One-stop Browsing for Chicago Area Innovation

Nina Paciotti. Photo by Lloyd DeGrane

Bigger is better — at least when it comes to disseminating information about innovative research. So is broader and more selective.

The new Chicago Innovation Pipeline website, a multi-institution collaboration spearheaded by UChicagoTech, the University of Chicago’s Office of Technology and Intellectual Property, attests to this. It pools the highlights of licensable technologies from five leading Chicago area research institutions so that industry can browse and “shop” for innovations through a single, interactive web-based point-of-entry.

“There is strength in numbers,” says Nancy Sullivan, director of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Office of Technology Management. “This website will generate a lot of good exposure for all of us but it will also lead to hard, concrete deals. By collaborating, we create opportunities for everyone.”

But collaboration was only one piece of this puzzle. Taxonomy and presentation were also important in making the tool as user-friendly as possible.

UChicagoTech had been working to fine tune the way it communicates with industry about its research discoveries and innovations. More recently, it developed an interactive pipeline tool to facilitate the review of its top licensable technologies.

“We designed a tool that matches the form and style that our customers in industry use to describe their research programs,” says Nina Paciotti, associate director of commercial development at UChicagoTech. “Then we refined the format based on feedback from industry representatives.”

Last year, a prototype website in this new format was used to showcase innovations from several research institutions at a joint exhibit during the BIO International Convention in Chicago. That successful experience motivated the parties to develop a website for the Chicago Innovation Pipeline on a permanent basis.

“The BIO convention was the stimulus we needed to start working closer together,” Paciotti says. “Now that we’ve launched the permanent site, which currently offers more than 75 innovative technologies, we look forward to getting feedback and having other area research institutions join us and add their top technology offerings to the pipeline tool.”

The website ( will be updated semiannually. The current participants are Argonne National Laboratory, Children’s Memorial Research Center, Loyola University, University of Chicago, and University of Illinois at Chicago.

Bridging research and industry

The Chicago Innovation Pipeline includes information on several biomedical product types including pharmaceutical agents, diagnostics and biomarkers, medical devices and research and drug development tools. It also highlights innovation in other areas such as materials science (nanotechnology, robotics), alternative energy and educational curriculum.

Each technology’s brief description is accompanied by a graphic representing its stage of development, from concept to market. A document accompanying each description offers a non-confidential summary of the technology, in many cases including links to the inventor, scientific publications and patent documents.

The idea to cooperate rather than compete makes sense when many university inventions can be considered “pre-competitive,” says Alan Thomas, UChicagoTech’s director. “In addition, many scientific discoveries from universities have a narrowly defined target customer by product type or market area, so grouping like inventions from several institutions makes it more convenient for those customers to keep us on their radar.

“We hope our new regional initiative will help us attract more attention from those customers who typically focus on the East and West Coast technology hubs,” he adds.

This collaborative spirit is possible because of the close working relationships between several of the technology transfer offices involved. Another example of this spirit is the Chicago Biomedical Consortium (CBC), which is designed to stimulate collaboration among scientists and has gathered approximately 120 researchers from Northwestern University, University of Chicago and University of Illinois at Chicago to work together. In addition, the potential of CBC funding has brought together another 250 researchers, some of whom continue to work together even in the absence of CBC funding. Yet another collaborative initiative is the newly launched Chicago Innovation Mentors to facilitate the matching of business mentoring services to start-ups that grow out of the participating universities’ technologies.

By Greg Borzo

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