5 Questions With Julie Lenzer, Chief Innovation Officer, University of Maryland

“5 Questions With…” is a weekly BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people in the BioHealth Capital Region to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This week we welcome Julie Lenzer, Chief Innovation Officer, University of Maryland

A serial entrepreneur and ecosystem builder, Julie Lenzer is currently the Chief Innovation Officer at the University of Maryland and Founding Director for the newly-launched Quantum Startup Foundry. In these roles, she is charged with fostering and deploying innovation to drive economic and social impact from both university-affiliated and community-based innovators and oversees the university’s tech transfer office, the Maryland Small Business Development Center (SBDC), the Veteran’s Business Outreach Center (VBOC), the Mixed/Augmented/Virtual Reality Innovation Center (MAVRIC), as well as university engagement with the Discovery District (UMD’s 150-acre research park). An active angel investor, she is also on the investment committee of the $10M Maryland Momentum Fund and UMD’s newly-launched Discovery Fund.

Prior to joining the University, Julie was appointed to lead the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE) within the U.S. Department of Commerce. In her capacity as Director of the OIE, she drove programs and policies that support innovative economic development such as innovation-based entrepreneurship and regional innovation clusters. She created the Regional Innovation Strategies program (now called Build to Scale) and led the deployment $40M in grants across the U.S. over her 2 ½-year tenure, resulting in over 14,000 new jobs and $1.6B in capital raised.

1. Please introduce yourself to our audience by looking back at your education, training, and career.

I am a serial entreprenuer, ecosystem builder, recovering political appointee, and self-proclaimed GEEK. My educational background is in computer science, and was the foundation for my first company, Applied Creative Technologies (ACT). ACT was about data analytics in manufacturing before such a thing was common. In fact, our tagline was “Turning plant floor data into actionable information” – a critical capability across industries, especially life sciences.

After cashing out of my company, I found my calling in empowering entrepreneurs and unleashing innovation through various roles: in local and federal government, and now, through academia. First, as the initial Executive Director of the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship (MCE). MCE was all about building and connecting community to support innovation and entrepreneurial activity for companies large and small. I was then beckoned by then-Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker to join the U.S. Dept. of Commerce as Director for the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship – an incredible experience. When my time as a political appointee was up, I found myself at the University of Maryland!

2. What does it mean to be a Chief Innovation Officer?

I was brought into UMD to unleash innovation and connect the incredible resources we have across the campus. Little did I know there were over 60 programs helping spawn innovation and entrepreneurship and a plethora of entrepreneurial alum creating companies such as Under Armour, Beyond Meat, Fortnite (Epic Games), Squarespace, Veggie Straws, Google, Oculus, and more!

Within my portfolio, I have UM Ventures, which is the university’s tech transfer and commercialization office; the state-wide Small Business Development Center; the regional Veteran’s Business Outreach Center; Mixed Augmented Virtual Reality Innovation Center; and most recently, we launched the Quantum Startup Foundry. All of these share the same goal: providing resources to help launch innovative technologies and companies.

3. You recently did a keynote intro for the BioHealth Capital Region Forum around the topic of Quantum. How do you see the Quantum World working with the BioHealth World to find new treatments an cures?

Quantum operates at a whole other level – an atomic level. Quantum technologies – spanning computing, materials, sensing and communications – literally harness the power of atoms. Quantum computers aren’t necessarily just faster or more efficient, they are different, which results in their ability to solve problems computers today can’t. Drug discovery is likley one of those problems where computers driven by qubits instead of bits will excel. While the capabilities of a sufficient number of qubits to make these computations reliably aren’t quite there yet, they’re not as far off as some might think. The more we can bring industry together with the technologies, the faster the technologies will be able to progress towards solving real problems and contributing to resolving our world’s grand challenges.

4. You’re not just a leader in College Park, but you’re also a student. Talk about your continuing education and how you see it playing a role in your career.

My pandemic project was to enroll in UMD’s Executive Master’s in Machine Learning. With my undergraduate degree in Computer Science from Texas A&M (go Aggies!), I was looking forward to reactivating that part of my brain. I didn’t realize how much Calculus and Linear Algebra you lose when you don’t use it. Thankfully, the programming came right back and I’ve really enjoyed the program so far but I’m also excited to graduate this December 2021.

In addition to LOVING the artificial intelligence classes I took in my undergraduate studies, there are two main reasons I opted for Machine Learning as my graduate focus. First, machine learning is EVERYWHERE and its invasion into everything we do is going to continue to grow. I wanted to understand it better so I could 1) ask hard questions of companies using it to make sure they’re using it in a way that promotes diversity and inclusion rather and 2) be able to call out posers – people who *say* they’re employing AI but aren’t really.

5. What are some things outside of work that you’re irrationally passionate about, and why?

For the past 8 years, I’ve been on the Board of the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland (GSCM) and currently serve as their Treasurer. I love empowering young girls to unleash their leadership and explore STEM and entrepreneurship. Many don’t know that they focus on teaching girls to be GIRLS; Go-getters, innovators, risk-takers, and leaders.

The fact that GSCM operates in Baltimore City, I’m especially excited about the programs they offer girls in the city to bring them opportunities they might not otherwise have to explore leadership and STEM. Along with their 30+ badges in STEM and entrepreneurship, their cookie program provides a strong experience in entrepreneurship that builds skills they can use no matter where life takes them.

When I’m not helping the Girls Scouts, I love to travel and explore vast new worlds underwater while scuba diving.

Thank you to Julie Lenzer, Chief Innovation Officer, University of Maryland for participating in the “5 Questions With” BioBuzz series, and stay tuned for more interviews with others from across the BioHealth Capital Region and beyond.