UI Labs

UI LABS was established to bring together top talent from universities + industry (the “UI” in our name), and civic organizations to pursue innovation and drive tech-based economic development in the Midwest USA. 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.

Process Main Stages: 

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 focused 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 of City Digital in March 2015.

City Tech Collaborative was born from a merger between City Digital and the Smart Chicago Collaborative in December 2017. City Tech transforms cities into testbeds for new ideas. With partners and people, City Tech remakes essential services and infrastructure, and then prepares those solutions for other cities.

UI LABS is dedicated to using digital technology to transform industries, and manufacturing and infrastructure are just the start.

UI LABS takes an active role across the project and partner lifecycle:

  • Curate. Collect insights from our network on what projects have most potential for impact, resulting in informed problem statements – not a “solution looking for a problem.”
  • Partner. By running workshops with the right players to clarify project scope, we broker partnerships and projects that can pilot solutions and test value propositions.
  • Execute. Our project teams drive friction-free execution of pilots, accelerating outcomes tied to the value proposition – or “failing fast” and moving on when success seems unlikely.
  • Deliver. We provide conditions and assets necessary for transition or adoption, delivering use cases and market transition readiness at the conclusion of projects.
Touchpoints & Bottlenecks: 

UILabs is a venue to demonstrate your product and services to existing and potential customers.

  • Show customers your products and services in action in a hands-on factory environment
  • UI LABS has over 1,000 visitors per month from more than 150 companies and government agencies
  • Many visitors to UI LABS are executive-level decision makers
  • There are various floor space options that can be tailored to fit your specific needs
  • For the typical cost of a three-day trade show, you can display and demonstrate your product and services at UI LABS for a full year
Benchmarking and reference to other similar initiatives: 

Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering (Coventry University and Unipart Manufacturing Group)