State funding proposed for new U of I-led research center

Discovery Partners Institute

Artist’s rendering of the Discovery Partners Institute, which will house researchers, students and business partners to foster innovation and workforce development.

A proposal by Gov. Bruce Rauner would provide $500 million in state funding to match private donations for a new statewide research enterprise led by the University of Illinois System that is being developed to accelerate innovation, job creation and economic growth.

Funding to support the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) was included in a capital spending proposal for fiscal 2019 that Rauner outlined during his annual budget address to the Illinois legislature Feb. 14. He said the investment “could be the biggest spark ever to ignite our economic growth engine.”

If approved, the state funding will go toward design and construction of the downtown Chicago innovation center, which will be home to world-class research and the hub of a new initiative known as the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN) that would spread its impact across the state.

State funding, through the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, would match private donations that also are being sought to build and operate the new innovation institute.

U of I President Tim Killeen said fundraising is underway, including discussions with potential donors and with businesses that could partner with the innovation network on research and workforce development.

“Research discovery is the springboard for innovation that is now essential to create new businesses, new jobs and economic growth,” Killeen said. “I am grateful to Gov. Rauner for his support and hope the legislature will join him in helping build this new bridge to progress.”

Plans were announced in October for DPI, where world-class researchers will work side-by-side with students and businesses to foster next-generation innovation and workforce development. Work is currently underway on an implementation plan that will establish a timetable for opening and other details of the institute.

DPI will be developed on a donated site along the Chicago River, and will operate principally through private donations and partnerships with business and industry. When it was announced, officials said DPI also hopes to attract government support, such as the capital funding proposed by Rauner.

The new institute will bring together top faculty in agriculture, healthcare, computing and other critical fields from the U of I System and partner universities that already include the University of Chicago and Northwestern University.