectual property if you read the history, one of my favorite books is Peter Drucker Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Very old book. He talks about Thomas Edison, Thomas Edison created a light bulb, but he didn't create the commercial light bulb that went to market he actually licensed someone else's patent. What he did is he created the system of delivery of electricity.

Umar Hameed 10:45

Julie Lenzer 10:46
And then he license somebody else's patent, which was a better technology. So it's one of the things that you also have to educate these professors on is that it's not always the best technology that wins just because your widget may be better than the next one doesn't mean that that's going to be a commercial business success

Umar Hameed 11:02
Before we went on air, you were chatting about your daughter. How many children do you have?

Julie Lenzer 11:05
I have two daughters.

Umar Hameed 11:06
As they move into the world, what three pieces of advice would you give them to allow them to be happy and successful?

Julie Lenzer 11:15
So one is that you can't can, you can't always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it and how you respond to it. And so maintaining that sense of agency, self agency and nice knowing that you, you can control you. And that's about the only thing in the world that you can actually control. And so, so use that power, don't ever give away your power of controlling your life. And I used to speak on this actually quite a bit before I came to the University about how we give away our power all the time to other people. And so that would be one is, you know, maintain your agency, maintain your sense of control, choose how you respond to the things that happened to you.

Julie Lenzer 11:54

Julie Lenzer 11:55
The second thing would be follow the thread. You know, when opportunities come to you. Sometimes unexpectedly, or when somebody says, Oh, you really should talk to this person, follow that. It might not lead where, you know, they think it was going to lead when they made the introduction. It might not lead anywhere, but you might learn something and 10 years, 10 years down the road, they might remember you and an opportunity comes up. And that's exactly how I ended up working in the Obama administration. Is that someone that I had met 10 years ago that was following a grant that I a program that I was on, that I had, you know, she was following my career when the Secretary of Commerce called her and said, you know, we need somebody to leave this office, the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She said, I know the perfect person. I didn't keep regular contact with her. I didn't you know, she wasn't in my quote, unquote, you know, she was we were friends on LinkedIn, probably, but she, it wasn't like I had a system, customer relationship manager or where I followed up with her on a period, right? It's just, you know, it's just following the thread. Being kind, not not burning bridges, I think would probably be the third one is that you just Never know where someone else is going to come back into your life or be in a position of power in something you know in your world. And so just always being mindful of that, and always choosing the high road and not burning bridges.

Umar Hameed 13:15
Got a client, he's the there's 330,000 recruiters in the country. He's number 48. A lot of his business comes from this VP used to work at Adobe. Now they work at GM and his contacts just keep on extending.

Umar Hameed 13:30
Yep, yep.

Umar Hameed 13:30
How do you think the mindset of new entrepreneurs has changed over the last decade or two? Because governance is supporting more, but how's the the mindset of the people actually coming in?

Julie Lenzer 13:42
I mean, I think the mindset we see a lot especially in the students, the the need or the desire to change the world. They, they I think they have a very strong idea that they want to be connected to something that has meaning and that they're passionate about, and I say that because that was the part of the conversation I had with my daughter. Is that You know, how do you how do you find meaning and what you do or do things with meaning and there's two sides to that, right? You can find me find the meaning and what you're doing. Or you can really find something that aligns with your, you know, your passion. And, and I and I encourage both, you know, to do both. And so I think that they are not afraid to fail, you know, failures, like okay, we'll try this again. And just stepping out there. That's, that's definitely and I think that social media has helped this because people put themselves out there on social media and so So in a way, it's an extension of that, you know, that they're kind of putting themselves out there and trying things.

Umar Hameed 14:41
Brilliant. Thank you so much for sitting down with me.

Julie Lenzer 14:44
Sure. It's fun.

Umar Hameed 14:45
It was fun.

Umar Hameed 14:51
If you enjoyed this episode, please go to iTunes and leave a five star rating. And if you're looking for more tools, go to my website at nolimitsselling.com I've got a free mind training course there that's going to teach you some insights from the world of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. And that is the fastest way to get better results.


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