Chicago Innovation Exchange to partner with University of Illinois’ College of Engineering

The University of Chicago’s new Chicago Innovation Exchange, which celebrated its grand opening Oct. 16, announced a partnership with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Engineering. The CIE, in collaboration with the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, helped foster the relationship, which unites Chicago Booth students and entrepreneurs with top-tier engineering talent, and encourages the development and retention of startups in Illinois, both in Chicago and Urbana-Champaign.

A central component of the partnership is a pilot program that teams Booth students with senior engineering students from University of Illinois to learn early-stage opportunity identification and product design. Successful collaborations that begin this fall will continue in the spring, as student engineering teams develop new technologies to address the needs and opportunities identified, and then build prototypes.


Booth Dean Sunil Kumar, who earned his doctorate in engineering from the University of Illinois, believes the program will help strengthen Illinois’ innovation ecosystem. “Both schools have a tremendous history of entrepreneurship and innovation,” Kumar said. “Through this partnership, Booth students and faculty will have more opportunities to connect with top-tier engineering talent and an expanded network of innovators building startups in Illinois.”

“Entrepreneurship at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has exploded in the last decade,” said Andreas Cangellaris, dean of University of Illinois’ College of Engineering.

More than 5,000 engineering students at Illinois participated in programs and courses in the college’s Technology Entrepreneur Center last year alone, and the university’s Research Park is home to more than 30 companies that grew out of the College of Engineering.

“We’re ranked in the top 10 for venture capital per capita, and the vast majority of that activity is driven by our world-class students and faculty,” said Cangellaris. “We’re happy to bring those ideas and that drive to CIE and the University of Chicago. Their top business talent and the thriving city of Chicago will allow us all to create new ideas, get them to market and keep them in Illinois. It’s a powerful combination. The impact will be huge, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.”

“The projects developed during the pilot program could be the basis for future entrepreneurial opportunities and startups that could capitalize on other resources from both universities,” said Ellen Rudnick, executive director of the Polsky Center. “The teams could choose to compete in our New Venture Challenge program or in the Cozad New Venture Competition at Illinois. They might apply for participation in the Polsky Accelerator Program or benefit from incubation at the CIE.”

The partnership also opens the door for innovators at both campuses to connect with additional resources and opportunity. Kirill Mechitov, a postdoctoral scholar in the department of computer science at the University of Illinois has already experienced this first-hand. His startup, Embedor Technologies, was just announced as the winner of the CIE + Cisco Innovation Challenge this week at Cisco’s Internet of Things World Forum, a competition run by the CIE and Cisco to support entrepreneurs in the areas of big data, analytics and the Internet of Everything. Embedor enables continuous, real-time structural health monitoring of civil infrastructure using wireless smart sensors. The team looks to reduce catastrophic bridge failures by improving the way structural and civil engineers assess and analyze the health of bridges.

“Through the work of our colleagues at the Polsky Center and UChicagoTech, the University of Chicago has become a center for translating great ideas into real-world solutions,” said John Flavin, executive director of the Chicago Innovation Exchange. “Now, with the addition of the Chicago Innovation Exchange and partnerships like the one with the University of Illinois, we’re able to leverage even more resources to help our students, faculty and local entrepreneurs to launch new for- and not-for-profit businesses that create new jobs and, ultimately, benefit society.”

Through the partnership, Illinois engineering students and faculty will also be able to connect with Chicago Innovation Mentors at the CIE, and UChicago students will make use of EnterpriseWorks as a landing spot for collaboration with Illinois students and faculty in Urbana-Champaign. The CIE’s partnership with two national laboratories, Argonne and Fermilab, will help connect University of Illinois students and faculty to a broader network of innovators and scientists to form cross-disciplinary teams.

Visit the CIE’s website to learn more about it or to apply for membership.