By Aliza Rosen
Corridor Inc. Exclusive
February 17, 2012 - Last night, nearly 300 of Maryland's business leaders and lawmakers gathered for Corridor Inc.'s Sixth Annual Person of the Year Awards, held at the brand new Hotel at Arundel Preserve. What began in December with 21 accomplished and worthy nominees was narrowed down by reader votes to one person: Aris Melissaratos, Senior Advisor to the President for Enterprise Development at Johns Hopkins University.
When Aris Melissaratos first arrived in Maryland, he was 13 years old and spoke not a word of English. His parents had brought him to the United States as they escaped communism and economic hardship. Now, Melissaratos is known throughout Maryland and the region for his entrepreneurship, work ethic, community involvement, and leadership.
In 2007, Melissaratos joined Johns Hopkins University as Senior Advisor to the President for Enterprise Development, bringing his career full-circle since receiving his Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Hopkins in 1966. After graduation, Melissaratos began his 32-year career at Westinghouse Electronics Corporation, where he held numerous positions in Baltimore and at the company’s corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh.
By 1980, Melissaratos had earned a master’s degree in engineering management from George Washington University and completed a management development program at Harvard Business School. When he left Westinghouse in 1998, he had served as both the company’s Vice President of Science and Technology and its Chief Technology Officer.
Beginning in 2003, Melissaratos served a four-year term as Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED). As DBED Secretary, his mission was to stimulate the state’s economy, promoting it as a prime destination for tourists, artists, and film producers. Melissaratos is also credited with developing technology and manufacturing in Maryland, as well as minority businesses.
In his current position at Hopkins, Melissaratos is responsible for building the university’s relationship with businesses and forging new connections with the research and corporate communities. He also oversees the Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer, which links Hopkins researchers with businesses interested in commercializing their inventions.
“I’ve worked at the intersection of government, industry, and academia, and I see what is possible,” Melissaratos said. “I see what can be done by motivating the brilliant scientists at Hopkins and every other university in the world to just give it their best [and] to get their ideas out on the market.”
Melissaratos’s colleagues attest to his expertise and the contributions he has made to Maryland’s economy, as evidenced by the many accolades submitted upon his nomination for Person of the Year. “Aris has been a transformational leader in the world of commercialization of bio-health technologies for the benefit of Maryland, and advancing health for the world,” said David McDonough, Senior Director at Johns Hopkins.
Johns Hopkins University is the number one research institute in the world, conducting id="mce_marker".7 billion worth or research annually. It is one of five Carnegie Research Institutions in the state, and Melissaratos affirms, “There’s a lot of academic strength here [in Maryland].”
“This corridor is so rich in the world’s technological thought process,” Melissaratos said. “Across the spectrum of technology, we’ve got the funders, we’ve got the thinkers on the government side, and we’ve got all of the grant recipients at the universities that do the research.”
In 2011, Hopkins helped launched 19 new companies, the most they have ever established in a year. “It culminated a four-year period where we spun out 51 companies. They may be located globally, but a lot of them are local,” Melissaratos said.
Another project to which Melissaratos has dedicated himself over the past year is BHI, Bio-Health Innovations. This regional initiative is a public-private partnership intent on accelerating the development and growth of life science companies.
“For the first time, we are trying to bring together Montgomery County, Prince George’s and the Baltimore region,” he explained. “And the fact that the initiative coincided with the opening of the Inter-County Connector gives us a higher probability of succeeding.”
Melissaratos also recently became a published author with his book, “Innovation: The Key to Prosperity,” co-authored by N.J. Slabbert. According to Melissaratos, “The basic premise is [that] science and technology are the key drivers [of] economic prosperity for the planet.”
“Aris’s entire career is a lesson in how government, the private sector and academia can and should work together [for] the greater good of the community,” co-author Slabbert told Corridor Inc. He went on to say that his collaboration with Melissaratos gave him “personal insight into the enormous depth and sincerity of his commitment to the public interest.”
Over the years, Melissaratos has impacted the lives and careers of countless individuals throughout the region. His reputation, he says, keeps entrepreneurs young and old coming to seek his advice. One of those entrepreneurs is George Petrocheilos, a junior at Johns Hopkins University who, upon his arrival in the United States from Greece three years ago, wasted no time in reaching out to Melissaratos.
“I tried to get in touch ...with a lot of important people in Baltimore,” Petrocheilos said. “Aris was the first one who responded, immediately. He took me out for lunch, and we sat there for like three hours.” Since then, Petrocheilos has become very close with Melissaratos, who, he says, not only motivated him, but inspired him.
“He became not just a role model or a mentor,” Petrocheilos said of Melissaratos. “He’s a father figure to me. I see him at least once a week, and he’s always around, helping me with whatever I need. He guides me in the correct way [and] makes things happen.”
Petrocheilos says he could go on for hours about the great work Melissaratos has done, for him as well as the community. “Apart from having a phenomenal career in business and politics, he does a lot of philanthropy,” Petrocheilos said. “He’s everywhere, and he’s very generous. He’s always giving and never asks for anything back.”
Melissaratos said he has a plan in the works for undergraduate students with the same drive and ambition as Petrocheilos. “With the thought leadership of our Dean of Engineering Nick Jones, we’re going to open up something that I’ll call ‘The Hatchery,’” he said. It will be, in his words, “a place close to the campus where undergraduates that are entrepreneurial can gather and reinforce each others ideas.”
Aside from his work, Melissaratos recently established The Aris Institute, the product of what began over 20 years ago as meetings among friends to discuss current issues. Those meetings became more regular as he became involved in government. “Eight or ten of us would get together and talk about the problems of the state’s economy, particularly the problems of the manufacturing industry, and how to fix them,” Melissaratos said. It has expanded beyond that, “into accelerators, incubators… thought leadership and education… STEM education, particularly.” Ultimately, the focus of the group’s discussions is how to make the United States more competitive in the global economy.
“It was established as a post-retirement platform that would be a full-time think tank,” he explains. That said, Melissaratos says he does not have plans to retire any time soon. For now, he will continue business as usual – which, for him, means serving as an influential and inspirational leader for Johns Hopkins, the Baltimore-Washington corridor, and for Maryland.