in helping to build an economy here,” he said, “but also for the selfish reason that if I have a partnership with universities or new enterprises, proximity matters. Proximity is vitally important for the vital alignment between a small company and a large company, as it is for interaction and personal partnerships.”
He emphasized one point, he said, because of his European background and his frequent traveling. That is, the United States has a unique ability to form close partnerships between academic centers of excellence and industry. “We have so much fluidity, because we meet so often through joint appointments, academic visits to our labs, and students working in our labs. I believe we need to nurture this unique ability. I see it as a genuine competitive advantage to most of the world.”
INVO, the Innovation and New Venture Organization of Northwestern, has about 30 companies in its portfolio, representing about 300 jobs and more than $200 million in successful fundraising. “This is another clear sign that the system is working and actually delivering,” he said.
He turned to the Illinois Innovation Council, created by Governor Quinn, and said that its primary focus is to showcase the innovation excellence of Illinois in both academia and industry—not only in health care, but across agricultural, industrial and other applications of technology. “This is brought about by a combination of our great location as a transportation hub, the efficiency of O’Hare, and the beauty of the Midwest. A big opportunity is to make sure that when we travel around the world, we act as ambassadors for the state of Illinois and educate others about what we have,” he said. “Other people are surprised to learn how much we have here.”
The second priority of the Innovation Council, he said, is to create jobs—“well-paying jobs that can sustain an economy.” The third priority is to improve education. “When I look around the United States, but also when I travel the world, it is deeply concerning to me how far we are behind in STEM education. This is without any question the vital line between our remaining innovative or not. I’m also concerned that many students who receive the best education in the world here go back home to compete with us head to head. We need to find new ways of retaining them and ensuring that they contribute to our country and our goals here in this state.”
The reason behind his emphasis on education, he said, is its fundamental importance to sustainability. “We are doing a number of things as a company, such as iBIO, and in collaboration with the state and city governments to make sure we provide enough funding for Chicago public schools, create opportunities for students to learn about science, have basic equipment in the labs, and make sure the teachers are capable of teaching science at every level. This is what we need if students are to be prepared and enthusiastic about entering STEM educational paths.”
He offered examples from the iBIO educational program, which has provided more than 500 teachers with a degree of professional development, problem-based learning, and the ability to teach science. It has also initiated a science investigation database where students can look up career opportunities