Harnessing Servant Leadership
by Karl Mundorff
M

y life changed at the Oregon Entrepreneurship Network’s Angel Oregon Conference in March of 2011. Prior to that time, I had been involved in a number of startups as an entrepreneur, advisor and board member. In fact, at the time, I was an Entrepreneur-in-Residence for the Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technology Center (Oregon BEST) with the intent of finding my next Cleantech startup.

Leading any entrepreneurial endeavor requires you to be resourceful. You are always resource-limited. And when I say resource-limited, I mean limited in financial resources, production assets, human capital, emotional capital and time. I thought of that as I met with startups, helping them determine what they needed to be successful. I worked with them to determine what should be the company’s key activities (what could they do and what should they do), what key resources they would need, which ones they had and how they could get the ones they needed. We talked about the key partners they had or needed and how to develop those partners. Also, did they have a need for someone with my skill set? Could I be additive to the organization?

Prior to joining Oregon BEST, while I was the CEO of BioReaction Industries, I taught strategy and entrepreneurship courses at Concordia University and Portland State University. I did this because my company, BioReaction Industries, and I had significantly benefited from all I had learned while getting my MBA with an entrepreneurship focus at Concordia, and I wanted to pass on those learnings to others coming behind me.

In real estate, there is a term called Highest and Best Use. This means that, where the market value of real property is sought, that value must be based on its highest and best use.Highest and best use is always the use that would produce the highest value for a property, regardless of its actual current use.1

Becoming a Servant Leader

I was thinking of all of these things while attending Angel Oregon that year. The keynote was delivered by Diane Fraiman, a partner at Voyager Capital. She spoke passionately of the need for us to harness all of the resources of the state (investors, mentors, universities, economic development agencies and other supporters of innovation and entrepreneurship) to come together and develop a true ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship if the state was ever going to compete in the innovation economy.

That is when I had my epiphany. I could either jump into a single startup and try to drive it to commercial success, or I could help the state’s I&E ecosystem reach its highest and best use. Given those two scenarios, I believed my personal highest and best use was the latter rather than the former. My hypothesis was that I could harness the elements of servant leadership, I could help the state reach its highest and best use and I could find my own highest and best use. Servant leadership is not catering to everyone’s wants and needs. According to Skip Pritchard2, a servant leader provides leadership by:

  1. Valuing diverse opinions
  2. Cultivating a culture of trust
  3. Developing other leaders
  4. Helping with life issues
  5. Encouraging
  6. Selling instead of telling
  7. Thinking you, not me
  8. Thinking long-term
  9. Acting with humility

My first step was to determine, with my skill set, where to start. I was very fortunate in that, at about this same time, Oregon BEST (now VertueLab) had created a new position for a Director of Research Programs with a focus on helping researchers in our public universities and regional national labs translate their research into commercial products and services. In an environment where thoughts of markets, profits and commercialization are typically anathema, I had to use all of the elements of servant leadership to align my efforts and intended outcomes with the needs of researchers and academics.

In an environment with these multiple stakeholders, it was important to remember to cultivate a culture of trust by valuing diverse opinions, thinking long-term, acting with humility and thinking you, not me.

This engagement allowed me to interact with the best and brightest researchers in the state and the region, helping them develop their innovations into commercial inventions. Over time, it also allowed me to engage with the triangulation of cluster development actors (academia, government and industry) who are all working to develop our innovation economy. In an environment with these multiple stakeholders, it was important to remember to cultivate a culture of trust by valuing diverse opinions, thinking long-term, acting with humility and thinking you, not me.

As a group, we were able to develop a number of programs and entities furthering the development of our innovation economy. One outcome of our engagement is the creation of the Pacific Northwest Manufacturing Partnership, a sixteen-county entity recognized by the Economic Development Administration as an Investing in Manufacturing Community Partnership group, one of only twenty-four across the country. We also gained an Economic Development Administration feasibility study grant to determine how we can best harness cross-laminated timber to support our rural economies, improve forest health and increase our advanced manufacturing cluster. We also created a water technology development cluster recognized by the EPA called the Oregon Water Technology Initiative.

All of this work has led to my increased engagement with Oregon State University, where I now work as the Director of the Advantage Accelerator and the Principal Investigator of OSU’s National Science Foundation Innovation Corps Site. I’m engaged with other ecosystem partners in the development of the innovation economy, in Oregon and across the region and the country, striving for global impact.

Return on Investment

We are starting to see outcomes from these efforts, including developing career-resilient students with the necessary skills to have their greatest societal impact and expanding faculty research impact through commercial solutions for the betterment of society. And by being a steward of innovation and entrepreneurship and partnering with agencies and economic development groups locally, regionally, nationally and globally, we are increasing the number of innovation-based startups and jobs.

There are a lot of leadership styles that are appropriate for different situations. In my work, I have not found a better leadership style than servant leadership. I have found that I have to serve and provide the ecosystem for leadership to grow and build so it can develop into its highest and best use. And, professionally, I am at my highest and best use in building an innovation ecosystem using servant leadership to harness the transformation of society.

1 The Appraisal of Real Estate, 14th Edition, p. 333, by the Appraisal Institute
2 Pritchard, R. 2013, January 24,. 9 Qualities of Servant Leader

Karl Mundorff
Karl Mundorff is a Director of the Oregon State University Advantage Accelerator and is the Principal Investigator for OSU’s National Science Foundation Innovation Corps Site. He was recently the Director of Research Programs for VertueLab, a State Signature Research Center advancing the Cleantech cluster. He played an integral role in securing an Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership designation from the Economic Development Administration. Among many entrepreneurial endeavors, Mundorff served as President and CEO of BioReaction Industries, which commercialized an air pollution control technology utilizing microbes to digest industrial process exhaust, growing the company from prototype to commercial success with engagements with Fortune 500 companies on three continents.

advantage.oregonstate.edu/advantage-accelerator

Karl Mundorff is a Director of the Oregon State University Advantage Accelerator and is the Principal Investigator for OSU’s National Science Foundation Innovation Corps Site. He was recently the Director of Research Programs for VertueLab, a State Signature Research Center advancing the Cleantech cluster. He played an integral role in securing an Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership designation from the Economic Development Administration. Among many entrepreneurial endeavors, Mundorff served as President and CEO of BioReaction Industries, which commercialized an air pollution control technology utilizing microbes to digest industrial process exhaust, growing the company from prototype to commercial success with engagements with Fortune 500 companies on three continents.

advantage.oregonstate.edu/advantage-accelerator