Clusters: The Key to Success for Chicago’s Innovation District

“Chicago’s South Side is home to the University of Chicago and its highly-ranked medical center, and the Illinois Medical District on the Near West Side anchors two top medical universities and four renowned teaching hospitals. This begs the obvious: Why are these communities unable to access the healthcare they clearly need, and how do we better serve them?”

This was presented by Suzet McKinney in a white paper, which urged the creation of an innovation district that brings tech and life sciences together.

McKinney said people in those communities on the South and West sides are still experiencing disproportionate health challenges despite having those medical centers in their communities.

“This is a great opportunity for those hospitals and universities to be an integral part of uplifting those neighborhoods and communities in which they sit,” she said. “We are calling for the development of an innovation district.”

She described it as a living, breathing ecosystem, which could extend to the surrounding communities through employment, education, access to healthcare, new technologies and innovation. McKinney used the example of The Bay Area and Boston, which are leading life science clusters.

“What we are seeing from other cities [is that] their leading life sciences clusters work very closely together; they seem to have found a way to collaborate.” she said.

She explained that clustering is most critical and important to the innovation district.

“The benefits are in the clustering — top-tier businesses and hospitals, as well as leading-edge anchor institutions and companies that will collaborate with start-ups, business accelerators and incubators,” she said.

McKinney called clustering the “secret sauce.”

She said the level of collaboration and strong community connections help clusters succeed. She also said one way to engage stakeholders is by prioritizing employment for the communities’ residents. She gave the example of Superior Ambulance Company.

“Of course, we talked about all of the issues. We also [talked] with them about our goal to grow the economy on the West side,” she said.

McKinney said Superior decided to create EMT, medical coding and billing training programs. She explained that within one year, they trained more than 100 community residents.

“Chicago is so well poised to be a leader in this area. We have the components…we just have to define a strategy,” she said. “It is going to take all of us here in Chicago collaborating and working toward that defined strategy.”



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