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Monday, March 21, 2011

Innovation in Illinois

By Michael Fonda (Chicago)

When the United States resumes its upward growth trajectory, we can expect that it will be fueled, in large part, by the companies operating inside the walls of The Incubator - Technology Innovation Center in Evanston, Illinois – named by as one of the “Ten Incubators Changing the World.” The Technology Innovation Center (TIC) was established by Northwestern University and the City of Evanston in 1986. During the past 25 years it has served more than 350 companies dedicated to early stage business development in two locations – 820 Davis Street, Evanston and 825 Chicago Avenue, Evanston.

Chuck Happ, real estate investor and owner of the office building that houses TIC, took me on a tour of his rather ordinary, brick clad, five-story building built in 1975. Although the building lacks the flash of today’s marble and glass clad, Class A office buildings, the tenants of the building are anything but ordinary. We stopped in to meet a couple of those tenants. Chuck introduced me to Alex Arzoumanidis, Director of Psylotech. In a space of about 1,000 square feet are punch presses, computer monitors and servers, CNC machines, and employees thinking hard about mechanical test frames for motion control devices. Danaher Motion supplies the base equipment; Alex and his team modify and augment that equipment. The linear actuator (now in the prototype stage) they assemble is sold to research & development labs that use it to test various materials.

Next we called on the founders of Precision Biomarker Resources - David Paul, Eric Bremer, and Jason Monroe. (Chuck is also a founder of this company.) David, Eric, and Jason are all trained molecular biologists. Precision Biomarkers is a contract research company for the life sciences industry conducting genomic micro array experiments, using the latest Affymetrix GeneChip Microarray platform. Precision Biomarkers run tests on samples of material provided by scientists in pharmaceutical companies or other research organizations on the human genome. The skilled technicians at Precision Biomarkers analyze the data, with the help of sophisticated equipment from Affymetrix, Labconco, Elga, MBL International and VWR, and transmit the analysis back to their customers who then create a drug that effectively and safely treats a specific disease. Without understanding how the drug impacts a person with a certain gene variation, that drug could adversely impact the recipient’s health.

Referring back to one of our previous blogs, “Democratization of Manufacturing”, we referenced Clayton Christiansen’s The Innovators Dilemma. You can understand the professor’s thesis walking the hallways of the TIC. Currently there are 48 companies located here. Over the last quarter, 14 new private sector jobs were created by these companies. Ensconced within the walls of the TIC are companies that will prove to be a disruptive or perhaps simply a complementary technology with “hockey stick” growth, fueled by innovative thinking and incubating at the TIC in Evanston, Illinois.

For more information about Illinois' commitment to the life sciences click here.

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