UILABS CHANGES TO MXD

UI Labs fades amid name, organizational changes
https://www.chicagobusiness.com/john-pletz-technology/ui-labs-fades-amid-name-organizational-changes

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JOHN PLETZ ON TECHNOLOGY

February 28, 2019 06:00 AM

UI Labs fades amid name, organizational changes

The digital manufacturing program will change its name, and CEO Caralynn Nowinski Collens will leave by midyear. 

JOHN PLETZ Technology and airlines

Kendall Karmanian

Caralynn Nowinski Collens

UI Labs is going away, but its signature programs will continue.

UI Labs is an umbrella group that launched two research partnerships on Goose Island, including the Digital Manufacturing Design & Innovation Institute funded by the Department of Defense. DMDII will be rebranded as MXD, for Manufacturing Times Digital, and remain on Goose Island, where it has built out several advanced-manufacturing labs and demonstration facilities.

The other research partnership, City Tech, which is focused on using technology to help cities better design and deliver city services, will leave Goose Island for a location closer to the Loop.

Caralynn Nowinski Collens, who has led UI Labs since 2014, also is leaving at midyear but is expected to remain on MXD’s board.

Chandra Brown, a former Commerce Department official who was hired last fallto lead the digital manufacturing program, will continue to run it. The program last week got a new round of funding from the Defense Department with a guaranteed commitment of $10 million that could reach $60 million over five years. Brenna Berman will continue to run City Tech, a smaller program that started in 2015 as City Works.

A year ago, it merged with the Smart Chicago Collaborative, a not-for-profit that aimed to increase city residents’ access to the internet and digital tools to help people connect with government. It also received an unspecified amount of funding from the MacArthur Foundation, in addition to private-sector partners such as Microsoft, Commonwealth Edison, digital-mapping company Here, Mastercard, Accenture, Crown Castle, Aecom and HBK Engineering.nullADVERTISINGnull

The name change and the elimination of the UI Labs umbrella will help brand DMDII. The relocation will help City Tech better connect with its partners and mission. “We want to be closer to our partners, who are downtown and on the south and west sides,” Berman said. She didn’t say where the program will move.

The changes underscore the odyssey that has been UI Labs, which traces  its roots to an economic-development idea hatched by former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to connect the research firepower of the University of Illinois with the money, talent and companies in Chicago in hopes of generating new businesses and jobs in the way that Silicon Valley and Boston have benefited from Stanford, Harvard and MIT.

The idea morphed into a much broader coalition in 2011, when President Barack Obama announced a $500 million program to fund advanced manufacturing partnerships to invest in new technologies and create jobs.

The “UI” soon officially came to stand for Universities and Industry, as it corralled 300 university and private-sector partners under the DMDII banner. While University of Illinois was an active participant, the program counted university partners from Iowa to Georgia. City Tech came along, and the Department of Defense gave DMDII $750,000 for a cybersecurity effort.

The goal of adding other labs never quite materialized. Meanwhile, Rauner never quite gave up on his idea of giving U of I’s engineering school in Urbana a greater foothold in Chicago, mind the fact that U of I has a Chicago campus with a fast-growing engineering school. Eventually, Rauner and U of I President Tim Killeen teamed up on the Discovery Partners Institute, a U of I-led research and teaching facility in the South Loop that also would include University of Chicago and Northwestern University. Rauner is out of office, and Emanuel will be gone in two months. Killeen is still pushing ahead, trying to raise funding. Gov. J.B. Pritzker is noncommittal.

For a while, there were rumblings that UI Labs and DPI might somehow come together, but that never materialized. “The UI Labs and DPI teams have met several times to identify synergies, and we anticipate that MXD and City Tech will continue to explore how to collaborate with DPI as it moves out of its planning and standup phase,” a UI Labs’ spokeswoman said.null

UI Labs’ main program will live on at Goose Island even as the name fades away.

This story has been updated to correct the name of Smart Chicago Collaborative.nullADVERTISINGnullLetterto theEditor

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