By John Flavin, Managing Director, Chicago Innovation Mentors (@CIMChicago) and Kate Anderson, Communications Manager, Chicago Innovation Mentors 

As thousands of visitors arrive in Chicago for next week’s 2013 BIO International Convention, April 22-25, they will come to find that Chicago is now famous for its burgeoning biotech entrepreneurial community.  One of the new organizations responsible for driving this newfound reputation by supporting early-stage entrepreneurial activity is the Chicago Innovation Mentors (CIM).

CIM emerged as a team-based mentoring group from the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, University of Illinois, the PROPEL Center of the iBIO Institute, Argonne National Laboratory, and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.  These prestigious organizations came together for one goal, and that was to set the stage for long-term growth in Chicago and Illinois based on entrepreneurship, innovation, and commercialization, especially in healthcare and other complex technologies.  They are using CIM to pair business mentors with new science based venture teams.  Mentors volunteer their time and provide their services on a pro bono basis, all in the spirit of giving back.

CIM’s ultimate goal is to help ventures catalyze the process of obtaining patents, licensing intellectual property, raising capital, forming partnerships and launching companies.  The idea is to get capital flowing again.  The way to do that is to show pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers and healthcare providers that Illinois has a plethora of new drugs, devices and diagnostics.  As CIM grows, the community is strengthened and makes the region more appealing to researchers and investors. Once a month, all mentors assemble to hear presentations from the prospective CIM ventures. This gives teams a chance to explain the technology, where they stand, and expound on areas where they need guidance on how best to get their technology or service to market.  Within the mentoring sessions, mentees are coached on setting targets for their venture, progress is critiqued, methods of improvement are suggested, and collaboration occurs.  Mentees are encouraged to work with the mentors on topics where there is the greatest uncertainty.  Anything from founder issues, legal IP, and business models are discussed.

To date, CIM has recruited 147 mentors that are mentoring 62 venture teams. Companies such as ArborVita, Briteseed, Aquarius Biotechnologies and Diagnostic Photonics led by serial entrepreneur Andrew Cittadine, are a few examples of thriving start-ups who have benefited from this strengthened and vibrant ecosystem. CIM ventures are also being formally recognized for their business successes.  Recently, Brightseed won the 2012 Chicago Innovation Award and ArborVita finished runner up in the Booth School of Business New Venture Challenge. With 3-4 new mentor teams formed every month, CIM is poised to foster even more entrepreneurial activity.

With increased biosciences entrepreneurial support systems in place, like CIM and the PROPEL center of the iBIO Institute, as well as key leadership from Governor Quinn and Mayor Emanuel, Illinois and Chicago are forming the next layer of a solid foundation for growth and evolution.  Chicago and Illinois now have the critical infrastructure for collaboration between a world-class community of innovators in biomedical sciences and life sciences business experts. We have laid out pathways for the exchange of expertise, knowledge about the latest technologies emerging from Illinois’ research universities, and mentorship. Solidifying this community of innovators and entrepreneurs is the first critical step in harnessing Chicago and Illinois’ outstanding talent and technological know-how and transforming it into the basis for one of the world’s premier life sciences hubs.


Did You Know? 

As reported in the first quarterly issue of the Illinois Innovation Index, in 2012 total VC investment decreased both nationally and in Illinois. Local health innovation related investments, however, saw a substantial increase. In Illinois, VC investments in medical devices, pharmaceuticals, health care service, and other biotechnologies increased from $44.2 million in 2011 to a $146.2 million in 2012. This was the third highest level of VC investment in health related technologies in the Midwest.

Watch and Listen:

Managing Director John Flavin discusses Chicago Innovation Mentors

Life sciences entrepreneurship at the Illinois Science + Technology Park


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