Innovation Fest Showcases University’s Success in Research and Entrepreneurship

The three-week long event celebrates final rounds of the New Venture Challenge and includes panels by researchers and professors.

By Ryan Fleishman

This week marks the halfway point of the UChicago Innovation Fest, a three-week-long festival dedicated to showcasing the University of Chicago’s successes in research, entrepreneurship, and innovationThe festival runs from May 12 through June 2, featuring luncheons, workshops, and lectures from premiere Chicago institutes such theInstitute of Politics, the Chicago Innovation Exchange (CIE), and the Fermi and Argonne Laboratories.

UChicago Innovation Fest began as UChicago Innovation Week in 2014, when the Polsky Center For Entrepreneurship and Innovation put together a weeklong celebration of innovation to accompany the final rounds of the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge (NVC). The NVC, national startup competition launched by the Booth School of Business in 1996, is an immersive program focused on turning students’ ideas into competitive businesses. This year’s festival marks the 20th anniversary of NVC, which is recognized as the number one accelerator program in the nation and has raised over $434 million in funding for startup companies. Graduates of the NVC program havemade over $3.7 billion in exits and mergers, and include household names such as Braintree and GrubHub.

Finalists in this year’s NVC competition include innovative ideas such as Sift, a companywhich gives people with food allergies a safer and easier way to find suitable eating options, and Riviter, a software that analyzes shoppers’ posted and shared photos to give personalized advice and recommendations. These teams will be presenting theirprojects to various panels and judges throughout the festival, culminating in the crowningof a winner on the last day of the festival. 

This year, the festival has expanded far beyond the NVC through collaboration withvarious other innovation-centered groups on campus. The festival is now organized bythe Polsky Center, the CIE, the Arete Research Accelerator, the Institute for Translational Medicine, UChicagoTech, and the Social Enterprise Initiative at ChicagoBooth. Thirty-four additional groups ranging from Fermi Laboratories to Doc Films areparticipating in the festival, expanding the traditionally weeklong event to a full three weeks of scheduled activities. 

One of the new events in this festival was a talk this Wednesday called “The End of Water as We Know It,” in which Seth Darling from Argonne Laboratories discussed the rising scarcity of water and how we can adapt. Darling, who serves as the strategy leader for Argonne’s Solar Energy Systems, also discussed his own work in the lab including new methods of water purification. Another new event, called “Scientist as anEntrepreneur: Harnessing UChicago Research for the City of the Future,” features a panel with top UChicago researchers discussing the use of scientific research toward the benefit of urban development.