Sherwin Pomerantz

Illinois Targets Israel to Spur Midwest Tech Growth

Israel’s high tech eco-system continues to attract international partners, the latest being the University of Illinois (U of I) System with its plans to construct a new research institute in 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 shared with Israeli universities late last year during a visit to the country by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and U of I President Tim Killeen joined by a number of U of I deans.  At the time MOUs were signed with most of the major universities in Israel to lay the foundation for active cooperation between DPI and Israel.

The $1.2 billion institute will be operated principally through private donations and partnerships with business and industry.  DPI hopes to attract government support as well.  Towards that end funding to support the DPI was included in a capital spending proposal for fiscal 2019 that Governor Rauner outlined during his annual budget address to the Illinois legislature. He said the investment “could be the biggest spark ever to ignite our economic growth engine.”

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 and establish the Midwest as a major tech R&D center in the U.S.

U of I President Killeen summarized the concept well when he said: “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.  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 will connect top research faculty in food and agriculture, healthcare, 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 Midwest.

The Israel aspect of the program is designed to deepen the academic relationships between Illinois and Israel through faculty interchanges as well as making DPI a potential home for Israeli doctoral candidates to do their research at DPI.  In addition, early state Israeli start-ups will be welcomed to use DPI as a soft landing point for their U.S. operations.

The institute will open initially with up to 50 faculty, and expand to as many as 90 new faculty when DPI reaches full operation.  Institute faculty will hold faculty appointments at one of the U of I System’s three universities or at the other partner universities. Current U of I faculty also will be involved with the institute, helping to develop programming and engaging in interdisciplinary research and education in concert with their home institutions.

DPI research will initially include a focus on advances in “big data” and computing technology, from cybersecurity to the internet of things; in healthcare, including new drugs and treatment methods such as telehealth; and in food and agriculture breakthroughs to improve nutrition and help feed a growing world.

DPI has also made a strong commitment to fostering the Israel connection by establishing a representative office in Israel to act as a bridge between DPI and Israel’s eco-system.

Middle America has long suffered in the Israeli mentality from being seen as “fly over” country as people travel from one coast to the other.  The emergence of the Discovery Partners Institute headquartered in Chicago, the center of the U.S., will go a long way towards positioning the Midwest as a tech destination for Israeli companies.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 32 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Former Chairperson of the Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.