Illinois Institute of Technology today opened a sparkling, new 70,000-square-foot home for student-driven innovation and entrepreneurship. Unlike other university innovation centers (which are more about being a platform for startups), the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship takes a hands-on approach to problem solving with dynamic projects, collaborations, and real outcomes and products. It is devoted to fostering collaboration among all of Illinois Tech’s students, faculty, alumni, and business partners—and is designed to develop the home-grown and diverse technology talent needed in today’s business world.
“At Illinois Tech we make it possible for our students to learn by inventing, creating, and solving,” says Illinois Tech President Alan Cramb. “The Kaplan Institute will immediately become one of the nation’s most important platforms for active learning at the university level. It will also become the centerpiece of our mission to make a future in science and technology possible for talented young people here in Chicago and across the world.”
The Kaplan Institute is helmed by Chicago veteran entrepreneur and investor Howard Tullman, who has been at the forefront of Chicago’s innovation boom, spending the last five years leading the city’s tech hub 1871 and decades before directing high-tech startups and helping major educational institutions reinvent themselves.
“The Kaplan Institute’s focus is to turn out highly qualified, instantly employable students for jobs that haven’t been invented yet, trained to use technologies that we are just now creating, in order to address problems that we do not yet know are going to be problems,” says Tullman, university professor and executive director of the Kaplan Institute. “In this building the creative and imaginative ideas of the school’s students and faculty will become meaningful innovations for our city, region, and beyond.”
The institute provides all Illinois Tech students with a variety of wide-open collaboration spaces for project-based experiences, contains state-of-the art prototyping and fabrication facilities, and serves as the home for the university’s renowned Institute of Design. In addition, the Kaplan Institute breaks out of the classroom model to give students myriad ways to invent, create, and discover through hands-on, team-based learning. The building was designed by award-winning architect John Ronan, who is also a professor in Illinois Tech's College of Architecture.
Located in the heart of Illinois Tech’s historic campus, the Kaplan Institute will draw students and faculty from all disciplines. Every undergraduate student on campus—regardless of field of study—will be connected to one another through interdisciplinary learning opportunities. Students are already in the process of tackling issues such as agriculture in an urban environment, applying robotics to vertical farming; using big data to improve first-responder responsiveness; generating an interface that bridges the foreign language gap and improves trust and communication between families and Chicago Public Schools; and many others. As this work moves into the Kaplan Institute, project teams will be able to collaborate and connect, faculty will drop in to coach and mentor, and business collaborators will have a much larger presence and engagement in the students’ education.
The Kaplan Institute is established in large part from a gift of $11 million from Ed Kaplan—a 1965 Illinois Tech alumnus and longtime member of the University’s Board of Trustees—and his wife, Carol. Kaplan, a Chicagoan who studied mechanical engineering, co-founded Zebra Technologies, a global leader in bar code technology.
“Through the Kaplan Institute, Illinois Tech students, faculty, and alumni will have all the resources they need to turn their concepts, ideas, and problems into real solutions. Students now have the opportunity and ability to go beyond the norm of technical education and focus also on ingenuity and invention,” Kaplan says.