HYDE PARK — The University of Chicago unveiled its new rapid fabrication lab on Thursday, the second phase in its business incubator on 53rd Street.
The new 7,000-square-foot space at 1463 E. 53rd St. provides the high-end 3-D printers, laser cutters and other tools to rapidly create prototypes of the products dreamed up by academics and entrepreneurs in the university’s year-old Chicago Innovation Exchange.
“This is our effort to catalyze the innovation ecosystem on the South Side of Chicago,” said university President Robert Zimmer.
On a tour, Zimmer seemed just as entranced by the blocky whirring machines as anyone and smiled as former university Board of Trustees Chairman Andrew Alper prodded current Chairman Joseph Neubauer to touch a plastic human heart that had emerged from a 3-D printer.
“That’s the only one of its kind in the state of Illinois,” claimed Derek Douglas, vice president for civic engagement at the university, pointing to a black Stratasys Objet500 Connex3.
The 3-D printer can create objects from computer models using multiple materials and colors in a single run. It reportedly costs as much as $330,000.
The suite of printers, laser cutters, CNC routers and other tools are part of the university’s efforts to create more businesses from research by university professors and students and partners like the University of Illinois at Urbana’s School of Engineering.
The project started a year ago when the university opened the Chicago Innovation Exchange, a workspace for would-be entrepreneurs at the university and in the community.
John Flavin, executive director of the Innovation Exchange, said the business incubator now has almost 1,200 members. Start-ups at the incubator have raised more than $7 million from outside investors in the last year.
Sen. Mark Kirk helped open the Chicago Innovation Exchange last year and Gov. Bruce Rauner commended the university efforts with the fabrication lab Thursday.
“This sort of exchange is exactly the sort of thing we need in the state to ensure a prosperous future,” Rauner said.
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