Illinois Innovation Network now includes all public state universities

Illinois Innovation Network now includes all public state universities

SPRINGFIELD — A statewide "innovation network" led by the University of Illinois now encompasses all public universities in Illinois.

The Illinois Innovation Network, an effort to bolster the Illinois economy through entrepreneurship, research and workforce development, announced nine new "hubs" across the state on Wednesday, bringing the total to 15.

The project launched last August with its first hubs at the UI's three campuses in Urbana, Springfield and Chicago, along with the new Discovery Partners Institute in downtown Chicago.

Northern Illinois University in DeKalb joined in September, and Peoria, which is home to a regional academic medical center, joined in December.

New hubs signing memorandums of understanding are at Chicago State, Eastern Illinois, Governors State, Illinois State, Northeastern Illinois, the UI's regional medical campus at Rockford, Southern Illinois-Carbondale, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Western Illinois.

The network is designed to use the strengths of those universities and their communities, working in collaboration with DPI, to foster research innovation and drive economic growth.

As planned, DPI will ultimately be home to thousands of students and more than 100 researchers working with network hubs and academic, business and tech partners around the world.

"We're pleased with this evolution, and it's gratifying to have every public university in the state now part of this enterprise," UI President Tim Killeen said Wednesday.

The network will also work with community colleges, private universities and corporations, Killeen said, calling it an "open innovation ecosystem" that will add new partners over time.

"It's not a closed club that is forever constrained," he said.

EIU, Lake Land to team up

Each hub has recruited public and private partners from its region to develop programs to benefit the local and statewide economy, officials said. The work will be tied to the academic strengths at the host university, such as clean energy, health care, manufacturing, entrepreneurship and food supplies. Hubs will also collaborate with each other.

Eastern Illinois University, for example, will work with Lake Land College and community partners to focus on environment, economic development, entrepreneurship, infrastructure assessments, rural social systems and community sustainability. Specific projects will expand EIU's Center for Clean Energy and Research Education and promote sustainability.

Illinois State University plans to create the first large-scale effort in McLean County to develop "a culture of innovation, entrepreneurship and economic growth," the release said. The initiative will include K-12, community college, university and community partners in an educational center and startup incubator to help develop new companies.

All of the locations are in line for startup money from the $500 million in capital funds approved for DPI and the Illinois Innovation Network last year by the Illinois Legislature, if the funding is re-appropriated in this year's budget.

Pritzker: 'Exciting to see'

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, whose support for the project has been questioned, included the money in his proposed budget as matching funds. Killeen said more than $300 million in non-state funding has been raised toward that goal, from cities, corporations and other partners, some of which hasn't been announced yet.

"I have no doubt that we'll reach that one-to-one match," he said.

Killeen expressed confidence that the state funding "will start flowing shortly" but wasn't sure how much would be released this year. He said the UI is working closely with state officials on the project, including developing a more detailed economic impact analysis requested by legislators.

Pritzker lent support to the project in Wednesday's announcement, saying, "It is very exciting to see how our state's public universities are working together through the Illinois Innovation Network, and how they are putting innovation at the forefront of their agenda. ... They are our state's key pillars of innovation and talent production, and I look forward to seeing the even greater impact they can have on Illinois' economy through the IIN."

Ed Seidel, UI vice president for economic development and innovation, said new educational and research activities will begin by this fall.

Hub-by-hub plans

— Chicago State will create the Center for Solutions of Urban Populations to address health care disparities, violence reduction, opportunities for ex-offenders, urban farming, entrepreneurship training, effective law enforcement practices, and food delivery and consumption in challenged neighborhoods.

— Governors State will establish a Supply Chain Innovation Center and Business Incubator in University Park, to provide faculty consulting to businesses and startups in the region, as well as employee training and management development programs to create new businesses and jobs.

— Northeastern Illinois has created three sites for the Business Growth and Innovation Center, near its main campus and in Bronzeville and Avondale, to provide economic development opportunities for underserved immigrant, African-American and Latino communities there.

— SIU-Carbondale will establish the Illinois Food, Entrepreneurship, Research and Manufacturing Hub to solve challenges in food, nutrition, agriculture and health through interdisciplinary research and education.

— SIU-Edwardsville proposed the creation of a new Center for Sustainable Communities and Entrepreneurship to focus on health, the environment, food and water supplies, education and workforce training. It would house the Metropolitan Accelerator Research Square to facilitate technology transfer and capture a greater share of the growing St. Louis startup economy.

— The UI regional medical campus in Rockford will create the Illinois Rural Hub to spur economic development by addressing shortages in health care professions.

— Western Illinois plans to create a Center for Manufacturing and Entrepreneurial Excellence to advance economic development in the Quad Cities region and rural communities statewide, focusing on manufacturing, defense and agriculture, with an emphasis on robotics, virtual reality and big data.

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