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VUMC's Jacobson will never buy lunch in this town, again
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Harry Jacobson, M.D. and entrepreneur
Accolades showering down upon Dr. Harry Jacobson following his retirement announcement suggest that, at the very least, he'll never need to buy lunch in this town, again.

Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos announced yesterday the man credited by many with infusing fresh entrepreneurial and research energy into a wide range of VU programs will on June 1 cede his vice chancellor for health affairs robes to his carefully groomed understudy of recent years, Jeffrey Balser, M.D., Ph.D., who is currently dean of the Vanderbilt University school of medicine.

The timing of Jacobson's somewhat anticipated announcement was a relatively well-kept secret, with most staff and faculty contacted by VNC today acknowledging they'd been caught by surprise.

The news has also left some Nashville entrepreneurs wondering whether Jacobson will remain active in fostering high-growth companies – and, if so, from what vantage point; and, whether or not Balser (at left) will prove to be entrepreneurial. In contrast, little doubt has been expressed regarding Balser's capacity for sustaining the momentum established within VUMC during Jacobson's 12 years at the helm.

Against this backdrop, campus rumblings about a supposedly poor relationship between Zeppos and Jacobson seem suddenly to be waning in importance.  Nonetheless, one Vanderbilt denizen, today observed that the two men are "oil and water," with Jacobson accustomed to independence and Zeppos "all powerful and a micro-manager."  Both men have previously been dismissive of reports of tensions between them.

Jacobson's influence has legendarily extended beyond the confines of the medical center, and his alliance with the Owen Graduate School of Management has been particularly strong.

Owen GSM Associate Dean Jon Lehman (at right), himself a former healthcare entrepreneur, told VNC today, "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for Harry.  [He] was very supportive of the whole effort to create a healthcare program here at Owen," as well as key to forging a strong partnership between the medical and management schools.

Lehman noted Jacobson has in recent years been instrumental in supporting introduction of Owen health-related degree programs and related offerings, and said he believes Jacobson will continue teaching a "very popular" entrepreneurship class at Owen.

Jacobson's support of enterprise formation has contributed to a number of ventures, perhaps most notably in the U.S. Stimulus Funding era that of West End-based Informatics Corporation of America (ICA), which is poised to compete for a share of billions of fresh funds to be allocated for health information technology improvement nationally.

ICA CEO Gary Zegiestowsky told VNC this morning he believes Jacobson will continue in his current role as a senior advisor to ICA, beyond his retirement.

Explaining he'd only heard rumors "through the grapevine" that a Jacobson announcement was coming at some point, Zegiestowsky (at left) said, "Harry's obviously been instrumental in the whole formation and launching of ICA."

He said that, subsequently, Jacobson has remained involved, helping ICA determine how to meet market needs for health informatics products and services, while allowing ICA to "leverage" Jacobson's credentials and contacts, and the growing reputation of the medical school, itself, to strengthen ICA's reputation and visibility.

Jacobson and other VUMC stars have gained national reputations and, hence, influential roles far beyond West End.  Jacobson, for example, is reportedly now serving on the boards of directors of Merck & Co., Kinetic Concepts, Ingram Industries and CeloNova BioSciences.

This morning, VU Office of Technology Transfer and Development Director Chris McKinney (below right), asked for comment by VNC, first noted that he has reported to Balser in recent years, then told VNC, "Dr. Jacobson is a phenomenal leader and entrepreneur who has elevated our technology transfer efforts at Vanderbilt through his vision, energy, and mentorship.”

McKinney also offered that as VU's co-chief research officers, medical-school Dean Balser and Provost Dennis Hall "have been the wind at our backs in all that we do...," suggesting little concern on McKinney's part regarding future entrepreneurial support for tech commercialization and related efforts.

As further evidence of the entrepreneurial environment Jacobson has helped to cultivate on campus, Bob Galloway, co-founder of early-stage Pathfinder Therapeutics and a professor of biomedical engineering in the university's school of engineering, told VNC that while Jacobson had no direct involvement in spinoff Pathfinder, he did contribute to the company's advancement by "fostering a general interest in spinoffs and startups."

Asked by VNC for comment on Jacobson's retirement and influence, Nashville Health Care Council President Caroline Young (left) noted she expects Jacobson's engagement in healthcare entrepreneurism to "continue for years to come," following his departure from Vanderbilt.

She described Jacobson as "widely respected nationally," as well as "a catalyst" by dint of his "management expertise and his entrepreneurial spirit..."  Jacobson, who earlier served as NHCC board chairman, is not currently on the group's board.
Although Vanderbilt and Nashville have in recent years bred large numbers of entrepreneurs, and that phenomenon is likely to continue, Lehman noted, "Harry is a very unique individual," not only well connected and capable, but able to "shift gears across the spectrum" of interests, and add value.

While Jacobson's clinical, research and academic strengths have been crucial, Lehman said, it must also be acknowledged that "Harry is a died-in-the-wool entrepreneur, no question about it – he has that DNA." ♦ 

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Tags: , Bob Galloway, Caroline Young, Chris McKinney, Gary Zegiestowsky, Harry Jacobson, ICA Informatics Corporation of America, Jeffrey Balser, Jon Lehman, Nashville Health Care Council, Nicholas Zeppos, Owen Graduate School of Management, Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, venture

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