Cherukuri named Rice University’s first vice president for innovation

Executive director of Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering to assume role Aug. 16

Paul Cherukuri Photo
Paul Cherukuri

Paul Cherukuri, the executive director of the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, has been named Rice University’s first vice president for innovation. 

As the chief innovation officer, Cherukuri will lead Rice’s technology and commercialization infrastructure to translate breakthrough discoveries into inventions for the benefit of society. The primary areas of focus for the Office of Innovation will be technology translation, startup creation, commercialization and entrepreneurship training. Cherukuri will also oversee Rice’s engagement with the Ion, including the university's programs in the in the newly inaugurated innovation district. This new role is part of President Reginald DesRoches’ commitment for Rice to be a leader within the Houston and global innovation ecosystems. 

A nine-member committee of faculty, staff and trustees selected Cherukuri after a nationwide search was launched in January by Isaacson, Miller, one of the country’s leading executive search firms. The committee was led by Naomi Halas, the Stanley C. Moore Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the Smalley-Curl Institute. 

“Paul is the perfect fit to lead our university’s innovation future,” Halas said. “His entrepreneurial experience in early-stage startups and big pharma gives him a unique ability to accelerate the translation of breakthrough discoveries into the marketplace. He creates clear pathways for researchers to find new avenues for application within the research realm as well as transition into commercial use. I am excited about the work he will do for Rice in this new role.” 

Cherukuri will assume the vice president for innovation role Aug. 16. 

“Paul has already started to develop a culture of innovation and impact on campus in his role at the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering,” said DesRoches. “He has created ways for faculty to serve as academic entrepreneurs, engaged external partners in innovative pursuits and started working to improve Rice’s transfer and translation systems. I look forward to continuing to work with him on these initiatives and to leveraging Rice's world-class research community, thriving entrepreneurship programming, top-ranked degree programs and talented undergraduate and graduate student body to advance and grow the institution's innovation portfolio.”

Cherukuri said he is excited about the opportunity to create, design and build new innovation pathways for Rice’s faculty and student entrepreneurs.

“I am thrilled and honored to serve in this new role at this inflection point in our university’s history,” Cherukuri said. “Rice has some of the finest minds in the world and I look forward to working with President DesRoches and the leadership team he has assembled to chart a bold new path for world-changing innovation from Rice by engaging the remarkable innovation ecosystem including the Ion District, the Texas Medical Center, industry and other unique assets in Houston.”

Cherukuri is a physicist, chemist and med-tech entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in academia and the pharmaceutical industry. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Kentucky and his Ph.D. in physical chemistry under Nobel laureate Richard  Smalley at Rice. 

Before returning to Rice in 2014, Cherukuri was a visiting scholar with Harvard University chemistry professor George Whitesides and a member of the Department of Experimental Therapeutics faculty at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. He was also co-founder and chief technical officer of MAReNIR Technologies LLC and a senior scientist at Sanofi, where he developed drug products and biomedical devices.

As executive director of the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering since 2016, Cherukuri has engaged with faculty to develop interdisciplinary translational research partnerships with federal and corporate agencies, garnering nearly $37 million in funding aimed at accelerating the development of new technologies into commercializable products.

“His experience and expertise in this area is abundant and invaluable,” said Joff Silberg, the Stewart Memorial Professor of BioSciences. “Paul’s eagerness to unite individual faculty, postdocs and students in the commercialization process via robust programming and a substantial service and support infrastructure is exactly what this new position at Rice needs.”