Most people have one, maybe two, careers during their life. But Bob Metcalfe isn’t most people.

Metcalfe is preparing to wind down his fifth — yes, fifth — career, and he is already starting to think about number six. You may remember Metcalfe from such achievements as co-inventing Ethernet, co-founding pioneering technology company 3Com and becoming a prolific startup investor.

For the last 10 years he has led innovation initiatives in the Cockrell School of Engineering and across The University of Texas at Austin. He is the founding director of the Texas Innovation Center, which launched in 2011 to help faculty and students bring their scientific and engineering discoveries to market. He envisioned helping Austin become a better version of Silicon Valley, and he considers his mission accomplished.

A decade of networking, mentoring and inspirational events that Metcalfe led at UT.

During his time at UT, Metcalfe was a fixture as a speaker and advisor for entrepreneurial groups and events across campus. He was a major part of Longhorn Startup, a fall course that gives students an opportunity to hear from entrepreneurs and then pitch their own projects. And he created a startup studio and salons within the Cockrell School to help professors and students sharpen their startup ideas.

An ethos of building and creating things has become an even greater part of the Texas Engineering DNA. Nowhere is that symbolized more, he said, than in the Engineering Education and Research Center. That’s where we spoke on a sunny day in the spring, the first time he had been on campus in more than a year.

The building is a first-class facility on its own. But it also, Metcalfe says, symbolizes the values of the Cockrell School — openness, collaboration, creativity.

“You want to learn something? Then build, make, create. I think the Cockrell School has implemented that, and I am really happy about it. Engineers, in my book, still rule the world.”

-Bob Metcalfe

In the 10 years that Metcalfe has spent teaching and mentoring at UT Austin, he has noticed a change in students. Students today are coming with a significantly larger entrepreneurial bent than past enrollees, Metcalfe said.

His final class focused on entrepreneurship. He had 18 first-year students in the class, with a lot more who wanted to be involved. None of them had yet to step on campus, thanks to the pandemic, but Zoom came through for them like so many other students around the globe. And each of them came in with a well-thought-out idea for a company they would like to start.

“I’m seeing a much higher degree of involvement in entrepreneurship across campus, and it’s not just at UT Austin,” he said. “Universities across the country are building out their technology commercialization operations.”

Metcalfe’s professional life has progressed in decade-long increments. He hit the 10-year milestone at UT Austin last fall, and that made him start looking toward what’s next.

Outside of work, Metcalfe is an avid boater. He was the captain of the MIT tennis team in college and continues to play regularly. Metcalfe’s next career is still up in the air. But he’s got three main passions right now, any of which could become a career move:

He is heavily involved in geothermal energy, which involves harvesting the natural heat generated in the earth’s subsurface and using it as a power source. He started the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization at UT in 2019 to bring together engineers, researchers and entrepreneurs to develop technologies to launch companies in the geothermal energy arena.

Internet connectivity is another passion. That’s no surprise given how influential Metcalfe was in the development of the internet via co-creating Ethernet, which links computers together to create stronger networks. It’s amazing, he said, how the internet has managed to connect the majority of the human race in just a few decades. This trend, he said, represents the most important fact about the human condition going forward.

And Metcalfe’s third major passion is, again no surprise, innovation, specifically in Texas. He has invested in many startups in his life, and Metcalfe says he looks forward to doing more of that in the future.

Metcalfe has accomplished a lot in his various careers, and he is nowhere close to slowing down. For all the accolades he’s gotten for the things he’s done, he’s also garnered attention for what he says. Over the years, he has made some big predictions that were pretty accurate; others, less so.

So, we asked Metcalfe for his latest big predictions.

Unsurprisingly, he is bullish on the potential for geothermal to break out and join wind and solar as major renewable sources of energy and maybe even grow beyond them to become its own category.

“I think we’re going to have a big and pleasant surprise in the scale up of geothermal,” Metcalfe said. “I predict oil and gas is going to lead the way, and they are going to pivot toward geothermal, and the advances won’t be so much technological, but in scaling.”

And then there is the internet. It has transformed society in countless ways, for better or worse. When the pandemic hit last year, it was a saving grace for millions of people around the world who were able to switch from office to remote work. And the internet’s evolution over the decades came at just the right time; we needed that ability to adjust to the pandemic.

Going forward, Metcalfe sees huge room for the internet to continue to grow, when faster and more reliable service becomes available across the world. And his prediction is that what will come out of it is very much…unpredictable.

“There’s going to be a whole new round of unanticipated household-name applications like Google and Facebook that will come out of the fact that the internet will be faster and cheaper by factors of 10,” he said.

by Nat Levy