Through my coursework in the Doctor of Public Administration program I had to opportunity to do an independent study with Bruce Sommers. Bruce is the Executive Director of Economic Development and Innovation lead UIS’ efforts which includes oversight of the Discovery Partners Institute and Illinois Innovation Network. This experience allowed me to explore a topic I hope to pursue in my dissertation - town/gown relations – while also doing research that could benefit UIS.
I was charged with investigating the best practices in corporate and community engagement by colleges and universities and identifying colleges/universities that have optimized town/gown relations for the commercialization of technology. I started by reading some core texts in the town/gown literature which was also selfishly a jump start on the dissertation literature review.
I benchmarked fourteen institutions and found the following common themes among institutions with business community partnerships or entrepreneurial initiatives:
- host state or regional small business development center
- offer professional develop for students and community
- provide funding for student start-ups
- offer resources for faculty to take research and prototypes to the next level
- offer physical space for entrepreneurs and start-ups to be housed including meeting space and collaboration space
- support faculty to secure patents
- serve as business incubator or accelerator
- host makerspace
Conversations with Bruce led to an opportunity to research cities with innovation districts where I was able to connect plans in my own community (Normal, IL) with other efforts in the nation as well as UIS. I was able to learn about different types of innovation districts and glean insights from notable examples.
Finally, I explored the uniqueness of colleges and universities located in state capitols to look for additional examples of technology commercialization or entrepreneurial partnerships. This lead to eleven more schools as notable examples in this area, most of which reflect the common themes listed earlier.
After all of the research and benchmarking and in connection with the literature, I was able to make a series of recommendations to UIS. The recommendations include considerations related to:
- the location of the Innovation Hub in downtown Springfield
- the presence of UIS in Springfield and strategic relationship building
- existing town/gown relationships and effectiveness of those relationships
- organizational placement of the Innovation Hub.
Read the full report
This was an excellent experience that allowed me to apply both course-based knowledge and town/gown literature to a UIS initiative. It was a great benefit for me to learn more about higher education partnerships with the private sector; this was totally new for me. I like to think this was a mutually beneficial experience and that my research will be of value to UIS too.
Harriett Steinbach is a member of the 2019 cohort in the Doctor of Public Administration Program. She is Assistant Director at Illinois State University’s Center for Civic Engagement.