Chicago Innovation Exchange opens at the University of Chicago

New hub receives $1 million grant from state of Illinois, unveils public health

Calmetta Coleman
Director of Communications for Civic EngagementUniversity Communications

The University of Chicago on Oct. 16 celebrated the grand opening of the Chicago Innovation Exchange, a new innovation hub in Hyde Park that will provide resources for UChicago faculty and students and local entrepreneurs to turn their discoveries and ideas into business startups.

Federal, state and local elected officials, including Gov. Pat Quinn, Sen. Mark Kirk and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined President Robert J. Zimmer and other administrators for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the main space of the CIE, a 17,000-square-foot facility located on the second floor of the Harper Theater building at 1452 E. 53rd St. The space will house a business incubator, members working on business ideas and startups, and an array of programming for entrepreneurs, including workshops and speakers. It will draw participation from various entities across the University and from the entrepreneurial community on the South Side of Chicago—connecting them with the city’s broader innovation ecosystem and driving the creation of economic activity as well as new solutions to pressing social challenges.

“Innovation has been a hallmark of the University of Chicago since its founding, with groundbreaking research and discoveries that have had an impact around the world,” Zimmer said. “The Chicago Innovation Exchange builds on that tradition by enabling new opportunities for multidisciplinary collaborations across our campus and for new partnerships with organizations across the city of Chicago, the state of Illinois and beyond.”

Gov. Pat Quinn announced that the state of Illinois will provide the CIE with a $1 million grant to support the infrastructure and build-out of the space.

“Illinois is a state of innovators, many of whom come from the University of Chicago, and we need to do all we can to help those innovators create jobs and succeed in business,” Quinn said. “This investment will pay quick dividends as entrepreneurs take advantage of Illinois’ great business climate and highly skilled and motivated workforce.”

“The ideas, breakthroughs and opportunities that come out of the Chicago Innovation Exchange will help make South Side communities and our state stronger,” said Illinois State Senator Kwame Raoul, whose district includes the CIE.  

The CIE will partner with the Chicago Department of Public Health on a program aimed at finding innovative approaches to public health challenges using interdisciplinary teams of UChicago researchers and students and non-health data from CDPH. A pilot program will begin in November and will be housed at the CIE.

“Innovation is an important component of the vision for the future of Chicago,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who announced the new partnership. “Exploring ways to support and connect with the Chicago Innovation Exchange and the research and business expertise at the University of Chicago has tremendous potential for the long-term vitality and prosperity of our city.”

UChicago first announced plans for the CIE in October 2013. Since then, the CIE has worked to build relationships and partnerships with corporate, community, and education entities—including one announced Oct. 16 that will bring together students from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and engineering students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Corporate partners include JPMorgan Chase, which will provide a series of workshops for small businesses; Samsung, which provided technology for the new space; and Cisco Systems, which hosted an Innovation Challenge with the CIE and will run an entrepreneurs-in-residence program in the CIE incubator.

The CIE will be open to innovation of all kinds, but will focus on entrepreneurs who are using science and innovation to develop solutions to a variety of societal challenges including improvements in the generation and storage of energy, conservation and treatment of water, computation and analysis of data, the provision of health care, education and growth of the economy.

“The Chicago Innovation Exchange adds a new avenue for entrepreneurs, investors and corporations from a broad range of industries to plug into the fast-growing innovation network across our city,” said John Flavin, executive director of the CIE. “The opening of this new space is a significant step in building out an innovation campus on the South Side of Chicago.”

The CIE opened its conference center space on the 11th floor of the Harper Court office tower in February 2014, less than two blocks away from the new facility, which was designed by Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners and Built Form Architects. An additional 7,000-square-foot space is slated to open across the street in 2015, housing a fabrication lab with 3D printers, mills and other equipment; additional incubation space; and offices for staff from Argonne National Laboratory’s Joint Center for Energy Storage Research and from the Institute for Molecular Engineering.

When complete, the campus will have room for more than 300 innovators to work on their ventures on a daily basis, including 20 to 30 companies in the incubator space. It will be a gathering space for individuals and teams from the South Side, as well as different parts and affiliates of the University, including Argonne National Laboratory; Chicago Booth and the Michael P. Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation; the College; the Computation Institute; Fermi National Laboratory; the Physical Sciences Division; the Biological Sciences Division and the University of Chicago Medicine; UChicago’s Center for Technology Development & Ventures, or UChicago Tech; the Urban Education Institute; and the University of Chicago Law School.

The CIE will offer two tracks for daily participation for UChicago students, faculty and staff as well as South Side entrepreneurs. Individuals who want to access the space for entrepreneurial advice, idea sharing, brainstorming and workshops can apply for membership. Entrepreneurs who have a working business idea with tangible milestones and an exit strategy in mind can apply for space in the CIE incubator.

Chin-Chin Lin, co-founder of startup Lumii Health, expressed her appreciation for the University’s focus on entrepreneurship and innovation. “Through resources like the Polsky Center and the CIE, the University of Chicago is creating an environment where entrepreneurs can gather and receive the support and encouragement we need to propel our startups through the pivotal moments we all face.” Lin and her team spent the summer at the CIE as part of the Polsky Accelerator Program.

Several startups have already taken up residence in the CIE’s business incubator, including Qualia Health Quantitative Insights and South Side Pitch winner, local startup Legacy Complete.

As part of its grand opening celebration, the CIE will host a community open house from 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 16. The public is welcome to stop by to learn about the entrepreneurial resources the CIE and its University of Chicago and community organization partners offer South Side businesses.]

To learn more or apply for membership, visit the CIE website.