iCyt founder predicts work force will greatly expand

CHAMPAIGN – Champaign-based iCyt Mission Technology could employ hundreds of people within five years if expectations for global opportunities pan out, company founder Gary Durack said Wednesday.

At an event heralding Sony Corp.'s acquisition of iCyt, Durack said it's difficult to predict the future. But he supposed iCyt's employees "could be measured in the hundreds within that time frame."

The company, which makes flow cytometry equipment used in biological research, now has 46 employees at its offices at 2100 S. Oak St., C, in the University of Illinois Research Park.

The firm – now a wholly owned subsidiary of Sony – has been hiring in recent months, and even added two new employees after Sony's announcement came Tuesday afternoon, Durack said.

Elaborating on the growth plans, Durack told The News-Gazette many of the new jobs are likely to occur beyond Champaign-Urbana, since iCyt will need sales and service people to accommodate new markets on the East Coast, West Coast, Europe, Asia and Africa.

Today, all of iCyt's products are marketed for research use, rather than clinical use, he said. Customers include research centers, teaching hospitals and the research arms of pharmaceutical companies.

Durack would not comment on how much Sony paid for the company, how the sale came about or even the effective date of the sale, noting Sony had not disclosed that in its release.

But he told the 60 or so guests in his company's lobby Wednesday – none of whom were from Sony – that Sony is "making a very significant investment in our community."

He also paid tribute to dozens of employees attending, noting that many "stuck with us in times when we were on top of the world and when things were tough."

The company cut its staff in 2009 after product orders were canceled following the 2008 collapse of financial markets.

Durack, 51, who founded iCyt in 1995 and remains its president and chief executive officer, noted that iCyt was started and funded in Champaign and is very much "a homegrown product." He said he intends, "as part of Sony Corp., to remain in Champaign and grow this business."

The company's products, flow cytometers, measure and sort blood cells very rapidly. Sony – best known for its electronics and entertainment businesses – is using its acquisition of iCyt to enter the flow cytometry market.

Durack said he's eager to see how Sony's expertise in consumer electronics technology can help iCyt find more reliable and more cost-effective ways of measuring cells.

He said he's not concerned about the possibility of Sony someday deciding that flow cytometry is not among its strategic interests.

"Control the things under your control," he said, adding that he expects the flow cytometry business to be solid, healthy and profitable.

Durack said he will continue to report to iCyt's board of directors, though the makeup of the board will change as a result of the sale to Sony.

Before the sale, Durack and iCyt's former chief executive officer, Tim Hoerr, had substantial stakes in the company. Also holding stakes were IllinoisVentures, Open Prairie Ventures, iCyt employees, Champaign developer Peter Fox and other private investors.

Wednesday's event was coordinated by the UI, and Durack used it to pay tribute to the environment the UI created in the research park.

He said being able to hold early business meetings at the I Hotel, taking walks through the park with Fortune 500 signs visible and strolling through the EnterpriseWorks incubator, home to several dozen fledgling firms, all made a favorable impression on Sony.

"It created enthusiasm," he said. "It showed important, relevant things were happening at the University of Illinois."

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