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Jan 25, 2022 2022-01 Alumni Business Administration Faculty Research in Education

Somaya named DPI’s first Edwards Scholar, faculty-in-residence

Gies Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship Deepak Somaya is looking forward to building bridges that connect technology to the marketplace and talent to opportunity in his new role as the first Don and Anne Edwards Scholar and Gies Faculty-in-Residence at Discovery Partners Institute (DPI).

DPI is a world-class education and resource center that is part of the University of Illinois System. Based in Chicago, DPI empowers people to jumpstart their tech careers or companies and does three things — tech talent development, applied R&D, and business-building. The goal is to attract, develop and leverage the most ambitious people and companies Illinois has to offer and keep them here. 

Deepak SomayaThis position was made possible thanks to a $10 million gift from Gies College of Business alumni Don Edwards (FIN ’88) – chair of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees – and his wife Anne (ACCY ’88). The Edwards family pledged $3 million to support Gies faculty working at DPI in Chicago and $2 million for a DPI-Gies Technology/Innovation Fund, which will support facilities and innovative programs involving Gies faculty, staff, or students.

“DPI’s mission is to create solutions for grand challenges, filling in the important gaps in translating the state’s remarkable knowledge resources into economic development. That’s why I'm really excited about this role and that's why I think it's very prescient of both the College and Don Edwards and his family to create this gift that enables us to do this,” said Somaya, the Steven V. and Christy C. King Faculty Fellow in the Department of Business Administration and Academic Director of Origin Ventures Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership.

“Gies intends to be the most innovative business school in the world, and a key part of our mission is to help accelerate economic development in the state of Illinois,” said Jeffrey R. Brown, Josef and Margot Lakonishok Professor of Business and Dean of Gies College of Business. “DPI offers Gies an opportunity to substantially expand our impact by providing a strategically located innovation hub in the heart of Chicago that will allow us to work even more closely with alumni, corporate partners, financiers, and entrepreneurs.”

Somaya thinks DPI can become a cornerstone of keeping homegrown tech startups and talent in Illinois and attracting alumni on the coasts back to Chicago.

“We have a humongous hometown pool of talent that has left for Silicon Valley,” Somaya said. “I think some of them would be more than willing to come back and help us catalyze innovation in the state if we can create the right channels.”

Somaya looks to strengthen the ties between Gies and DPI by creating research opportunities that study the process of how new technologies become startups and how startups become successful large firms. He looks to help Gies faculty contribute to the science of entrepreneurship and technology commercialization and hopes to use the depth and rigor of this research to help advance DPI’s mission.  Somaya joins Joseph Cheng, Research Professor of Global Innovation and Director of Special Projects, who has already been fostering the relationship between Gies and DPI.

“When you think about the great innovators from Edison to Steve Jobs, it turns out that while many of them were pretty good engineers or scientists their real genius was in translating technologies into businesses that won out in the marketplace,” Somaya said. “Great technologies can change the world, but for them to have a big impact we also need to understand the market and configure a great business around that innovation.”

That connection from engineering to business is exactly what makes Somaya a perfect fit. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and an MBA. His research focuses on scaling business models, and the role of knowledge assets—technology, human capital, and relational capital—in business success. He primarily teaches strategic management and technology strategy at Gies.

“Many of the companies that come to DPI will be founded by someone with a brilliant scientific mind who doesn’t necessarily know how to turn it into a venture set for growth,” said Somaya, who earned his PhD in business administration from the University of California-Berkeley and joined Gies in 2008. “If a company wants to figure out its supply chain, digital marketing, analytics, product development, or agile organization, we have experts who can advise on these topics.”

Somaya also sees an opportunity for Gies faculty to mentor students who help DPI-funded startups and new businesses. “DPI is also creating a great educational ecosystem to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in our tech workforce. DPI is developing many cradle-to-career solutions that can make Illinois a leader in diverse tech talent,” he said.

Ultimately, Somaya is also looking to offer workshops for businesses at the community level to help with economic development and connect with local entrepreneurs. He thinks the time is right for promoting what Illinois has to offer technology-driven businesses.

“The speed with which we’re all operating at now – thanks to digital technology – is going to become a big productivity enhancer,” he said. “We can be very imaginative in how we think about the workplace and what the marketplace wants and needs.”