Research Park boasts more than just resources

By Lilly Mashayek

The University’s Research Park has seen a large increase in the number of companies looking to set up shop in its site.

“In the last year we saw the highest rate of companies coming in in a single year, these being external companies,” said Laura Frerichs, director of Research Parkbr.

While external companies are flocking the park, the technology hub has also maintained its average of 15 to 20 new University-based startups developing each year — with 19 being brought in last year.

“But something that has been different than that approach is our ability to attract in large corporations or side companies to have a satellite operation here, which are typically innovation centers, and it’s going to employ students, in many cases, as part of the company’s technology and innovation strategy,” Frerichs said. “By far the biggest driver is the presence of students and quality of our students, and the model that we have to employ students during the school year, it’s really not available at other university locations.”

Although a majority of the companies coming into the park are Midwest-based, the University has drawn companies from as far as California and Washington D.C.

Frerichs said 46 percent of the companies come from Illinois — 35 percent of those being from the Chicago area — and 54 percent come from the entire Midwest. California is the second largest contributing area, with 15 percent of the park’s tenants.

Research Park boasts a wide variety of companies, from agricultural to data analytical, Frerichs said, but there are some linkages among the type of research the companies are interested in.

“You’d see a common interest in data sciences and data analytics as a very fast growing field right now and it’s a very hard one to attract talent to because it’s pretty nascent still,” she said.

There are data scientists all over the country, but Frerichs said companies enjoy the ability to “home grow” their talent.

“What we’re seeing here is an interest in companies and home-growing that talent into the University of Illinois: the location where they can create a new center of excellence around data analytics projects,” she said.

Another reason Research Park is so successful, Frerichs said, is that it has a lot of resources available to it — from lab equipment, to staff available to the park.

“There isn’t an equivalent of having a student workforce model like this that works in an effective way that’s not a co-op model,” she said. “They don’t have a land area dedicated and staff set aside specifically to aid in the recruitment of companies on their campus.”

Frerichs added that there are key aspects of Research Park at the University that set it apart from other similar places or institutions; just being a large University with a large student pool isn’t enough, she said.

“Although MIT and Stanford are elite engineering and computer science schools, they just don’t have the volume that we have,” she said. “Just being large isn’t good enough; being large means there’s more to choose from but excellence (is important), of course, as well.”

Gustavo Dassori from the ADM Sustainable Bioenergy Modeling Centerbr, located in the park, said when it comes to Research Park’s value, the “proof is in the pudding.”

“That’s the reason why after eight years we are still here,” he said. “The proof is in the pudding, how long you stay means that there is something that is beneficial for the company.”

Michael Willard, University alumnus and COO of BioAnalyticsbr, said the proximity of the park to the University is what drew the startup to the location when its founders were undergraduate and graduate students at the University. The fact that Research Park provided the company with cost-effective resources was an added draw.

“For us, especially, it’s the ease of access to equipment and the resources, pricing, benefits — things like that are without a doubt one of the main reasons of our success and our continued success,” he said.

Frerichs said that she hopes that the pace of incoming companies continues and that the companies can find success at Research Park.

“Hopefully we’ll continue to accelerate this model and that it’s a winning one that is delivering strong results for the companies and so others will replicate,” Frerichs said.

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