A South Carolina wedding early this year paired up more than a husband and wife. It also helped MCNC land its new president and chief executive.

After a brief search, the nonprofit research center has named Charlotte entrepreneur Dave Rizzo as its top executive, with the responsibility of leading the center through a major restructuring.

As Local Tech Wire first reported in January, MCNC’s board of directors approved plans to split the 22-year-old center into two operating units: One will provide supercomputing and networking services to North Carolina universities and government agencies, and the other will conduct research and development work in information technology, electronics and materials science. The board formally endorsed the decision to split MCNC last month.

Following the reorganization, which officials say will take two to four months, Rizzo will lead the R&D operation, and MCNC Vice President Thom Dunning, who currently heads high-performance computing at the center, will take charge of that unit.

Rizzo, who also is chairman of the North Carolina Electronics and Information Technologies Association, the state’s IT trade group, replaces William Moore, who has served as interim president since January. Moore remains on MCNC’s board.

Wedding begets courtship

In March, Rizzo sold Osprey Systems, the applications integration firm he had founded in 1993, to an India-based software development and technology training company. The move left the 44-year-old entrepreneur and former IBM manager out of a job for the first time in more than two decades.

But Moore had already started courting him for MCNC’s top post. The two bumped into each other at a wedding in Charleston, S.C., in February, and when Rizzo told Moore of Osprey’s impending sale, Moore pitched the research center job to him.

“I just thought, ‘Good gracious, who better could we get to run this,’ ” says Moore, who formerly was a member of Osprey’s board of directors and has worked with Rizzo’s father, Paul, at Chapel Hill venture capital and money management firm Franklin Street Partners for several years.

“He’s run a division of a major corporation, he’s been an entrepreneur, he knows IT, he’s comfortable working with venture capital, he has a commitment to public service,” Moore says. “What more could we want? I think we’ve hit a home run by getting him.”

Rizzo says he was attracted to the job because of MCNC’s technology bent, its venture capital capability and its mission to create cutting-edge companies and jobs in the state, which he likened to NCEITA’s mission.

“No other place in North Carolina can you do all three things,” he says.

He says with a laugh that he could have used a few more months off between jobs, but adds that it’s important for him to help guide MCNC’s reorganization and then hit the ground running with the R&D operation.

“It’s going to take me time to figure out what research we have going on and what has the most interesting prospects,” he says.

Becoming a VC challenging

Rizzo says the one aspect of heading MCNC that he finds most daunting will be handling a new venture fund being established as part of the reorganization since he has always sat on the other side of the table from venture capitalists.

MCNC is seeding the R&D operation with $35 million from its endowment and will set aside another $15 million as a follow-on fund to provide financing for any research efforts that are spun off into separate companies.

“We need to make sure that we have a high-quality due diligence process so we don’t make mistakes,” he says. “One benefit is that we’ll have the business plans in house and will be working closely with the researchers, so we should have a good idea of which ideas make the most sense.”

Moore also says the fund is designed so the R&D operation co-invests with experienced venture firms, which will be able to give an informed and objective opinion as to the commercial prospects of potential spin-offs.

Rizzo says he is buying a house in Chapel Hill but will retain his family’s home in Charlotte for a few years until his two sons finish high school. He says the move to the Research Triangle region will help his role as NCEITA chairman since he will be closer to the organization’s Raleigh office and the General Assembly.

MCNC website: www.mcnc.org