2020 Recipient of the Jessica Soulliere Award
For his positive attitude, work ethic and leadership, Chuck Cole, Associate Director of the Michigan Venture Center, was awarded U-M Innovation Partnerships’s Jessica Soulliere Outstanding Service Award. The award is named for our late colleague, Jessica Soulliere, who was a trusted and valued member of OTT with an exceptional work ethic and commitment to service.
Cole began in the office as a Mentor in Residence (MIR) in 2014, helping to shepherd physical science projects into successful startups including Genomenon, Ripple Science, Quadmetrics, Court Innovations, and Kinetica Labs, all while working closely with inventors, investors and OTT colleagues.
“As an MIR, I really enjoyed helping new startups, the variety of technologies, and especially the people – both the researchers and my co-workers,” he said. He worked hands-on with 10-15 projects at any given time.
In 2017, he was promoted to his current role as Associate Director of Ventures. The transition saw him take a higher-level view of all 70-80 ongoing physical science projects.
Cole came to the office after the startup he co-founded and helmed as CEO, Bio Logic Engineering Inc., was acquired. His experience at Bio Logic translated well to helping launch startups at OTT. Cole co-founded the Dexter-based company in 2002 to develop and commercialize the BLAST System, a robotic leg press for strength training and neuromuscular rehabilitation. The device was backed by software that enabled biofeedback data acquisition and display.
As CEO of Bio Logic, Cole honed many business skills, including developing relationships with venture capital and angel investors, performing market analyses and financial projections, and leading sales and marketing activities for the company.
In his OTT roles, Cole has enjoyed educating inventors about what it means to commercialize something. Even when an invention may not have commercial potential, it’s still important to spend time educating the inventor to give their next innovative idea a better chance of success, Cole explained.
In Cole’s nomination letter for the Outstanding Service Award, a colleague said, “Chuck has been willing to revisit the same conversations multiple times with many of my start-ups trying to find the right combination to assist in making their dreams a reality. His patience is exemplary and a gift that is important to many teams success.”
Within OTT, Cole participates as a mentor in a recently-launched mentorship program for new hires, and also volunteers his time as part of the office’s Work From Home Committee, formed to find ways to help the OTT team navigate remote working amid the COVID pandemic.
“[Chuck’s] sensitivity in understanding the different profiles of team members and what they may be facing has helped make the work of the committee easier, more valuable and most importantly more on target,” a colleague wrote in support of Cole’s award nomination.
It’s those types of soft skills that Cole points to as being important in his work at OTT, beyond his technical and business background.
“Interpersonal skills are absolutely key to this job,” Cole said, including listening effectively to all parties involved and being inquisitive. “Whenever I go into a meeting, I try to put myself into the shoes of the client and try to understand their perspective,” he added.
When it comes to being motivated about the office and his job, Cole pointed to the mix of problem-solving with great colleagues and the responsibility of shepherding great ideas to the market. “Here we are at a premier research institution and we’re entrusted with world-leading researchers’ best ideas to help commercialize them and that’s a pretty cool responsibility,” Cole said.
Chuck is the second recipient of the annual Jessica Soulliere Outstanding Service Award, and was honored in a virtual reception held November 6. In 2019, Drew Bennett, Associate Director of Licensing, Software, Mobile and Digital Technologies was the inaugural awardee.