“Things that Can Change Lives”

Portrait of Timothy Opstrup
Photo by Robert DeSanto

Each year, Yale’s Innovation Summit convenes faculty, students, staff, and people from industry to network and promote the entrepreneurial work being done at Yale — through keynote panels, company presentations, and pitch contests. Bringing all the pieces together is Tim Opstrup, director of finance and administration for Yale Ventures, the university’s hub for entrepreneurship and innovation. “I love the innovation ecosystem we are engaged with,” says Tim. “I love the idea of working with really smart people, discovering things that can change lives.”

Before joining Yale, in 2016, Tim’s varied career included five years serving in the Coast Guard, roles in financial oversight and quality control at General Electric and Danaher, and a return to his undergraduate alma mater, the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, as chief financial officer of the athletics department.

Here he talks about his role at Yale Ventures — including preparations for this year’s Innovation Summit, on May 31 and June 1 — and his personal commitment to helping some of New Haven’s most vulnerable residents.

Interview condensed and lightly edited.

Can you describe your job at Yale?

In finance and business roles you have two obligations. You have to say, “Here are the rules,” and count numbers. Your other part is to say, “What do you need to run your program, and how can I help you be successful?”

Day-to-day my job falls into three buckets: daily management, long-term planning, and the fires of the day. I check financial reports each day to make sure all the trains are running. I check in with program leaders for any needs. I keep a clean in-box so that people can get the answers they need to do their jobs. With long-term planning, I’m thinking at least six to 12 months ahead — with the Innovation Summit, for example, as soon as one ends, I start planning the next. Then, of course, I deal with the fires of the day that need to be extinguished.

What is your role in the Innovation Summit?

I serve as the point to organize the overall effort and keep the group on track. I’m heavily involved in what I call the engine room work — making sure that everything is set up, that financing and logistics are in place, from the location down to the smallest detail — for instance, do we have a tech person in the room to make sure we can transition slides? Then I work with my great colleagues that build out the different tracks — biotech, tech, health, arts, and climate — so that they can develop world-class content with the right people and the right topics.

Is there something that you are particularly excited about in this year’s Innovation Summit?

Our job is to place people together and give them a chance to bump and collide and see what happens.

We’ve traditionally been focused on classic biotech and tech tracks. Now we’re expanding to include climate and health and the arts. There’s a group called Midnight Oil Collective that is taking point on the arts track. I think it’s going to add a unique flavor to the summit and bring a whole new audience.

What I’m excited about is the crossovers that could happen. We’re already starting to see synergies between the tech sides and the climate sides. Our job is to place people together and give them a chance to bump and collide and see what happens. The ideal outcome will be new companies that deliver products, services, and solutions the world needs, and create jobs in and around New Haven.

Has there been a moment at Yale that has been particularly meaningful?

When I realized the power of the Innovation Summit, the relationships that it builds, and the energy that it created — it reflects the culmination of what we are trying to achieve and drives engagement with the ecosystem. If we do this well and create the opportunity for the right people to connect, we can make innovation succeed, and that’s going to affect New Haven, that’s going to affect Yale. Ultimately, it’s going to change the world.

You serve as president of the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen. How did you get involved?

As a person of faith, I look for opportunities to serve. When I used to commute by train, I would pass by the soup kitchen on my way to the station and saw such an opportunity. I started volunteering, then joined the board and became the budget guy. I’ve been president of the board for the last couple of years.

For more than 35 years, the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen has helped people experiencing homelessness or poverty by providing food and services to promote health, community, and equity. DESK serves nightly dinners and has weekly pantry services and welcomes volunteers and donations. Yale Hospitality has been a longtime partner of the organization, donating meals, hosting fundraising events, and preparing annual holiday meals.

We’re trying to be a resource where we’re not just giving people food but standing beside them for the other needs they may have, whether it’s clothes or access to medicine. We work with nurses and doctors, and we help get other nonprofits connected. Our job is to treat the entire person with dignity and find ways where we can surround them with people that can help.

We bought a building at 266 State St. a few years ago where we opened a drop in and resource center so people can come out of the cold, get supplies, and connect with staff. Things like that. We have a big capital campaign underway, and we’re about to embark on a major renovation in the next couple of months. We are building a kitchen, putting in an elevator, and adding a full medical clinic that will be staffed by Cornell Scott Hill Health Center’s Homeless Healthcare Department.

Why is it important for you to be involved in the New Haven community?

If you have capacity and can make it better for someone else, I think it is important to do something. That’s how we become a successful, functioning society. We’re here not just to think of ourselves, but to lend a hand to others when needed. It could be easily flip-flopped. We also need to remember that everybody is someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, child, life partner, their whole world. If there were someone in my world that needed help, I would want someone to step up. I want to be more than rhetoric.

“Expanding Impact,” this year’s Yale Innovation Summit, will be held on May 31 and June 1 at the Yale School of Management. This year’s summit, the ninth, will include panels and speakers focused on arts, biotech, climate, health, and technology. The summit is open to Yale staff, faculty, students, and the general public.