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2009 Established Entrepreneur: William J. Vanooij

University of Cincinnati Professor Emeritus William J. Vanooij (until recently known as Wim van Ooij) is multilingual — but not in the sense one might expect. Of course, being from The Netherlands and being a new U.S. citizen, he speaks many languages. However, the two most challenging languages that he speaks are these: chemist AND engineer.

Date: 5/21/2009 12:00:00 AM
By: Wendy Beckman
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos By: Dottie Stover, photojournalist

UC ingot   William Vanooij earned his MS with highest honors in chemical engineering in 1964 and his PhD in physical chemistry — also with highest honors — in 1971, both from Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands. After receiving his PhD, he accepted a brief post-doctoral associate position at Ames Laboratory at Iowa State University, but then returned to The Netherlands to become a senior research chemist for Akzo Research Laboratories, a position he held for more than 12 years. Vanooij then returned to academe as a visiting professor in the Department of Materials Engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University, followed by a three-year appointment at the Colorado School of Mines as a professor of chemistry. He joined the Department of Materials Science and Engineering faculty in UC’s College of Engineering in 1993.
Professor Emeritus William Vanooij and student Prasan Harakuni.
William Vanooij brings a world of experience to his teaching and research.

He is a member of the American Chemical Society, the Materials Research Society, the Adhesion Society, the China Ordnance Research Society and the Royal Dutch Chemical Society. Vanooij has published in approximately 350 scientific and technical publications, holds more than 50 patents and has filed more than 100 invention disclosures.

Seen here, ECOSIL's silane-treated steel resisted corrosion when exposed to a 72-hour salt spray.
Vanooij hires UC co-ops, like James Edgehill, to work at ECOSIL.

He is the chief technology officer of his spin-off company, ECOSIL, which is a leader in the application of robust silane surface treatments for corrosion protection of many kinds of metals. Silanes can also be used to enhance paint adhesion. ECOSIL is Vanooij’s first company for which he won the Emerging Entrepreneur Faculty Award in 2005

“I don’t consider myself to be a business talent,” he says humbly. “I ran into some people who have the business talent who are now the co-owners: Max Sorenson and Dave Fairbourn. Max Sorenson had both a technical and business background. Dave Fairbourn I knew very well because he had been a grad student in this department and had previously worked for General Electric. He had received a master’s degree in chemistry before coming to the College of Engineering. He knew me quite well, as well as my corrosion research.”

Sorenson and Fairbourn started a company together in Salt Lake City, which had customers in Cincinnati so that they could do business with the University of Cincinnati and Vanooij.

Vanooij is a leading expert in silanes and metals corrosion.

“So we moved into the Hamilton County Business Center in Norwood at first,” says Vanooij. “Then in 2006 we ‘graduated’ and looked for larger facilities, which proved to be more difficult than we expected. We found only three. We needed a laboratory with fume hoods and we needed offices.”

What they found was their current location in Fairfield, Ohio, near Jungle Jim’s.

They did not go to venture capitalists, choosing instead to put up their own money.

“Each of us put up $10,000 of his own money,” Vanooij says. “Meyer Tool, which makes aerospace components for jet engines and is a customer of Max and Dave's, helped fund us until we were profitable. They also rent our warehouse space.”

Vanooij says they decided that the best plan for them was to remain a small research and development firm that would develop, patent and then sell to licensees. So Calvary Industries became their licensee for all their products in the United States.

“They have 22 salespeople already who are experienced in similar materials — just not in silanes,” says Vanooij. “We simply rebranded them and trained them in silanes.” ECOSIL also has one licensee in China and two in Europe. They also have a joint venture in China which has excellent opportunities to become a supplier to Baosteel Group (a highly respected Chinese metals conglomerate that is ranked 259th in Fortune magazine’s 2008 Global 500). ECOSIL’s lab manager is a Chinese former student of Vanooij’s.

Vanooij has also taught at GIFT, which is affiliated with the Pohang University of Science and Technology.
Vanooij sits in front of posters advertising the Graduate Institute of Ferrous Technology, in Pohang, Korea.

“She speaks and writes in Chinese. For American companies it doesn’t open doors if we only speak English. She calls the client every day," says Vanooij. “She knows the culture. The Chinese are very environmentally conscious. So for example, chromate is not used in China anymore. We need to know that.”

So as a man of the world and many cultures, after living in the United States for more than 25 years, why become an American citizen now? The answer is truly that of a businessperson.

“Taxes,” he says. Vanooij’s wife, who retained her Dutch citizenship, retained her Dutch name as well. Their two children, a son and a daughter, have dual citizenship. Vanooij certainly had to want to become a citizen to go through the paperwork, for he had to list all his trips outside the country since 1988: all 144 of them, including the date he left and the date he returned. He also had to list and explain all run-ins with the law.

“Including when I parked in a reserved parking spot and had to pay a two-dollar fine,” he says, laughing. He also had to write a sentence showing that he had command of the English language. “I’ve written hundreds of technical papers — in English,” he remembers thinking, “but I’ll write your sentence.”

Co-op education, a system of alternating terms of study and employment, was developed at UC in 1906.
Vanooij and UC co-op student Jonathan Clark

Vanooij is clearly enjoying his life as an Emeritus faculty and entrepreneur.

“I do a little bit of research,” he says. “Where possible I have involved my colleagues here at the university. All my employees are former students and I am extremely happy with them.”

William Vanooij, recipient of the 2009 Established Entrepreneur Award
William Vanooij, recipient of the 2009 Established Entrepreneur Award

ECOSIL is also a member of UC’s co-op program.

“We have two co-op students with whom I am very pleased,” Vanooij says. “My experience is very positive. They want to do a good job.”

Vanooij’s goals for the future are to grow ECOSIL to perhaps as large as 25 people and then be bought out by another company. But he’s not in a hurry.

“I’ve never had it so good.”