Using Biotech to Inform and Inspire

Northwestern Biotechnology Day introduces the University community to the latest trends and key insights from across the industry.

A huge uptick in synthetic biology investments took place from 2005-2016, and that led to what Alicia Löffler calls democratization of biotechnology. While biotech may suddenly have become more readily accessible, the ability to commercialize it did not.

For that to happen, says Löffler, associate provost for innovation and entrepreneurship and the founding executive director of the Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO) at Northwestern University, an ecosystem needs to exist, and right now, biotech's top ecosystems are based in Boston and San Francisco. Chicago, though, is looking to cement itself as the biotech ecosystem of the midwest, and it's doing that thanks in part to work being done at Northwestern.

Löffler explained this evolution while delivering the keynote address at Biotechnology Day at Northwestern on Friday, March 15. The event, described as a life sciences festival designed to inform and inspire, was held at Northwestern's Norris Center and was open to the University community.

Löffler's talk, titled "The State of the Biotechnology Industry in the US, Chicago, and Northwestern," explained how Chicago's ecosystem has evolved thanks to a new generation of entrepreneurs. At Northwestern, Löffler is working with students and leaders across the University to enhance and further support that ecosystem.

INVO oversees translational, transactional and commercialization activities at a number of centers and initiatives, including:

  • The Garage, the University-wide incubation/collaboration space
  • N.XT Venture Fund
  • NUseeds startup fund for students
  • NewCures therapeutics accelerator
  • Lakeside Discovery biomedical technology accelerator

As Executive Director of INVO, Löffler supervises the management of over 200 inventions per year, 250 active licenses, 3,880 patents, and a total of more than 60 Northwestern startups, including 72% of which are in the biomedical space.

Löffler and her team are currently working on policies that will incentive innovation at the University while ensuring that any new inventions or startups align themselves with the school's culture and ideals.

"If we do a startup at Northwestern," Löffler said, "we want to make sure it represents Northwestern's values."

Löffler's talk came after a full day of informative and inspiring sessions. The morning featured community outreach that included hands-on activities and an education panel targeted toward high school students. The afternoon included technical and non-technical career panels with nearly a dozen speakers.

Biotechnology Day concluded with a networking session that was open to all attendees.

Learn more about Innovation and New Ventures at Northwestern by visiting

McCormick News Article