Joe DeSimone, a star chemistry professor who developed several spinoff companies from his research at two Triangle universities, will take on a new role to drive innovation and entrepreneurship.
He has been named the new director of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, part of the Kenan-Flagler Business School. He replaces John Kasarda, who stepped down as director last month after 22 years.
DeSimone holds two endowed professorships in the Triangle – he is a chemistry professor at UNC-CH and a chemical engineering professor at N.C. State University. He is a well-known entrepreneur whose research has ranged from developing environmentally friendly industrial processes to designing new medicines and vaccines using manufacturing techniques from the computer industry. He is the inventor on more than 130 patents and has another 100 pending.
He is also the co-founder of Liquidia Technologies, a Triangle-based nanotechnology company, which has a flu vaccine in clinical trials and a newly announced collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline.
In an interview Monday, DeSimone pointed out that other areas, including San Francisco, New York and Chicago, are building new collaborative ventures among multiple universities and business, based on big ideas, applied research and economic development – the kind of thing that Research Triangle Park pioneered.
“This region used to drive this,” said DeSimone, who is also on the Research Triangle Park board. “And now in some ways, we’ve sort of lost our mojo.”
The Kenan Institute can help promote the applied research agenda that will ultimately have an economic impact and a benefit to society, he said.
“I’m really looking forward to try to help North Carolina get to the next level, because I’m a firm believer in the role research universities have in society,” he said. “I think the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise is a really great opportunity to help elevate that dialogue and that discussion.”
DeSimone said the new role fits in with his current teaching and research. He teaches in the entrepreneurship program at UNC-CH, and his research lab is an amalgam of chemists, chemical engineers, medical doctors and cell biologists. He will give up other administrative roles and some of his activities with national organizations in Washington, he said.
Earlier this year, DeSimone was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, a top honor for an American scientist. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2005.
The Kenan Institute was founded in 1985. It promotes collaboration among business, government and academia and the use of research and private-sector resources to serve the public interest.