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Illinois Universities Seek EDA Funding for Cutting-Edge Tech

A public-private coalition called Innovate Illinois has enlisted several universities in pursuit of federal funding to designate its quantum science and biomanufacturing centers as EDA Tech Hubs.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker standing at a podium speaking into an attached microphone.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker
(AP/John O'Connor)
Several Illinois universities are part of a public-private coalition seeking federal funding for two major projects to make the state a hub for advancing quantum computing research and biomanufacturing technologies.

The coalition, dubbed Innovate Illinois, was announced in March with support from Gov. JB Pritzker and includes leaders from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. A news release this month said the federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) Tech Hub Program will designate at least 20 tech hubs across the U.S., and Innovate Illinois is asking federal policymakers for funding for a proposed hub to drive quantum research and development efforts at the University of Chicago-based Chicago Quantum Exchange (CQE), described as the “largest university-led quantum initiative in the U.S.,” anchored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, UIUC, Northwestern and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

A news release this month said securing new federal funding for CQE would expand efforts to build the state’s “quantum economy” and make the state a national leader in quantum technology.

Brad Henderson, CEO of the Chicago business consortium P33, which is one of the leading organizations in Innovate Illinois, said this project proposal — dubbed The Bloch — aims to foster closer collaboration between quantum researchers throughout the state. He said Innovate Illinois was established to take advantage of unprecedented federal funding through legislation such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act for research and workforce development efforts related to emerging technologies.

“You need the smartest researchers working with innovative investors, startup companies, big corporations and the federal government … You need a network to solve these problems. What we saw when we started was that Chicago and Illinois have this incredible network of research institutions. It’s very rare to have two national labs and three world-class research institutions in one place, and we have 45 Fortune 500 companies here as well,” he said. “The premise behind the CQE would be, ‘Think about how much better we can help advance this technology if we team up together.’ If we want to really solve the challenge of quantum, we need to get everybody working together in one network.”

According to the news release, the coalition is also pushing to secure funding to establish the Illinois Fermentation and Agriculture Biomanufacturing Hub, or iFAB, led by researchers at UIUC’s Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory, which is working on innovations in synthetic biology and fermentation processing. The announcement said the hub would focus on synthetic biology research to engineer organisms to tackle challenges such as pollution remediation.

“Innovate Illinois was designed to build a robust coalition that would pool its collective expertise to advance groundbreaking technologies, and with its support of The Bloch and iFAB, Illinois is doing just that,” Gov. JB Pritzker said in a public statement of funding advocacy efforts. “Illinois is on the cutting edge of bioprocessing and quantum computing. Our continued leadership in these spaces will help address global challenges and drive economic growth.”

In an email to Government Technology, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Robert Jones said the main goal of Innovate Illinois is to combine the resources of institutions and industry leaders in the state to spur growth in the tech sector through these kinds of federal funding proposals.

“Innovate Illinois is a forward-thinking initiative to coordinate the considerable expertise of the state’s institutions of higher education, national labs, industries and legislative offices in ways that will advance science, technology, and quality of life for the people of Illinois and far beyond. University innovation plays a significant role in that work. New ideas and emerging discoveries from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and other partners power the state’s economy,” he wrote. “The CHIPS and Science Act, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act are once-in-a-generation opportunities to fund our nation’s research enterprise and our researcher’s creativity.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.