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In October 2017, the U of I System signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Tel Aviv University for research and academic collaboration.

Tel Aviv University (TAU) officially signed on Friday as the first international partner in a pioneering new research center led by the University of Illinois System that will foster innovation to address real-world challenges and drive social and economic growth.

TAU will help guide development and then partner in educational and research programs at the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI). The downtown Chicago facility will be home to well over 100 top researchers who will address real-world challenges in critical fields such as healthcare, cybersecurity, food supplies and the environment.

Under an agreement signed Friday by officials from TAU and the U of I System, the Israeli university joins academic partners that also include Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. Along with the U of I System, all rank on Reuters’ list of the world’s 100 most innovative universities. TAU ranks 91st, the U of I System 28th, Northwestern 24th and the University of Chicago 51st.

“Tel Aviv University is a global powerhouse of world-class education, entrepreneurship and company creation, and a cornerstone of Israel’s standing as a global leader in developing the start-up companies that drive the economy of tomorrow,” said Tim Killeen, president of the U of I System. “That is the same leading-edge culture that we are working to expand here in Illinois.”

TAU President Joseph Klafter said the university’s footprint at DPI will include labs and classrooms focused on promoting innovation and entrepreneurship when the new research center opens, expected in 2021. He said TAU also will open an office next spring at DPI’s current offices at 200 S. Wacker Drive in Chicago.

“The fact that TAU was invited to join this important initiative as an equal founding partner verifies its firm status and central place in the international arena of entrepreneurship and innovation,” Klafter said. “This is a manifestation of TAU’s success in educating generations of successful entrepreneurs, as well as its excellent achievements in research.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who joined university officials and supporters at Friday’s signing ceremony, said TAU will add to the global intellectual power that will drive groundbreaking discovery at DPI.

“TAU will help us build on our already growing innovation ecosystem here in Chicago, and make this city the place where the world turns for the ideas of tomorrow,” Emanuel said.

TAU is the largest and most comprehensive research university in Israel, which has earned a global reputation as the “Start-Up Nation,” a nickname popularized by a best-selling 2009 book that examined the country’s robust economic growth.

In 2016, the university ranked first in Israel, 43rd in the world and 10th outside of the United States in producing U.S. patents. TAU also ranks ninth among universities globally in producing venture capital-backed founders of companies, and eighth in the world for graduates who establish companies valued at $1 billion or more.

Work is currently underway on an implementation plan that will establish a timetable for opening and other details of DPI, where world-class researchers will work side-by-side with students and businesses to foster next-generation innovation and workforce development.

DPI will be developed on a donated site along the Chicago River, and will bring together top faculty in agriculture, healthcare, computing, environment, and other critical fields. They will connect with hundreds of businesses and thousands of students over time, as well as with entrepreneurs and venture capital firms.

Their research and educational collaborations will address real-world challenges, promoting the kind of breakthrough discoveries that create new products and companies. Those innovations will fuel social progress as well as economic growth, while also providing hands-on experiences for students and nurturing a skilled workforce for the city and state.

The institute will be the centerpiece of the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN), a virtually connected statewide enterprise allowing DPI staff to work with university and business partners in other regions across the state on research and education initiatives that help launch new companies and lift communities.

Last spring, the Illinois General Assembly approved $500 million in state capital funding to launch DPI and IIN.