Focus Areas

As Illinois’ designated land grant institution, the University of Illinois has a responsibility to use its resources to positively impact and improve society through dynamic higher education and dedicated and disruptive research. The Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) is a true extension of that mission.

The DPI is centered around four key focus areas: Food & Agriculture, Computing & Data, Health & Wellness, and Environment & Water. These areas serve as the backbone of the collaborative efforts within the DPI and give them a unique identity as national research and innovation leader.

Woven throughout these four key focus areas are important global matters of opportunity where the innovation created within the DPI meets humanity in real and impactful ways. These global matters: Culture and Society, Entrepreneurship and Technology Commercialization, Education and Workforce Development and Public Policy will allow the DPI to strategically align on specific areas of research and development that will affect our world in a positive way.

Together, these public-private collaborative efforts will be guided by working groups and advisory committees that will drive economic growth throughout Illinois with a global impact.


Food & Agriculture

The number of American farms continues to shrink while the global population continues to grow, with an expected population of over 9.7 billion people by the year 2050. That means finding more efficient and successful ways to farm through innovation and technology have become more critical than ever before.

One U.S. farm feeds nearly 165 people, but with an increasing amount of farmland being lost to development each year, the world’s farmers will need to grow about 70% more food than what is currently being produced. The world’s food insecure population continues to skyrocket. In 2016, more than 108 million people were unsure of where their next meal was going to come from. That’s compared to 80 million in 2015.

Global hunger and food insecurity make it critical that we use innovation and technology to find breakthroughs to not only produce more food for the global population, but also to help deliver needed food faster and cheaper than ever before.

Illinois is poised to lead the world with solutions to the demands being placed on food and agriculture.

The farmers, scientists, business and civic leaders, government officials, and entrepreneurs in our state and region are uniquely able to drive forward-thinking strategy and innovation in this area. Working together, the University of Illinois System, with its significant research strengths in food and agricultural systems, plant genomics, and nutrition, among other areas; FARM Illinois; and the private sector, can help the Chicago region and the state become the leading global center for food and agriculture innovation.

Computing & Data

The old saying that “Information is power” still holds true today. Businesses and organizations across the globe know that having the right information leads to better decision-making and better decision-making leads to success in business.

As businesses increasingly depend on computer networks and data, there is a growing need to ensure the trustworthiness of information systems to prevent the possibility of a catastrophic data breach.

Finding new methods to not only collect the right data but to safely store, sort and analyze that data in meaningful ways is a critical function that separates the most successful companies from the rest. Data management allows companies to acquire valuable insights – from consumer behavior to sales trends to demographics – and to grow and become more profitable based on the knowledge gleaned from those insights.

Developing new ways to capture and protect meaningful information and look at it differently than ever before can not only help companies make better decisions, but ones that impact our world for the greater good.

Health & Wellness

There may be no more important responsibility than to continue advancement in the quality of life for all mankind. Finding new innovations in healthcare and wellness touch every other focus area of the Discovery Partners Institute and the Illinois Innovation Network.

Breakthroughs in treatment options and therapy are just the tip of the iceberg. Research at the DPI will help find innovative ways to administer healthcare, open new doors to drive unimaginable access to all corners of our world and solutions to the rising costs of healthcare, insurance and other issues. Through the DPI and the vast network of innovation hubs in the IIN, we can find answers to the most difficult hurdles in achieving affordable, leading edge healthcare throughout Illinois and across the globe.

Environment & Water

Society is becoming more acutely aware of the ramifications of failing to protect our environment for future generations, but our ability to bring about meaningful change while balancing the needs of our growing population continues to be elusive.

Developing new environmentally friendly practices that are also cost effective for today’s businesses and consumers will be a key factor in bringing about perpetual change to our environment. Our approach must not only protect what we have now, but also make our world stronger. By bringing together some of the best minds in environmental science with some of our most impactful companies throughout the IIN, we can develop new approaches to long standing obstacles in global environment and water protection.

Shrinking water resources and rising demand will have negative economic and social implications. Problems associated with drought, flooding, supply scarcities, and pollution are expected to cost some of the world’s biggest companies a combined total of more than $14 billion a year (CDP Report, 2016).

The expertise of our faculty and students can be leveraged to develop innovative approaches to regional water supply planning and water quality management. Clean air, water, and productive land are vital to sustain the required growth in food production, but our natural resources are under stress and will be further strained by climate change.


Culture & Society

Innovative business practices create efficiencies and conserve resources that impact the populations around them every day.

Social equity and wealth creation/poverty issues must be addressed as inherent parts of the key areas we are focused on.

Innovation in agriculture, for example, is especially relevant for addressing socioeconomic challenges (in addition to encouraging economic growth).

The United States wastes billions of dollars each year because of inefficiencies and uncompetitive practices in our healthcare system. By developing new and innovative ideas around these global challenges, the overall health and quality of life for people in Illinois and all across the world will improve and the DPI is poised to lead that charge.

Access to education, workforce development, entrepreneurship opportunities and technological advances can all positively affect our world and improve the trajectory of success for people at every level of society.

Entrepreneurship & Technology Commercialization

The entrepreneurial spirit is what drives economic development in communities and countries across the globe. That’s why the DPI exists, as a place to fuel that spirit and foster growth within the amazing talent right here in Illinois. Entreprenuers start new businesses to address unmet needs and demands. They hire employees and buy products which contribute to local and state economies. Technology has not only allowed small businesses to integrate into national and global economies, but it allows them to operate more efficiently which accelerates the rate of growth and that growth will continue with new innovation.

By creating an environment where small and large businesses can work collaboratively, it will spur new technological advancement that will continue to foster business growth and make new technologies available for commercialization and public consumption.

Education & Workforce Development

Investment in a well trained workforce is essential to the success of any business. That’s why the DPI is committed to making education and workforce development one of its core areas of opportunity. By ensuring there is a well-trained and educated workforce to meet the global demands of an ever changing industrial and professional business landscape, the drive towards the leading edge of innovation can and will be sustained.

Companies that offer comprehensive employee training have a nearly 25% higher profit margin than companies that don’t offer training. These companies also experience far better employee retention rates. Employees who are unable to access quality education and training programs become ineffective and will leave their job after just one year (American Society for Training and Development Study, 2000).

Public Policy

We know that innovation is a driver of economic competitiveness and development across the globe but some areas have a significant advantage based on the public policy that governs a particular corner of the world. Enacting thoughtful common-sense regulations that protect the public and the statewide economy without creating barriers that hinder innovation and growth will be an important balance to strike.

Strong public policy that not only encourages innovation but helps it flourish through financial and human resources is critical to allowing a free market of ideas to flow and outside the box thinking to transform from concept to reality. We must work side by side with our policy leaders to ensure Illinois is put in the proper position to achieve success.