A Publication of WTVP

Start Your Innovation Engines!

by Steve Tarter |
Innovation graphic

OSF HealthCare and Bradley University partner to improve community health and turn ideas into companies

The year was 2000 and 40 community leaders gathered in the board room at Bradley University’s Swords Hall. Representatives of central Illinois’ largest institutions/employers had come together to form a coalition to be called Peoria NEXT.

‘This is a model for how we should be addressing various challenges and opportunities in the community’ — BU President Stephen Standifird

The subject at hand was technology and, perhaps more importantly, coordination. How could scientists, business people and entrepreneurs work together to boost the region’s economy while creating an environment to encourage innovation?

Other meetings would follow, studies conducted, mission statements made, start-ups started. The graph of innovation development in central Illinois drawn in the 22 years since shows ups and downs in the effort to make the Peoria area a technology hub beyond the usual suspects at Caterpillar and the Ag Lab.

Indeed, the challenge of bringing diverse institutions together to share ideas and develop new products has proven a formidable one. The Innovation for Health partnership between OSF HealthCare and Bradley University aims to make it less so.

The five-year, $5 million program formed last October is targeted at improving individual and community health outcomes by pooling/putting resources behind promising ideas and providing mentorship for researchers/entrepreneurs trying to turn concepts into concrete action. (OSF HealthCare signed a similar pact with Illinois State University in March, called the Connected Community Initiative.)

Has the cooperation envisioned by Peoria NEXT leaders two decades ago finally been formalized?

“I think it is a refinement of that original vision,” said Dr. John Vozenilek, chief medical officer of innovation and digital health at OSF HealthCare. “This is health care specific and wellness specific. It is specific to two organizations who are committed … to develop new intellectual property together to be pursued and incubated.”

Chris Jones, BU’s vice president for strategy and innovation, said the focus will be on “what’s important in greater Peoria as well as for health systems throughout the country. Conceivably, students could participate in projects that involve nursing, data security, game design, health literacy, psychology, social work and biomedical engineering.”

The other benefit to the partnership is the enhanced prospect of getting grant money from outside the region, said Jones.

The first OSF/BU collaboration is the Trailblazer Challenge, which solicits ideas for later development while building the foundational connections between the institutions, faculty and clinicians. Recently, six grants of $4,000 each were awarded to assist research in food supply, housing and transportation gaps; health literacy shortfalls; and long-term economic stability.

“This is a model for how we should be addressing various challenges and opportunities in the community,” said Bradley University President Stephen Standifird. “We’re ready to tackle the big issues outside of health care, as well, and are always looking for partners.”

Steve Tarter

Steve Tarter

is a Peoria Magazine contributor who was born in England, raised in Boston, moved to Peoria to attend Bradley University and decided to stay. He has spent a career in journalism and public relations