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Chicago City Wire

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Rauner, University of Illinois unite businesses, higher ed to promote innovation

Politics

By Meg Shannon | Nov 1, 2017

Bruce rauner2(1000)
Gov. Bruce Rauner

Illinois is planning a $1.2 billion network that promises to facilitate innovation and spark technical cooperation between universities and businesses, according to a recent joint announcement by Gov. Bruce Rauner and the University of Illinois.

Dubbed the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN), the project will unite select universities, businesses and experts from the public sector to develop innovative solutions in various fields. These sectors include computing, food and agriculture, biosciences as well as the health fields. 

IIN will focus first on developing the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) in downtown Chicago, officials said. Related Midwest, a Chicago-based real estate developer, has pledged to donate land along the Chicago River for the institute’s site.

“We anticipate that over time other Illinois state universities, as well as world renowned international research universities, will join the network to help spread DPI’s impact around the state and around the world,” Rauner said in the news release. “The institute will be a center for developing ideas and talent. Students will attend the institute, learn and share ideas with world-class faculty, and then return to their campuses to seed and develop their plans.”

The University of Illinois System will lead the network of colleges, including those in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield, the news release said. The University of Chicago and Northwestern University will be involved initially as well.

“We’re very pleased to be a partner in this project and we look forward to collaborating with the University of Illinois and the other academic institutions on this important initiative,” Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro said. “Northwestern University and Chicago already are hubs for path-breaking research and innovative technology, and the Discovery Partners Institute will accelerate those activities.”

When fully operational, DPI could call 90 faculty members and 1,800 students as regulars. The goal is to support collaboration between leading researchers and Illinois businesses and eventually attract the interest and investment of venture capitalists, according to the news release. 

Together, DPI and IIN will foster economic development in Illinois using the network as a foundation, according to Tom Killeen, president of the University of Illinois. The hope is that the network will end the "brain drain" of qualified Illinois-based university graduates leaving Illinois and heading to other states in search of technological opportunities, he said.   

The network will require fundingn, and efforts will be headed by the U of I system. Individuals from the private sector and corporations will also be asked to join in. The system is counting on a significant return on these fundraising investments down the road. Training for close to 10,000 student entrepreneurs every five years will occur once the DPI reaches full steam. 

Proponents of the project estimate $500 million in new annual research and development spending. The U of I system also predicts that the project could stimulate $4 billion in annual venture capital investment, which would be four times more than Illinois sees now. More than $300 million in private real estate investment will also be expected in the venture, backers said.

Proponents said Chicago is the natural choice for the innovative infrastructure thanks to its proximity to agriculture and its status as an economic and global center.

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