Joe DeSimone has been a board member for Research Triangle Park, designed nanomedicines that benefit cancer patients and received top national honors in both chemistry and engineering.
He will now add director of the Kenan Institute to his long list of roles and accolades.
DeSimone will replace John Kasarda as the director of the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise. Kasarda, who led the institute for 22 years, stepped down in June.
DeSimone said in recent years it has become a hobby and passion of his to study the role research universities play in driving the economy and creating jobs.
“This is an unbelievable platform through which I can help drive some of these areas and strategies,” he said.
DeSimone said at the campus level he hopes to use resources at the institute to bring together all of UNC’s entrepreneurial ventures.
He said on a larger scale, he hopes to join forces with other Triangle area universities and Research Triangle Park to make the state more economically competitive on both the national and global levels.
“If you look around the country at what’s happening in New York and San Francisco, they’re intermingling entrepreneurship and economic development to achieve some really big initiatives,” DeSimone said.
“It’s an auspicious goal, but I want to drive that agenda and really help the state to be competitive with places like New York and San Francisco.”
Jim Dean, dean of the Kenan-Flagler Business School, said the search committee to find Kasarda’s replacement looked through at least 100 applications.
He said hiring DeSimone, who has a strong background in chemistry, gives the institute a unique opportunity to link science, business and entrepreneurial ventures in the state and beyond.
“I’m very certain we’ve come up with the right person for the job.” Dean said.
Dean said Kasarda did a tremendous job as director and is responsible for many of the projects the institute has engaged in from Chapel Hill to the Kenan Institute in Asia.
“We’re going to miss his leadership, but he certainly deserves to work on his research and try new things.”
Kasarda said he will still be involved in work at the institute but he plans to take the year off to focus on his aerotropolis research, which focuses on how airports can help communities develop economically.
DeSimone said he started to shed some of his many roles, such as finishing work with the National Academies in Washington, D.C., in anticipation of this role. However, he said he will continue to maintain an active role in research.
“Research is my great escape, kind of my golf game, it’s my connection to the students.” DeSimone said.
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