Blake Wood
Publish Date

Robert Kerr of Springfield will lead the development of the new University of Illinois Springfield Innovation Center in downtown Springfield as executive director of innovation and opportunity. His appointment is effective Aug. 1, 2023. Kerr is a leader with more than 20 years of experience in economic development, innovation and entrepreneurship.

The UIS Innovation Center, which will be located in a three-story, 24,600-square-foot UIS-owned building located near the Illinois State Capitol at 401 E. Washington St., is scheduled to open in 2025. The Center will serve central Illinois as part of the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN) to drive innovation, economic growth and workforce development across the state.

“Rob is the ideal candidate for this position based on his past leadership experience in areas that will be crucial to the opening of the new UIS Innovation Center,” said UIS Chancellor Janet L. Gooch. “The UIS Innovation Center will serve as a catalyst for transformative ideas, empowering students, faculty and entrepreneurs to pioneer solutions that shape the future.”

“I am excited to accept this role and grateful to the Chancellor for the opportunity to help launch the downtown Innovation Center,” Kerr said. “This critical hub will drive economic growth, foster collaboration and empower creative ideas. I look forward to working with leaders from the university, business, government and non-profit sectors to shape the future of innovation in central Illinois.”

Since 2020, Kerr has served as the director of Continuing and Professional Education (CAPE) at UIS where he has applied his understanding of the regional economic landscape to create relationships with local businesses, agencies, the Illinois Innovation Network and the Discovery Partners Institute. He helped to generate over $1 million in annual revenue from digital government partnerships with Illinois state agencies and the Governor’s Office.

Kerr previously served as deputy director of entrepreneurship, innovation and technology at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) from 2017 to 2019. In that role, he administered business development activities for the state, including the Small Business Development Network, procurement assistance centers and the statewide Business Information Center. Before his time at DCEO, he held senior academic and administrative roles at Richland Community College, the Illinois Community College Board and Lincoln Land Community College. He was also an adjunct social science instructor at Benedictine University for 15 years.

Kerr is currently finishing his doctorate in public administration at UIS with an emphasis on public policy. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Loyola University Chicago and a master’s degree in business administration from Benedictine University.

The new Innovation Center will include:

  • Innovate Springfield, UIS’ business incubator, which will double its capacity to help develop new businesses and launch a startup accelerator. It currently supports 80 member companies that added more than 280 jobs to the local economy in 2021.
  • The UIS Office of Continuing and Professional Education, which creates innovative training content for educational, business and government partners.
  • Technology labs, makerspaces and experiential labs where entrepreneurs, researchers and industry partners together can develop and test product prototypes.
  • Expanded internship and fellowship programs for a variety of UIS academic programs.
  • Space for the UIS Center for State Policy and Leadership to collaborate with other policy institutes on research and analytical services related to critical issues such as community health, education and career access, and environmental protection.
  • Collaborative space for philanthropies, social service agencies, faculty researchers, students and lawmakers to analyze and implement strategies for the advancement of social progress.