Like a teacher who gives his or her student the freedom to develop and grow with just the right amount of guidance and opportunity, University Technology Park at IIT—now Chicago’s premier tech park—has fostered and graduated innovative startups that have become successful companies, many drawing international acclaim. Illinois Tech President Lewis Collens (1990–2007) first proposed the idea of a tech park and selected David Baker, longtime vice president for external affairs, as UTP’s strategic architect.
“UTP is certainly the capstone of my work at Illinois Tech,” says Baker, who retired on September 30 after 23 years of service to the university. “When we started talking to the Illinois General Assembly and the governor about UTP, my mantra was high-quality jobs for Chicago’s South Side. And we’ve tried to live up to that. The idea that we would have a private sector job-generating entity located at 35th and State was beyond the level of comprehension of most people in 2000–01; it only happened because of the great support we received from the state and federal governments for the initiative.”
"The future of UTP is bright with the growing tenant base commercializing inventions from Illinois Tech."
Now home to 19 companies with 383 employees, UTP is the “living laboratory” that Baker imagined when he first considered how the park would be integrated with the university’s academic programs and vision. Looking back on his tenure as UTP executive director, Baker lists his top 10 UTP milestones in chronological order:
2001: Illinois Tech receives a $12 million commitment from the State of Illinois to develop a Biomedical Science and Engineering Center on Mies Campus in six re-purposed research buildings.
2005: Cleversafe moves in as the park’s first tenant. The data storage startup grows from three employees to 35 by 2008, when it moves to downtown Chicago. With staff members including Illinois Tech computer science alumni, Cleversafe is sold to IBM for $1.3 billion in late 2015.
2005: The second tenant, AllCell Technologies, a company based on Illinois Tech intellectual property for thermal management of lithium-ion batteries used in transportation, moves into newly constructed Incubator North. In 2011 AllCell expands and moves to its own manufacturing facility on Chicago’s South Side.
2006: UTP has its grand opening on November 29, made possible in large part through a partnership with private developer Wexford Science & Technology. Wexford purchases the former Chemistry Research Building and transforms it into a state-of-the-art, build-to-suit facility for life sciences companies and university research centers.
2008: Pritzker Institute of Biomedical Science and Engineering relocates to UTP, moving into the Technology Business Center (TBC) and the Incubator.
2008: Therapeutic Proteins International, a two-person startup commercializing new technology for the production of biosimilar pharmaceuticals, moves into the TBC. By 2016 the company grows to 160 employees and expects final United States Food and Drug Administration approval by early 2017.
2010: Illinois Tech’s Idea Shop opens in the TBC. With 13,000 square feet of creative space and a growing rapid-prototyping lab, it becomes the home of the Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) Program and enrichment initiatives such as the Illinois Tech Global Leaders Program.
2011: Incubator South is completed and features 15 wet labs, nine dry labs, and six offices. This building is made possible through an additional $2 million in funding from the State of Illinois and $4 million in U.S. Economic Development Administration stimulus grants.
2012: More startups come to UTP, including Advanced Cooling Therapies, which has developed a system for rapid body cooling for stroke and heart attack victims, and SiNode Systems, a developer of a new material for improving the efficiency of lithium-ion batteries.
2016: Baker steps down as UTP’s executive director and is succeeded by Catherine Vorwald, former marketing and business development director for Wexford Science & Technology.
“The future of UTP is bright with the growing tenant base commercializing inventions from Illinois Tech,” says Vorwald. “The tech park is becoming an effective link for the transfer of technology from Illinois Tech for public use and benefit.”
“Our dream has been for Illinois Tech to have an ‘innovation alley’ that starts with the new Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship at the center of Mies Campus and ends with UTP,” says Baker. “Student and faculty companies can continually be born and nurtured on campus because Illinois Tech is not only a place for learning, but also a place for creating.”