By Michelle Chitambar, PhD, Research Enterprise Director, Office for the Vice Chancellor for Research, Southern Illinois University


In 2015, Forbes ranked the top 50 entrepreneurial universities in the US, based on the number of alumni and students who have identified themselves as founders and business owners on LinkedIn. While it was predictable to see universities like Stanford and MIT leading the list, less predictable to some was that the top spot in Illinois went not to our powerhouse flagship university or one of our elite private institutions, but to Southern Illinois University (SIU).

Of course, we at SIU are proud of how this recognition reflects on the tenacity of our students and alumni, the strength and value of an SIU education, and the resourcefulness of our institution. Becoming one of the most entrepreneurial universities in America does not happen in isolation, however. Partnership and inclusiveness are key pillars of SIU’s higher education template for expanding entrepreneurship within Illinois.

SIU researchers have partnered with more than 100 different companies since 2014 to perform research, test new technologies, and train personnel. Faculty and students at all levels participate in these activities, which result in internships, follow-on projects, and inventions. The past two years have seen 22 new technologies added to our patent portfolio.

SIU attracts industry R&D funding at three times the average rate among research institutions, despite the logistical challenge of being far from major urban population and innovation centers. To continue to maximize our service to Illinois and provide opportunities for our students, however, we must be proactive about forming new partnerships, particularly in industry-dense Chicago.

ISTC’s commitment to serve as a convener of industry, government, and academia helps us achieve this goal and has inspired us to explore other avenues in reaching out to new partners. On October 13th, SIU’s top inventors will deliver speed pitches and network with industry representatives, investors, and innovation leaders in Chicago’s 1871 incubator during our Technology and Innovation Expo. This platform will allow us to learn from keynote experts, deliver important announcements from SIU companies, and showcase our new Fermentation Science Institute with a curated beer tasting.

The goal of all of these efforts is ultimately to expose SIU researchers to new perspectives—those of the businessperson who knows what technologies will move an industry forward, the investor who has taken dozens of products to market, and the employer who can tell us how to better prepare our graduates for Illinois job markets. In turn, we in academia can share our technological advances, license out breakthrough technologies, and train the next generation of talented, diverse leaders and employees.

This leads to the final self-reflection on how SIU became a model for entrepreneurship in our state: diversity and inclusiveness are key to achieving our culture of innovation and realizing broader economic development and opportunity. With more than 31% of our undergraduate student body identifying as African American or Hispanic, SIU enrolls roughly twice as many traditionally underrepresented minorities as leading public and private universities within the state.[1],[2],[3] Nearly half (46%) of SIU undergraduates receive federal Pell grants for low-income students, a rate two to four times higher than at these same peer institutions. Half of our student body hails from Chicago’s vast metropolis, with many others coming from small rural towns. The result is a melting pot of backgrounds, values, and perspectives that enrich student experiences in the classroom and in our alumni’s post-baccalaureate careers. When it comes to entrepreneurship, it appears that this formula of inclusiveness and excellence may be among the best in the country.

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McLafferty Collaborative Research Annex & Fermentation lab



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Calling all Chicago area high school and university students: opportunity to win $2,500 with the Chicago Innovation Challenge. Deadline to apply is September 30, 2016! Read more here.




[1] UIUC Student Enrollment,” UIUC Division of Management Information.

[2]Common Data Set 2015-2016,” Northwestern University.

[3]IPEDS Autumn 2014 Survey,” University of Chicago.