The University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation will have some roommates in its big new Hyde Park complex: The University of Illinois and the Army Research Lab.
U. of I. announced Thursday that it will base about 100 students, faculty members and researchers at the Polsky Center’s planned innovation complex, a 280,000-square-foot structure that includes a 20-story office tower and an adjacent laboratory.
The move to increase U. of I.’s Chicago presence is part of an aggressive expansion of its partnership with U. of C., first launched in 2014 to foster greater cross-state collaboration. Joint efforts at the South Side complex will mainly focus on advanced analytics and advanced materials research projects, officials said.
“We’re very excited about this,” said John Flavin, U. of C.’s associate vice president for entrepreneurship and innovation. “Underpinning this will be a focus on entrepreneurship and commercialization.”
The Polsky Center announcement is separate from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s announcement Thursday about a potential innovation-focused campus in the South Loop that would bring together U. of I., U. of C. and Northwestern University.
Among the startups that have taken advantage of the partnership between U. of I. and U. of C.: smart-oven startup Tovala and hospital software-maker Explorer Surgical.
“Four of our first five team members hailed from Chicago Booth or the University of Illinois,” said David Rabie, co-founder and CEO of Tovala. “We wouldn’t have gotten off the ground, built our first prototypes, gotten into Y Combinator, raised venture capital or successfully launched our business without the help of students, alumni and faculty from both universities.”
While collaboration is currently limited to “a small number of students,” Andrea Cangellaris, dean of the College of Engineering at U. of I., says the universities plan to “scale up engagement” with the new partnership.
“We hope, as we move forward, to keep making use of our lab facilities in Urbana-Champaign, but also the lab facilities that Chicago has,” Cangellaris said. “With any venture like this, we have our aspirations and our goals, but many opportunities will present themselves once we have a good number of creative people coming together and thinking together, innovating together.”
A few examples of research goals to be pursued as part of the expanded partnership include improving battery life, finding ways to pack more power inside smaller spaces and developing self-healing technology, Cangellaris said. Other examples cited by U. of C. in Thursday’s announcement include cancer and clean-water research.
Besides U. of I., the Army Research Lab will also have a presence at the Polsky Center complex: a new Midwest outpost called ARL Central. The partnership is beginning now, Flavin said, but will move to the tower complex once it’s built.
“We are thrilled to have brought ARL Central into the Army’s expanding science and technology ecosystem,” Army Research Lab Director Philip Perconti said in an emailed statement. “Allowing the Army to tap an extraordinary pool of talent across the central region will help the Army maintain technological leadership in an ever increasingly complex global environment.”
ARL Central also plans to send research teams to a number of other Midwestern universities, including Northwestern University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Chicago, Purdue University, Notre Dame and the University of Wisconsin.
The Hyde Park outpost, which will be ARL Central’s headquarters, joins a roster of Army Research Lab regional outposts that also includes locations at University of Texas at Austin and at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies.
Construction for the Polsky Center’s innovation complex is scheduled to begin in early 2018 and open in 2020. The complex at 53rd Street and South Lake Park Avenue is the second phase of the Harper Court redevelopment project. Construction will be financed by Wexford Science & Technology, a third-party developer; the universities will each cover their own operating costs.
The Polsky Center will take between 50,000 to 100,000 square feet of the final build, which also calls for about 15,000 square feet of retail space, Flavin said, though noting those figures could change in coming months.
U. of I. will not have a separate, dedicated space at the innovation complex, he said. Instead, operations will be “intertwined,” Flavin said. It was not immediately clear whether the Army Research Lab would have its own space in the building.