Four months after University Trustee Michael Polsky, MBA’87, increased his commitment to $50 million in support of entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Chicago, the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation hosted a celebration event on Sept. 29 to promote the center’s expanded mission.
The event marked the first major gathering under the Polsky Center’s new operational structure, which now combines University-wide activities in venture creation and education, technology commercialization and business incubation in a unified Polsky Center organization.
The expanded Polsky Center drives venture creation across the University of Chicago and the surrounding community through education, partnerships and new venture support. It leverages the strong entrepreneurship curriculum at Chicago Booth and the Polsky Center’s successful track record of turning ideas into actual companies through programs like its Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, which launched in 1996 and today is recognized as a top-ranked accelerator program in the country.
More than 200 members of the Chicago-land business and entrepreneurial community, including many Chicago Booth and UChicago alumni and longtime supporters of the Polsky Center, gathered at the Polsky Exchange on 53rd Street for the celebration event. President Robert J. Zimmer said the Polsky Center is essential to the future of innovation at the University.
“The University is an umbrella for many cultures, and we need this culture of innovation to be one that is strong throughout the University and provides opportunities for our faculty and students,” Zimmer said. “We are deeply grateful to Michael Polsky for his continued support of innovation and entrepreneurship at the University.”
In addition to Zimmer, speakers at the event included John Flavin, associate vice president for entrepreneurship and innovation and new head of the Polsky Center; Steven Kaplan, Polsky Center faculty director and the Neubauer Family Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance; and Ellen Rudnick, MBA’73, senior advisor on entrepreneurship and adjunct professor of entrepreneurship. Kaplan provided the in-depth history of the Polsky Center, and Rudnick moderated a lively and interactive conversation between Michael Polsky, MBA’87, founder, president and CEO of Invenergy; and David Sacks, JD’98, CEO of Zenefits.
The event’s distinguished attendees included Eric Isaacs, executive vice president for research, innovation and national laboratories and the Robert A. Millikan Distinguished Service Professor in Physics; Douglas J. Skinner, interim dean of Chicago Booth and the Eric J. Gleacher Distinguished Service Professor of Accounting; and Derek Douglas, vice president for civic engagement.
The event also put a spotlight on seven UChicago-affiliated startup companies that have received direct support and funding from the Polsky Center. The featured startups included ExplORer Surgical, PrescriptIQ, Moneythink, Navipoint Genomics, Ci3, BallotReady and RiMO Therapeutics.
Flavin asked all attendees to introduce themselves to one of these featured startup companies and to offer to help them in their entrepreneurial pursuits. “We believe there is no better way to improve our economy and our community than by helping someone start a business,” he stated.
Building upon the rich tradition of the Polsky Center, the goal of the expanded center is to give faculty and students more opportunities to realize the commercial potential of research and to create successful companies.
“With Michael’s gift and the new Polsky organization, we intend to bring the know-how, the processes and people we have developed at Booth to the rest of the University,” Kaplan said.