Joseph DeSimone: Liberal arts ‘secret sauce’ of entrepreneurship


Joseph Desimone speaks at the TEDxUNC conference in early 2012.

As entrepreneurship becomes increasingly prominent on a global scale, so does the pressure to become an innovator.

Joseph DeSimone, director of the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, spoke to students Tuesday about the important connection between a liberal arts education and entrepreneurship.

“A lot of innovation happens at the intersection of other disciplines,” said DeSimone, who is one of UNC’s leading researchers.

“It’s a liberal arts training that allows us to seek connections that are not so obvious at times. That’s the secret sauce our group has.”

DeSimone said a liberal arts education will best prepare students for entering the competitive arena of entrepreneurship because it gives them the ability to continually learn and adjust.

DeSimone has worked with other researchers to claim more than 130 patents.

His projects include work on developing synthetic blood and creating non-flammable car batteries.

Mathilde Verdier, coordinator of the social innovation incubator at the Campus Y, said they were thrilled to host such a great role model and mentor in research.

“We’re really lucky at UNC to have such an incredibly successful social innovator within University walls,” Verdier said.

DeSimone said he wants to help shape UNC to become the most influential institute in the world for entrepreneurship and innovation.

“Students can be really good problem solvers, but they don’t know where the problems are,” DeSimone said. “We want to match them with people who hold the problems.”

DeSimone said UNC is in a great position to encourage innovation, which he said was confirmed by the recent jump in rankings for funds spent on research and development.

“Right now, there are staggering opportunities for doing something important,” DeSimone said.

DeSimone’s speech kicked off a series of events organized by the Campus Y that focus on innovation.

Alice Wang, a Ph.D. student and a member of the incubator, said she attended the event because she was fascinated by his experience.

“I saw an amazing exhibit of his work at the Nature Science Research Center in Raleigh, and I was really interested to see what he had to say to students,” Wang said.

Campus Y Co-President Mackenzie Thomas said DeSimone was an inspiration to students and the UNC community.

“He represents the talent and expertise this University can thrive off of,” she said.

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