Tel Aviv University (TAU) announced that it will become one of four founding partners in a new network of technology and innovation centers throughout Illinois in the coming years.
TAU will become the first international partner of the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) set to be built in Chicago, and the centerpiece of the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN), a series of virtually connected hubs across the state fostering entrepreneurship and innovation in the fields of computer science, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and Big Data.
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The project is the brainchild of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, and is based on a public-private collaboration between the University of Illinois, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and now Tel Aviv University. The state has allocated $500 million for the initiative, with hubs planned at each of the University of Illinois System’s universities, namely Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield.
Through this network, DPI’s faculty and staff “will work with universities and business partners in other regions across the state on research and education initiatives that help launch new companies and lift communities,” according to the Institute’s page.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $1.2 billion, with the rest of the funds set to be raised in the private sector.
The University of Tel Aviv will operate labs, classrooms, and offices at these hubs for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty for their use as studies and research centers, the university said in a statement. There will be a strong emphasis building new companies, linking between startups and venture capital, and establishing connections between new firms and more established ones in the same industry, the university added.
TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter said in a statement that the fact that TAU was “invited to join this important initiative as an equal founding partner demonstrates its solid status and central place in the international sphere of entrepreneurship and innovation.”
“It is an expression of the success of the university in training generations of successful entrepreneurs, as well as its excellent achievements in research,” he went on.
Tel Aviv University recently ranked 8th in the world in producing entrepreneurs and startups founders with an undergrad degree from the university, according to a September report by Pitchbook, a research company covering private capital markets. The report was based on data gathered between 2006 and June 2018 – spanning some 12 and a half years – and found that some 640 entrepreneurs emerged from Tel Aviv University’s undergraduate programs, going on to found 531 companies that raised almost $8 billion in funding over the years.
UI President Tim Killeen said TAU was a “powerful global engine of education, entrepreneurship, and the creation of world-class companies, [and] a cornerstone of Israel’s standing as a global leader in developing the start-up companies that drive progress and economic growth.”
“That is the same culture of forward-thinking and pioneering leadership culture that we are working to expand in Illinois, and we are so glad that TAU will help us in our efforts,” he added.
In August, the News Gazette in Illinois reported that the first major hub, as part of the network, will be at UI Springfield, and will take over the existing innovation and business incubator Innovate Springfield, founded in 2014. “The incubator will receive $1.5 million in funding from the UI and community partners in Springfield over three years to expand programs supporting start-up businesses, entrepreneurs and innovation,” the newspaper reported.
Additional hubs are planned in other areas including the Northern Illinois University in DeKalb which is set to focus on food, agriculture, environment, and water research to “help farmers think about innovation,” the News Gazette said.
DPI’s new interim director, Bill Sanders told the newspaper that the goal was to create a “collaboration place” bringing together people from all three campuses, along with entrepreneurs and industry to “allow things to happen that can’t at any individual hub.”
“By creating a bigger community we’re going to bring innovation to the entire state,” he said. “And we’re going to be able to recruit faculty to the state of Illinois that we couldn’t recruit before.”
With Tel Aviv University secured, UI is now courting partners in Germany, Jordan, Ireland, China and Mexico, according to the report.
Illinois governor Rauner announced the ambitious project last year, gaining backing from Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel. The announcement came just before Rauner’s state visit to Israel last November as the head of a trade mission that included several top University of Illinois officials, including Killeen.
During the week-long trip, Rauner hailed Israeli innovation, research and technology, and indicated that Illinois could learn from Israel and emulate some of its successes to turn the US state into an innovation hub and boost economic growth.
Rauner oversaw the signing of four memorandums of understandings with four Israeli universities – TAU, Hebrew University, Ben-Gurion University and the Technion – for research partnerships focused on agriculture, healthcare and data science, and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other government members to affirm commercial and security ties between Illinois and Israel.
The governor concluded what he called “a fruitful trip” by hailing the newfound cooperation. “The academic partnerships we are forging and the technological innovation network we are building will pay dividends for the taxpayers of Illinois, the people of Israel and potentially the world,” he said.