Velocity director finds new direction

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Mike Kirkup, director of Velocity since December 2011, will be resigning from the company as of May 20. Over the four years Kirkup has served as director, Velocity has grown considerably, seeing the development of programs like the Velocity Garage and Velocity Science, and working with startups such as Thalmic Labs and MappedIn. Before Velocity, Kirkup worked as a developer relations manager at Blackberry, and has been involved with several startup companies. As his last days at the company draw near, <em>Imprint</em> spoke to Kirkup about his reflections on Velocity and his plans for the future.&nbsp;</p>

Q: What motivated your decision to resign?

A: It was kind of a conflict of eevents — Velocity was now in a position where I felt that a new person could come in and continue to run the program effectively and take over all the hard work that we did without any long-term damage or challenges, because the program was maturing to the point where someone else could do that. Then personally, there were opportunities for me that were pretty exciting, so when those two things came together it seemed like the right decision. 

Q: What are you planning to do next?

A: I’m heading off to be the chief etechnology officer at a startup that actually went through Velocity, called Encircle. 

Encircle builds solutions for insurance companies. Some of the major challenges insurance companies have is managing the claims process. If you think of what an insurance company does, it gets customers, it manages the money it has, and then it manages the claims process, which pays out under those unfortunate circumstances when something bad happens. Encircle has built solutions to help improve the productivity and efficiency of insurance companies, playing into these huge changes that are happening in banking and financial services and insurance right now and over the next decade. 

Q: What inspired you to get involved with Encircle?

A: [Encircle] is a company that actually went through Velocity.… I really wanted to make sure that I was going to a place that was going to be a similar kind of fun, challenging, interesting environment, and the fact that I’ve worked with all the founders of Encircle before — I’ve worked with Paul [Donald], who’s the CEO, when we were both at Blackberry, and then I’ve worked with Ronuk [Raval] and Christophe [Biocca] when they went through the Velocity residence. Because they were in the residence for a very long time, I know all of them very, very well, and in that way it seemed like an incredible fit of going into a place where it would already feel like family. 

Q: What would you say you’re most proud of accomplishing in your time as Velocity’s director?

A: There’s a lot that we’re proud eof, right? I would say probably the Velocity Garage and the companies that have come through here — it shows that the program works and that we can have a very tangible impact on not just the local community but broadly as well. My close second would be Velocity Science, just creating more awareness among science students with the opportunity to build amazing companies and increase the number of startups coming out of that faculty. Our partnership with that faculty has been extremely rewarding. 

Q: Is there anything you would have done differently?

A: There’s a million things we would have done differently! We have a lot of experiments at Velocity: we started out as a startup, we still run it as a startup, even if though it’s maturing a bit now. So there’s lots of things that we had to learn the hard way along the way that we would do differently, but nothing fundamental, not big pieces that we would do differently. That’s one of the benefits of being fast and nimble as we were, we could move and change things that weren’t working, and we did that. We had a great culture of being willing to take risks and fix them if and when they didn’t work out, rather than avoiding risk altogether. 

Q: If you could leave one piece of advice for the next director, what would it be? 

A: Oh that’s an easy one! The person who’s coming in has a world-class team who’s there, ready, willing, and capable of running the program, so my advice would be to listen to them. 

The university’s doing all of the right things in trying to find the right person to replace me, and they’re looking for the right type of candidate in terms of being an entrepreneur. How they’re going about it, how they’re recruiting, I have an immense amount of confidence in the leadership of the university that they’re going to find the right person who’s going to be able to take Velocity to the next level, and that makes me very happy and very proud.