Don Gerhart

Don Gerhart

President / CEO - Challenger Biosciencese

A Call to Action: Uniting the Pacific Northwest in the Collaborative Creation of Marine Solutions

An unprecedented convergence of powerful global and regional forces now presents the Pacific Northwest marine R&D community with a superb opportunity to become a world leader in the creation of pioneering marine technologies. We can and must expand existing enterprises and build new ventures that deliver triple bottom-line returns, not only rewarding entrepreneurs and investors, but also fostering the exploration and restoration of the world’s oceans while simultaneously growing and sustaining coastal communities. Realizing this vision will require creative collaboration through a regional network—an innovation ecosystem—of organizations and individuals across the Pacific Northwest. As we embark on initiatives to create this ecosystem, we can learn from the experience of leading U.S. innovation hubs such as Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, North Carolina’s Research Triangle, Boston, and San Diego. Although each of these world-renowned hubs is unique and essentially irreproducible, each has the potential to serve as a case study of what can be achieved with focus and sustained effort. In addition, we can learn what not to do by undertaking a “failure analysis” of promising initiatives that attempted—but ultimately failed—to expand a region’s innovation ecosystem. The stakes are high: by building on our strengths and our foundation of success, we can create an effective network—one custom-tailored to the Pacific Northwest and the unique opportunities and challenges we face—that will bring us together, link us with partners and markets around the world, and help us deliver the marine technological solutions that will shape the future of humanity.

Speaker Bio

Don Gerhart (Ph.D.) is an internationally recognized leader who makes his career at the intersection of ocean science and innovation. Don is the President and CEO of Challenger Biosciences, a research and development (R&D) company Don founded in 2009 to advance new technologies that foster the restoration, conservation, and responsible utilization of the sea.

Before moving to full-time effort with Challenger Biosciences in 2012, Don worked for 11 years with the University of Oregon (UO), serving initially as Director of Technology Transfer and later as Associate Vice President of Research and Innovation. UO’s Office of Technology Transfer set a new record for licensing revenue in each of the 11 years of Don’s leadership, growing from $313,000 in FY2000 to more than $8 million in FY2011, an expansion that propelled UO from bottom-quartile national ranking at the close of the 1990s to sustained placement among the top-performing research universities in the United States for licensing income per unit of R&D. Under Don’s leadership, UO also built a robust portfolio of startup companies that expanded every year for 11 years, eventually comprising 17 private entities that generated aggregate top-line revenue of $32.9 million per year and employed over 250 Oregonians. Prior to joining UO, Don worked as Associate Director of Technology Transfer and Industry Research at North Carolina State University from 1999 to 2000. During that period, a national survey ranked NC State #3 in the United States—surpassed only by Georgia Tech and MIT—for the strength and effectiveness of the university’s innovation-based contributions to regional economic development.

Earlier in his career, Don worked for Cato Research Ltd., a pharmaceutical development company headquartered in Durham, North Carolina. Serving initially as a Clinical Research Fellow and eventually as Project Leader, Director of Project Operations, and Director of Intellectual Property, Don led or served on inter-disciplinary product development and opportunity assessment teams for a host of early-stage ventures, including several that later went public and attained market capitalizations surpassing $1 billion. With CRL’s support and sponsorship, Don prepared for and passed the U.S. Patent Bar examination and went on to found the company’s first intellectual property management group.

Before moving into the private sector, Don worked for seven years as a research-track faculty member at the Duke University Marine Laboratory, conducting scientific studies funded by the Office of Naval Research, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and several Fortune 1000 industrial entities. Don’s marine biological studies led to numerous scientific publications, produced six U.S. patents, and formed the basis for a university-industry research collaboration between Duke University and specialty chemical manufacturer Rohm and Haas (now a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company).

Don has been an invited speaker at numerous regional, national, and international venues, including presentations to the United States National Academy of Sciences Workshop on Marine Biotechnology in the 21st Century, the National Academies’ University-Industry Demonstration Partnership, and the annual meeting of the National Association of Seed and Venture Funds. At the state level, Don has served as a member of the board of directors for the Oregon Translational Research and Drug Development Institute (OTRADI), as a member of the Oregon Council on Knowledge and Economic Development, and as a technical advisor and member of the Capital Formation Committee of the Oregon Innovation Council (Oregon InC). At the regional level, Don has served on the Eugene Economic Development Council and the advisory board of the Center for Law and Entrepreneurship at the University of Oregon.