New innovation hub uses discovery to fuel Chicago startups

The University of Chicago announced Friday that it has created a new center to help scholars and entrepreneurs translate their ideas and new technologies into startup businesses and products.

The Chicago Innovation Exchange (CIE), which will open in late 2014 in the 53rd Street commercial district in Hyde Park, will provide space for proof-of-concept work, business incubation, collaboration opportunities, and programming for new ventures by UChicago faculty and students, as well as entrepreneurs from outside the University. It also will cultivate partnerships to connect emerging entrepreneurs with Chicago’s broader innovation ecosystem and drive the creation of new businesses, jobs, and economic activity in the city and surrounding region.

The CIE will bring together the University’s distinctive strengths in research and resources from a network of world-class entrepreneurship programs to drive innovation in a range of areas, applying scientific discoveries to generate scalable solutions to difficult societal problems. The center will have space to incubate five to 10 new companies a year, along with co-working space, gathering places, and meeting rooms that together can accommodate up to 350 people in full working mode.

To support the work of the CIE, the University will create an innovation fund of up to $20 million to invest in proof-of-concept and early business development work for viable new startups created by UChicago faculty and students and housed at the CIE. The fund will expand the successful model established by the University of Chicago’s Center for Technology Development & Venture’s Innovation Fund, which has awarded more than $1.5 million to 23 projects since 2010.

“The University of Chicago has a long tradition of innovation that extends across many disciplines, rooted in its mission of discovery, scholarship, and groundbreaking research,” said Robert J. Zimmer, president of the University. “The Chicago Innovation Exchange will support the efforts of our faculty and students—many of whom already have launched businesses—to take their ideas to market and help solve complex problems facing our society.”

The CIE will draw participation from different parts and affiliates of the University, including Argonne National Laboratory; the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the Michael P. Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation; the College; the Computation Institute; Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory; the Institute for Molecular Engineering; the Marine Biological Laboratory; the Physical Sciences Division; the Biological Sciences Division and the University of Chicago Medicine; UChicago’s Center for Technology Development & Ventures, or UChicagoTech; the Urban Education Institute; and the University of Chicago Law School. The CIE will be a central hub for these distinct entities, allowing for greater collaboration, sharing of resources, and a regular exchange of ideas—complementing existing innovation efforts in Chicago.

“Innovation is at the crux of growth and drives the vision for the future of the city of Chicago. The birthplaces of ideas and thoughts that spur innovation have often been institutions of higher education like the University of Chicago. The Chicago Innovation Exchange will expand this commitment to innovation and create economic opportunity and jobs, and ensure that Chicago continues to be a city of ideas and growth,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Argonne’s first physical presence in Chicago

The CIE will be developed in phases, starting with two properties the University owns near the intersection of 53rd Street and Harper Avenue: the Harper Theater complex on the northwest corner and a multi-use building on the southwest corner. The second floor of the Harper Theater complex will house the main CIE space, and the second floor of the adjacent building will house Argonne and the Institute for Molecular Engineering’s efforts at the CIE. The innovation center also will also use conference room space on the 11th floor of the new Harper Court office building, at 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue.

Argonne, leader of a consortium to which the U.S. Department of Energy awarded $120 million last year to establish the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, will locate the business offices of its energy storage hub within the CIE. Co-locating in space with the IME’s recently launched water research initiative will allow for close collaboration between the energy and water project teams. It also will give Argonne, which the University has managed since 1946, a physical presence in Chicago for the first time.

“With the launch of the CIE, the University of Chicago is adding a critical new component to this region’s burgeoning innovation ecosystem,” said Eric D. Isaacs, director of Argonne National Laboratory. “By making Argonne an integral part of this effort, we are strengthening the historic connections between Argonne, the University, and the city of Chicago, and we are laying a strong foundation for productive future collaborations.”

Along with energy storage technology and water resource management, the CIE is expected to generate new businesses in life sciences, physical sciences, and tech- and web-based startups. These businesses will be derived from the discoveries of UChicago students and faculty, as well as from opportunities found at the intersection of high-performance computing and interdisciplinary research explored by the Computation Institute.

“Innovation is fundamental to Chicago’s future economic opportunities, and is a critical component of World Business Chicago’s Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs, a driving force behind the city’s economic development activities,” said World Business Chicago president and CEO Jeff Malehorn. “The work done by our universities is vital to this endeavor, and we welcome the Chicago Innovation Exchange as a partner in our quest to advance innovation, create jobs and impact the regional economy.”

John Flavin joins UChicago to lead CIE

To launch and lead the Chicago Innovation Exchange, the University has appointed John Flavin, who was previously executive director of Chicago Innovation Mentors, a consortium of university and research institutions dedicated to driving commercialization of new technologies by connecting entrepreneurs with experienced corporate mentors. Flavin, who has more than 20 years of experience in entrepreneurial finance and operations in the life sciences field, will serve as executive director of the CIE and will have an office at Polsky Center until the facilities open.

“John’s combination of experiences launching and building his own companies, advising on launches, and working with university partners makes him ideal for this position,” said Sunil Kumar, dean of Chicago Booth. “Along with other entities across campus, he will work closely with the Polsky Center, which has launched more than 90 business ventures and will be both a partner and advisor to the CIE.”

“I am delighted to lead this new effort and look forward to partnering with the many distinctive UChicago entities and innovators as well as members of the surrounding community,” said Flavin.

CIE will add South Side link to city’s growing innovation network

The location of the CIE along Hyde Park’s 53rd Street complements the University’s ongoing efforts to catalyze investment and economic growth in the neighborhood’s commercial corridor. The first phase of development of the CIE will consist of adaptive reuse of space within two historic buildings and use of conference space in the redeveloped Harper Court; future phases will include new construction within the corridor or elsewhere.

Since mid-2011 more than 25 new businesses have opened or signed leases along 53rd Street, creating a vibrant stretch of retail amenities that will help draw entrepreneurs and potential partners to the CIE. The facilities are located within steps of a Metra station and stops for CTA bus routes, and UChicago will offer shuttle service to and from campus. The University also is exploring ways it can work with the city to provide more convenient options for access to the CIE from various parts of the city, including downtown and other city innovation spaces and incubators.

“The CIE will be a gathering place for enterprising University students and faculty, area entrepreneurs, commercial partners, and venture investors,” said Derek Douglas, the University’s vice president for Civic Engagement. “We expect activity there to provide a boost to local businesses while also providing a much-needed link between the South Side and the city’s growing innovation network.”