Just two blocks north of the Tech Park, the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship is taking shape.

Conceived by IIT President John Anderson and designed by architect John Ronan, the light-filled, 92,000-square-foot institute will house IIT’s Knapp Entrepreneurship Center, Self Learning Academy and Institute of Design. The Idea Shop, IIT’s project-based, multi-disciplinary program for undergraduates, will also move to the new facility.

The stretch of Federal Street between our incubator and the Knapp Institute has been dubbed “Innovation Alley” by IIT Provost and President-elect Alan Cramb – a symbol of the innovation value chain and the dynamic flow from idea to product development to market.

We’re proud to be the south anchor in this new innovation district. Its emergence fulfills our long-time dream to bring the great ideas of IIT students and faculty together with the rich resources we offer to help these concepts bloom.

 The roots of a wider partnership

Supportive partnerships among students, faculty and our innovation team have been building for years. Three startups formed by IIT faculty – ADMx, Sigenics and Roberson Associates – call the Tech Park home. The presence of the Idea Shop in our Technology Business Center brings startups together with students who can help with rapid prototyping, gaining real-world experience that enriches their academic work.

Rapid Prototyping in IIT's Idea Shop

Mike Stacey, co-founder of SmarterShade, right, with students in the Idea Shop

SmarterShade, a UTP startup whose simple, cost-effective room-darkening technology was showcased at the White House last month, has benefited from student talent. Working in the Idea Shop, IIT undergrads helped the company build prototype window systems. Upon graduation, they became full-time employees.

UTP staff members actively work with IIT faculty and graduate students who hope to transform their research into vibrant new enterprises. This spring we hosted a workshop for faculty and local startups who hope to harness Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants to fuel their growth. Presenter Dave Kellner shared best practices for preparing proposals and business development strategies that may increase a startup’s scores, boosting the chances of wining a non-dilutive capital grant award.

We spend a good deal of time helping would-be entrepreneurs compete for these grants because we know they can be a critical success factor, not only as launch capital but as a peer-review stamp of approval for follow-on financing. Along the way, we also link innovators with networks we’ve cultivated here in Chicago that are closely aligned with the life sciences and energy sectors.

Universities as engines of innovation

The relatively new phenomenon of university-based research parks providing space and programming for student entrepreneurs is seeing rapid growth across the globe. Last month, I addressed a group gathered for the 20th Anniversary of the Poznan Science and Technology Park in Poznan, Poland, describing dynamic initiatives at University City Science Center in Philadelphia, Buffalo (New York) Niagara Medical Campus, and the venerable Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. These exciting programs focus on helping young people bring their creative ideas to life. Many have created spaces similar to our Idea Shop to provide the informal collaboration and active learning that fosters innovation. My hosts in Poznan are following the same strategy to support their student entrepreneurs.

IIT’s long-term vision to lead the way in innovation is manifest in the bold design of the future Kaplan Innovation Institute. At the other end of Innovation Alley, we will strive to promote the breakthrough concepts and companies we know will be born there.

Banner photo courtesy of John Ronan Architects. See more views of the new Kaplan Institute here.