When Dr. Randall Goldsmith was eight or nine years old, he carved a ballistic missile from balsa wood so detailed that it included a base relief he could pull apart and view the fuel cells inside.
“I guess for that age, it was a bit much,” said Goldsmith, with a laugh. “I grew up with a fascination about science and I don’t really know why. I’ve always wondered what makes things work. I remember in high school, I had to come up with a science fair project and I stayed up all night long trying to figure out what to work on. I came up with the idea about memory. How do we remember things? From that, I did some research and came up with the molecular theory of memory. As it turned out, I won fourth place in the national science fair.”
Goldsmith, the new president and CEO of the Mississippi Technology Alliance (MTA), spent his formative years in Texas. A native of Abilene, he and his two brothers and sister spent part of their childhood growing up on their grandparents’ ranch with their carpenter dad and homemaker mom.
“I got to do everything from watching the calf branding to collecting eggs in the henhouse,” he said. “In fact, I got a spanking one time from my grandfather who told me not to put that egg in my pocket. It was on an Easter Sunday. I’ll never forget it.”
He earned an undergraduate degree from Hardin Simmons University and master’s and doctorate degrees in urban and regional planning from Texas A&M University. As a graduate student, he gained a reputation for his technology-based economic development expertise after developing a program to help Texas recover from the oil bust and real estate industry downturn.
Before joining MTA, he facilitated the growth and management of intellectual property at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, where he led numerous technology commercialization and capital formation efforts. His technology commercialization model for growing technology-based companies has been adopted by organizations throughout the U.S. and Europe.
“The model’s origins go back to a NASA contract I was involved with in 1992,” he explained. “NASA created what is known as the Regional Technology Transfer Center Program. I had the privilege of covering a 14-state region from the Rio Grande to the Canadian border. My role was to establish a service provider network and an affiliate network in that region for the purposes of transferring NASA technologies to the market.
“When someone posed the question, ‘how do you do that?,’ no one had a really clear answer. So I set out to discover a model that answered the question, and looked at models from MIT and Stanford and a number of locales, but really wasn’t satisfied with any of them. So I began to cull what I liked best from some, and created other elements, and that began the process of the commercialization model. Our affiliates throughout that 14-state region began to gravitate to it as sort of our eternal universal model. Over time, as it continued to develop, NASA adopted it and asked us to share it with researchers in the lab. I’ve continued to work on it every year to add features and content. Now it’s been adopted in the U.K., Sweden, South Africa, Puerto Rico, and a dozen states that use it as an operating tool for their technology transfer programs.”
Before Goldsmith considered moving to Mississippi, he noticed the state scored low in many categories. “However, I’m convinced that statistics often misrepresent reality, so I always look at statistics with an open mind,” he said. “When I was offered the opportunity to come here, I knew it would be an exciting challenge because when I assessed the ingredients that I believe are requisite for success, they’re all here. So the challenge is to leverage those assets and ingredients in a coherent fashion that will generate results that haven’t been accomplished before.”
Focusing on research, entrepreneurs and capital top Goldsmith’s agenda.
“The targets are very clear and immediate,” he said. “Clearly, Mississippi does not rank last in research per capita. It’s a little known fact that Mississippi outranks a lot of other states by doing a half-billion a year in federal research. Our objective is to leverage world-class research and innovations that lead to (the formation of) companies.
Research is fundamentally critical to the formula.
“Too, we’ve got to introduce those innovation opportunities to savvy entrepreneurs who have the skill sets, know-how and desire to bring that research to the market. To make that happen, we’ve got to provide very early high-risk capital … and that’s very difficult to come by.”
For example, the Mississippi Technology Commercialization Fund was conceptualized last year, but never gained traction, said Goldsmith.
“We picked that ball up and will continue to go forward with it in hopes of creating early stage capital that fosters collaborative research with universities and provides startup capital for university spin-offs,” he said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.