In His New Role as Associate Dean of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Doug Garland Shares a Career Full of Lessons from Mobile Industry Trailblazers, Silicon Valley Startups and Leaders

When Dean Jennifer West took the reins of the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science in 2021, she brought a vision to help faculty and students pursue entrepreneurship.

“UVA engineers have fantastic ideas they are ready to spin out into companies, which can really contribute to economic development and opportunities for our graduates,” she said. “We want to make sure we have the knowledge, processes, policies and support to help them make those ventures a reality.”

Her vision is taking shape with the appointment of UVA Engineering’s first associate dean for entrepreneurship and innovation.

Doug Garland, a UVA Engineering alumnus, stepped into the new role Sept. 1. He came from Palo Alto, Calif., where he held senior roles with Silicon Valley leaders like Google, Yahoo! and Twilio. He also served in executive and advisory roles with startups like Shazam and the venture firm of Kleiner Perkins, where he was an executive in residence.

Doug Garland

Doug Garland, a UVA Engineering alumnus, stepped into his new role as associate dean of entrepreneurship and innovation on Sept. 1. 

“Throughout my career, I have had the good fortune to lead and be part of great teams that were at the forefront of waves of innovation, from wireless communications to smartphones to the broadband internet,” Garland said. “We built major new products that reached millions of consumers and generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. It was really exciting to be part of that kind of success, in both venture-backed startups and new divisions of bigger companies.”

Garland is eager to share that excitement with UVA Engineering’s students and faculty.

“So many of our future engineers and the faculty who teach them are creative and want to make an impact with inventive products and solutions. A potentially great way to realize that dream is through a path of entrepreneurship,” Garland said. “I want to provide UVA’s engineers the skills, perspective and, importantly, the confidence to pursue their ambitions through a new venture, whenever they are ready to take that leap.”

Garland was a logical choice for West. He has been a strong supporter of UVA Engineering for years. Doug and his wife Lois, both UVA Engineering alums who served on the school’s Board of Trustees, gave the original donation in 2006 that launched UVA Engineering’s entrepreneurship program. He also served as an advisor on the program and its curriculum. Garland’s involvement was triggered by the contrast he observed between UVA and Silicon Valley.

“When I first started looking into entrepreneurship at UVA, there seemed to be a view that it was the sole domain of business schools and their students,” Garland said. “It’s so different in Silicon Valley where engineers are powering the tech revolution and founding startups. All that energy and innovation is predominately the result of products and companies that engineers imagined, created and scaled.”

Now Garland is giving back to his alma mater in a whole new way by taking on the associate dean role and building new opportunities for UVA’s engineers. “I am excited to help the members of our engineering community pursue the ideas they are passionate about.”

Garland’s engineering skills landed him on the front lines of the burgeoning tech sector after he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in systems engineering from UVA in 1983 and 1987 and a Master of Business Administration from Stanford in 1990. He was initially drawn to the communications industry.

Growing up, his family moved around a lot – Garland’s father was a career naval officer – and each time Garland faced the prospect of losing touch with old friends. The idea of bringing people together with technology was the impetus for his interest in communications.

“I thought this was a great use of technology, to keep people connected,” he said.  

It was an interest he furthered as a student at UVA.

“Building on the research of my faculty advisor, my undergraduate thesis focused on communications network design. I graduated and became an Air Force officer but returned to UVA to earn my master’s degree, which led me to a special assignment at the Defense Communications Agency,” now known as the Defense Information Systems Agency.

Following his time in the Air Force and subsequent graduation from Stanford Business School, Garland went to work in the fledgling cellular industry, where he was one of the pioneers in the move from analog to digital technology, a massive transformation. It would be the launchpad for a multiple-decades evolution of the original companies, like PacTel and Sprint, into today’s big three – AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.

Garland’s experience with technology transitions took him to a senior vice president role with Yahoo, where he led the launch of their broadband business and propelled Yahoo! into the leading mobile portal in the United States. Later he joined Google. As a vice president of product management, he led their dive into mobile advertising and forged relationships with mobile companies to roll out the Android platform, which, along with the iPhone, reshaped the mobile and internet landscape.

Throughout his career, Garland has continued to serve in the cellular industry, most recently in leadership roles with the top mobile providers he helped create. His work spanned the evolution from 1G technology to the 5G networks that have become central to everyday life. It has been a rewarding journey for an engineer who set out to use technology to bring people together.  

Garland parlayed his own success into another personal passion for helping others take their technology innovations big, working as an advisor to venture capitalists and a contributor to several tech start-ups. He helped Kleiner Perkins, the California-based venture capital firm, create the iFund to fuel the mobile application ecosystem, and joined Shazam as chief revenue officer after they invested in the music recognition leader. The company was later acquired by Apple.

He even answered the call when the San Francisco 49ers wanted to create an app to give sports fans a “connected stadium experience.” That technology, developed by Garland’s startup VenueNext, was later sold to SHIFT4 and is now used in sports arenas, universities and airports, among other spaces.

Garland’s passion to bring that Silicon Valley mindset to Charlottesville is timely for UVA Engineering.

Planning is underway for a proposed new building on Engineer’s Way. The building is expected to house themed research and education “neighborhoods” with modern, functional spaces. Garland’s work will contribute to the educational programming and faculty support for entrepreneurship. He will also serve as a liaison with other entrepreneurship-related programs at the University.

“We are trying to support students with the curriculum and extracurricular programming that will help them pursue their dreams,” he said.

panel talk

Garland moderated a panel discussion about entrepreneurship and the world of venture capital with four highly successful UVA Engineering alumni on Oct. 27. It was the launch event in his new distinguished speaker series that will feature engineers who are also entrepreneurs and innovators. 

A few weeks into the task, Garland is diving into a “discovery phase.” He is learning as much as he can from faculty and students about obstacles they face when it comes to business ventures. The information is critical for defining specific goals around the programming and collaborations.

“We’ll build on the educational foundation that exists today – business fundamentals, venture creation and financing, and product development – and add more on how to evaluate whether an idea is scalable and how to make it happen, including team-building and market development. I’m also hoping to engage more alumni and friends of the Engineering School to help our students and faculty.”

To that end, Garland has already launched a Tech Entrepreneurs in Action: Distinguished Speakers Series, with its inaugural event on Oct. 27. Garland moderated a panel discussion about entrepreneurship and the world of venture capital with four highly successful UVA Engineering alumni:  Rob Wadsworth, a founding managing director of HarbourVest, which has more than $140 billion in managed assets; Kristine Lipscomb, a partner at one of the world’s top venture capital firms; Steve Wadsworth, the former president of Disney Interactive and successful startup CEO; and Evan Edwards, co-inventor of a novel autoinjector and co-founder of Kaleo, which was recently acquired.

“Rob, Kristine, Steve and Evan have all served on UVA Engineering’s Board of Trustees and are deeply committed to giving back to the next generation of innovators,” Garland said. “Their experiences can help provide a playbook for other engineers who want to learn from their success.”

The speaker series is another opportunity for Garland to do what he loves: inspire and help members of his community create the next wave of innovations and enduring ventures.