When Peoria NEXT launched in 2001, its intent was to facilitate the discovery, innovation and commercialization of new technologies in this region. During the first five years, we focused on changing the mindset of our community. Known for manufacturing and agriculture, the area had to accept the notion that it could also embrace technology commercialization and development to impact regional economic development. The next five years were about demonstrating how to put ideas to work. We built the Peoria NEXT Innovation Center to house startup businesses and began inviting leaders from all over the country and world to join us and work on turning innovative ideas into commercial applications.
Today, we move into the next five years with a new leader at the helm, Grant Brewen, Ph.D, who also heads the Biotechnology Research and Development Corporation, one of the original Peoria NEXT anchor organizations. Dr. Brewen’s academic and research experience, along with his extensive industry and governmental contacts, are invaluable as Peoria NEXT continues to facilitate commercialization of new technologies for economic development. His knowledge and familiarity will allow for easy navigation along the path between ideas and their real-world applications.
So what is next for Peoria NEXT? In the decade since it began, social media and other information technologies have made communication instantaneous and geographic boundaries invisible. We can easily search the globe for emerging technology prospects, which gives Peoria NEXT and local entrepreneurs a much greater pool of potentially useful ideas to commercialize. The organization will focus on four main areas that we believe have a commercial future and play to the strengths of the region in terms of skills and abilities:
NEXT Medical. Healthcare is one of the fastest growing industries, and Greater Peoria has a cutting-edge medical infrastructure that has witnessed over $600 million in recent investments, additions and renovations. The focus of NEXT Medical (NM) is to generate funding to sponsor and manage research in the areas of cancer biology, health informatics, medical education and medical device development. With a vision that extends far outside the laboratory, NM can aggregate funding from both public and private sources, develop research projects involving multiple institutions and actively manage their funding and accountability.
NEXT Energy. There is a need to cultivate new sources of power in order to support the world’s energy needs. The question is how to harness renewable energy sources (solar, wind, hydroelectric and biofuels) more effectively and efficiently. Whether it involves upgrades in building materials to reduce heating/cooling needs, improvements to electricity grids, or new advances in geothermal or biofuel production, NEXT Energy is poised to assist as scientists and entrepreneurs turn today’s cutting edge ideas into viable energy solutions for tomorrow.
NEXT Food Products/Safety. This region has long been an agriculture powerhouse. Couple that with the presence of the USDA’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR), and it makes Greater Peoria a prime location for developments in food products and safety. With a powerhouse like NCAUR in its lineup, Peoria NEXT is confident that investments made in basic and applied research programs will generate new products and technology from U.S. agricultural commodities and continually improve the quality of life.
NEXT Manufacturing. With Caterpillar and dozens of other manufacturing plants, Peoria NEXT would be shortsighted not to include materials and manufacturing as one of its core disciplines. NEXT Manufacturing will focus on advances in materials and manufacturing to ensure that viable ideas can be applied across fields of study. One area with a promising future is nanotechnology—experimenting with substances at the molecular scale to learn about their properties and applications. As advances are uncovered, NEXT Manufacturing will be there to guide them to fruition in the marketplace.
Ten years ago, we couldn’t have imagined some of the innovations generated from Peoria NEXT. Just imagine what we might see change in the next 10 years. iBi