In this special interview series, we are proud to highlight the incredible members of the ANTrepreneur Center External (ACE) Committee and discuss their entrepreneurial experiences, their reasons for joining the ACE Committee, and their best advice for burgeoning student entrepreneurs. 

This article’s featured ACE member is Tom Andriola, Vice Chancellor for Information Technology and Data & Chief Digital Officer at UC Irvine (UCI). In his role, Tom and his office ensure the strategic use of data and technology, drive interdisciplinary partnerships, and champion digital strategies that expand UCI’s role as a leading research university, healthcare provider, and community partner.

Tom is a global business and technology leader with a broad array of experience in the public and private sectors. Throughout his career, he has been an agent for change and a supporter of disruptive innovation in the marketplace. During his tenure as Vice President and Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the University of California (UC), he created a platform to support the collaboration of 8,500 IT professionals across the system, launched a nationally recognized IT Leadership Academy, and was integral in developing UC Health’s big data strategy, which led to the creation of the UC-wide clinical data warehouse representing 16 million patients.

Prior to his UC experience, Tom held technology and business executive roles with organizations such as Philips, Marconi PLC, Sapient, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Tom then entered the healthcare industry, leading teams to develop solutions across the globe, including enabling the first national mammography program in Europe, introducing a virtual care solution for intensive care patients in India, and collaborating with Peking University and the China Association for Cardiologists to build its first clinical data repository of cardiology patients in China.

Tom holds a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University, a master’s degree from the University of South Florida, and has completed the Stanford Executive MBA program.

To share some of his professional experiences and offer advice to UCI student entrepreneurs, Tom recently sat down with Ryan Foland, Director of the ANTrepreneur Center, for an informative interview.

Ryan: Ahoy Tom! Thanks for meeting with me. I know your schedule is packed, so I really appreciate you taking the time to introduce yourself to our ANTrepreneurs and offer them advice.

Tom: Of course! I’m happy to be here and hopefully offer some guidance that will help students.

Ryan: Can you get us started by telling us a little about your background and what led you to become an entrepreneur or a supporter of entrepreneurship?

Tom: My background is a blend of technology and business. Over the course of my career, I’ve had many opportunities to help organizations move forward and transform. They say that you’re an entrepreneur if you start your own business, but you are an intrapreneur if you innovate within an existing organization. In many of my roles, I have been the person who offers creative, out-of-the-box thinking to help companies move forward with their strategies or organizational imperatives. In that intrapreneurial role, I’ve been interested in helping people tap into their creative spirit to figure out how to make exciting things happen. 

Ryan: Intrapreneur—I love that! As you mentioned, you’ve worked at several companies and have held many different positions throughout your career. When you think back, do you have any learning experiences that were particularly memorable?

Tom: I was once part of a company that was being acquired. I had to make the decision whether to stay with the new company or to leave. In my mind, I had already decided to seek out my next role elsewhere. But when they asked me what kind of opportunity I would be interested in if I stayed, I decided pitch my vision. I wanted to create a new role that would help integrate the two companies in a way that made the business better while meeting the expectations of the Board. A week later, they accepted my proposal, and together we created a brand new role where I was able to help unite teams, reduce redundancy, and make the acquisition a success. 

Through this I learned that it’s always beneficial to think and behave proactively, especially in times of ambiguity. The person that is proactive gains advantage in times of great uncertainty. Secondly, I learned how to trust my instincts and be bold. The passive and safe option isn’t always the smartest one. The lesson I always carry with me is to never wait for things to happen—instead, you have to be the one to make things happen and stand out. This philosophy has evolved into something I now teach others—how to become an exponential leader.

Ryan: Having worked with you and your team, your strong leadership is always something that I’ve appreciated and admired. What are some of the initiatives you are leading on campus?

Tom: As Vice Chancellor for Information Technology and Data & Chief Digital Officer, my office is leading the charge to reimagine UCI for the future. From developing our strategies to leverage data to experimenting with the way augmented intelligence can unlock new ways of getting work done, we promote digital transformation at UCI.

A big part of that is fostering an entrepreneurial environment here on campus. Partnering with the ANTrepreneur Center allows us to reach more entrepreneurial-minded students and empower Anteaters to pursue their great ideas!

Ryan: Is this what led you to become an ACE committee member?

Tom: The ANTrepreneur Center is special because it prepares students for life after UCI. I think the ANTrepreneur Center teaches skills and competencies that nicely complement what students are getting in the classroom, and this is why I wanted to offer my support as an ACE member.

As an ACE committee member, I’m inspired to engage our students in solving real-world problems through the ANTrepreneur Center’s Innovation Challenges. These Challenges bring students from different disciplines and majors across campus together to form teams and solve problems that are relevant to their own lives. This coming fall we are gearing up to do just that with the AI Innovation Challenge. 

Ryan: What are some of the other ways that you are partnering with the ANTrepreneur Center to support student entrepreneurs?

Tom: My office, the UCI Office of Data and Information Technology (ODIT), is launching a new space at the ANTrepreneur Center called The Hub. At The Hub, students can access cutting-edge technology and collaborate with their peers as they spark new ideas and bring them to life. At The Hub, students can work with the latest technologies that are generating jobs with companies today. Our technology partners are excited to make sure today’s and tomorrow’s technologies are available to our students. Not only will this give student entrepreneurs the opportunity to innovate, but it will also allow them to develop skills that will be important for their professional careers, regardless of if they pursue entrepreneurship or not.

Ryan: We are really looking forward to unveiling The Hub and seeing how it makes a meaningful difference for our ANTrepreneurs! Speaking of supporting student entrepreneurs, do you have any advice for them?

Tom: It’s always important to understand how to bring value to your customer—that’s what will help you build your company and reach your goals. Ultimately, this mindset is what will get you THE JOB you want—whatever that might be. It comes down to really understanding a need and how you can fulfill it. Whether you are starting your own business or going to work as a financial analyst, focus on understanding the customer’s needs and figuring out your role in fulfilling them. 

Ryan: Great advice, Tom. I want to thank you again for sitting down with me; I think our students will really get a lot from your insights. I always like to finish these conversations by asking our ACE members to convey a message to the UCI community about the importance of entrepreneurship and supporting student entrepreneurs.

Tom: Thanks for having me, Ryan—it was great being here!

Albert Einstein once famously said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” I think that’s spot on. While the knowledge from classes is an important foundation, the world outside the university asks students to put that knowledge into practice in creative ways. That requires a combination of many things, including ambition, collaboration and imagination. Our students are the ones who will create tomorrow’s world, so it’s vital that we support students as they bring their vision for the future to life. 

The resources and programming found at the ANTrepreneur Center are important elements that help students develop the skills necessary to enact meaningful change. I would encourage all members of the UCI community to find ways to support the ANTrepreneur Center’s mission or find other ways to get involved with students. This way, we can play a positive role in crafting a better world for generations to come.

Want to learn more about our ACE members? Stay tuned for the next installment of the “Meet the ANTrepreneur Center External Committee” interview series. For more information about the UCI ANTrepreneur Center, including programming, speaker series, Micro-Internships, funding, and more, visit our website. You can also learn more about our valuable collaborations with Blackstone LaunchPad, Tech Coast Angels, Tech Coast Venture Network, OC Startup Council, SoCal Celebrates Entrepreneurship, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even Threads