U of I System selected to lead Chicago-based research institute

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.

The University of Illinois System will lead a new research institute that will be developed on a donated site in downtown Chicago, where world-class researchers will work side-by-side with students and businesses to foster next-generation innovation and workforce development.

Plans for the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) were outlined by Gov. Bruce Rauner and U of I President Tim Killeen during an event Oct. 19 at the site donated by Chicago-based Related Midwest. The site is part of The 78, a 62-acre tract owned by Related Midwest that borders the Chicago River at Clark Street and Roosevelt Road. The 78 is the largest development of its kind in downtown Chicago, and also will include a mix of residential, office, retail, recreational and cultural space adjacent to a half-mile river walk.

The gift will kick off work on an implementation plan that will be completed next year. The plan will include a timetable for opening and other details of the $1.2 billion institute, which will be operated principally through private donations and partnerships with business and industry. DPI hopes to attract government support, as well.

The institute is the inaugural step in the development of the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN), an initiative to spread DPI’s impact across the state.

“This unique new institute will add to the momentum that has been developing in Chicago to create an innovation infrastructure at the kind of scale that can massively accelerate progress and economic development in our state,” Killeen said. “It will build on the U of I System’s long, rich history of pioneering innovation, and a legacy of service to Illinois and to this global city that dates back more than a century.”

“DPI is a way for our state to harness its considerable research, computing and commercial resources to create economic opportunity all across Illinois,” Rauner said. “Combining research and development resources — from Carbondale to Chicago — and linking them with sources of capital will produce unparalleled growth for Illinois. IIN and DPI will become a magnet for talent and innovation for generations to come.”

DPI will connect top research faculty in agriculture, health care, computing and other critical fields with hundreds of businesses and thousands of students over time, as well as with entrepreneurs and venture capital firms. Their research and educational collaborations will address real-world challenges, promoting the kind of breakthrough discoveries that create new products and companies, while also providing hands-on experiences for students and nurturing a skilled workforce for the city and state.

“This campus for innovation, anchored by the University of Illinois, will be a transformative force on the South Side of Chicago and for all of Chicago,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “I look forward to working with the governor and the many partners involved as we turn this vision into a reality.”

Along with serving Chicago, the institute ultimately will become the centerpiece of IIN, a virtually connected statewide enterprise allowing DPI staff to work with university and business partners in other regions across the state on research and education initiatives that help launch new companies and lift communities.

“This new institute capitalizes on the strengths of a university system already recognized around the world as a leader in education and discovery,” Killeen said. “It will put the U of I and our partners at the forefront of a dynamic model of higher education in our knowledge-based, 21st century economy — one designed to serve both our students and the public good.”

He said DPI and IIN will also benefit the System’s universities in Chicago, Springfield and Urbana-Champaign, and expand their impact across the state. Among other benefits, he said, the initiatives will provide hands-on opportunities for students to spend one to four semesters working with DPI researchers and Chicago-based businesses, provide new opportunities for university-based faculties to collaborate in leading-edge research, and expand faculty opportunities to engage with industry partners and attract venture capital.

Killeen said Chicago was chosen as the home of the institute and catalyst for the statewide innovation network because of its role as an economic engine for the Midwest and its place as a global destination that attracts talent from around the world.

The University of Chicago and Northwestern University have joined the U of I as inaugural partners in DPI, he said, and additional member institutions are anticipated.

The institute will open initially with up to 50 faculty members, and expand to as many as 90 new faculty when DPI reaches full operation.

DPI will initially serve several hundred students a year who are enrolled at the U of I and partner universities, growing to about 1,800 at full operation.

Killeen said DPI’s world-class faculty could attract up to $500 million annually in research funding.