UI LABS was established to bring together top talent from universities, industry, and civic organizations to pursue innovation and drive tech-based economic development in the Midwest. By creating a platform that promotes collaboration, UI LABS offers its partners an ideal environment to focus on developing, demonstrating, deploying, and commercializing innovations that address the world’s most pressing problems.
UI LABS was created at the intersection of university, government, and industry, with an eye toward connecting world-class research institutions with the industry partners in Chicago. The city was already pursuing a strategic vision to build an ecosystem that could capitalize on its strengths—healthcare, transportation, manufacturing, and food and agriculture—and retain talent. The University of Illinois worked closely with leaders from the City of Chicago, State of Illinois, and World Business Chicago to shape the organization’s mission.
In evaluating opportunities to drive innovation and economic development, UI LABS’ partners identified the potential to transform manufacturing in the United States—in particular, advanced manufacturing, an industry that World Business Chicago highlighted in its “Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs” as holding tremendous potential given the robust manufacturing base in the Chicago region.
In March 2013, the U.S. government announced the formation of three new manufacturing institutes and solicited bids. UI LABS envisioned a Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) that would harness the power of technology and data to revolutionize manufacturing.
In February 2014, UI LABS entered into a cooperative agreement with the Department of Defense for DMDII, setting in motion the process to bring the winning proposal from vision to reality. UI LABS began work in earnest to expand the organization and continue to put its operational structure in place. In the ensuing months, it convened the full board of directors, hired a staff of dozens, and broke ground on a permanent facility.
This momentum also fueled the development of UI LABS’ second program, City Digital, which focuses on applying technology to create smart and sustainable urban infrastructure. Discussions with industry leaders to crystallize the program’s scope and vision kicked off with an exploratory workshop in March. The initial partner meeting was held in August 2014 with a formal launch in March 2015.