Director of business development takes private industry job
CHAMPAIGN – The guy who's been working to make the University of Illinois more attractive to big business has left to take a job in – where else? – big business.
Tony DeLio, the UI's director of business development, has joined National Starch & Chemical as general manager for its North American food division. The Bridgewater, N.J.-based company provides industrial starch to the food industry.
DeLio, who previously worked for food companies, joined the UI Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research in October 2004. His assignment: to sell corporations on the virtues of collaborative research at the UI. DeLio's last day there was Feb. 28.
"We're enormously sad we're not able to keep him," said Vice Chancellor Charles Zukoski. "He came in to help us market the research commercialization capabilities of the campus."
DeLio said the new job "happened a lot sooner than what I was expecting." But he said the UI is "poised to do well and break out of the pack" of universities vying for companies' attention.
DeLio said research indicated that peer institutions, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford and Michigan, have great respect for the UI's research capabilities, but "corporate executives really don't know what we do."
"There's a real opportunity to paint the palette," DeLio said. "They have no negative preconceived notions about this place."
Companies do recognize the UI is "one of the best places to recruit students into business – they're recognized as hard-working, roll-up-the-sleeves type people," DeLio said. "They don't yet think of us on the research side with the same sort of regard."
In addition to trumpeting the UI's excellence in research in both the physical and social sciences, the university should play up its reputation as being "collaborative and approachable," he said.
Other top institutions don't have that reputation, he said.
"These guys aren't as approachable as us," DeLio said. "The fact that we're a little bit isolated (in the Midwest) is actually a good thing. It allows us to focus and facilitates collaboration."
But the bottom line in building corporate relationships is selling the UI's research capabilities, he said.
"There are not a lot of other reasons to come here. We're not as convenient as Chicago or New York. In some cases, we don't have the depths of management capabilities for leadership. Those are negatives," he said. "But approachability, collaboration, the ease of doing business with us – those are strengths."
DeLio had hoped to identify three disciplines in which the UI is dominant and where important problems need to be solved.
If he had to identify them today, DeLio said he would choose:
– Information technology, including supercomputer modeling and data mining.
– Engineering disciplines.
– Materials science, including nanotechnology and new materials.
"I hate to say we're not first-rate in other things, but my goal would be to engage corporations in technical or physical science areas first and then draw them into other relationships across campus," he said.
With regard to attracting corporations to the UI Research Park, DeLio said: "That's a tougher go than I would have thought. I'd like to have made more progress in that area, but it's not for lack of trying."
Zukoski said DeLio worked hard to try to persuade many companies, including Chromatin and Abbott Laboratories, to expand their presence locally.
DeLio's overall conclusion: "We have to connect them with a technology and a professor and a perceived value here. ... We gotta keep trying, and I think we're going to see success."
DeLio said more than 1,000 people work in the research park.
"That's more from startups than from attracting big companies," he said. "iCyt and Strata (Decision Technology) have done very well. They started here and grew up here. Maybe that's the model for success."
Zukoski said in addition to building corporate awareness of the UI, DeLio sought to identify and tear down "inadvertent barriers the campus puts up in working with corporations."
A key concern, Zukoski said, is making sure contract negotiations with companies move along in a timely manner.
The university also needs more programs to engage corporations, he said. He cited a cooperative pilot program with Tsingua University in Beijing that will bring Chinese students to the UI for classes, then give them work experience with corporate partners.
Those students will give corporations a leg up because they'll be familiar with Chinese culture and have work experience, he said.
Before coming to the UI, DeLio worked in research and development for companies including Mars, Nestle and Archer Daniels Midland.
One of his claims to fame: helping to market Uncle Ben's Rice Bowl.
He cited only one parallel between the UI and Uncle Ben's: "Both colors are orange and blue."