Up Close & Personal with UI LABS CEO, Caralynn Collens

If she could have any super power in the world, she would pick time travel. CEO of UI LABS and Industry Night keynote speaker, Caralynn Collens says that having the ability to jump back and forth in time would allow her to see what’s coming next in the future so that she can revisit the past and try to develop future solutions faster and better.


As CEO of UI LABS, Caralynn oversees the entire research and commercialization collaborative including the nation’s Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute. Before her lead role at UI LABS, Caralynn devoted much of her career to venture capital and corporate finance, with a focus on technology-based university spin-outs. In fact, she even co-founded SanoGene Therapeutics, an early stage biotechnology company. Her amazing work ethic and devotion to her passion has earned her honors such as Crain’s Chicago Business 2008 “Forty Under Forty” and inclusion in the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Emerging Leaders Class of 2014.

Since Caralynn is the featured speaker for Industry Night, we decided to interview her to get the scoop on herself and to see what UI LABS is working on:

Question: In your opinion, what is the most exciting project that UI LABS is participating in now and why did you chose that particular project?

Caralynn: There are a lot of exciting projects underway – one exciting example is our Underground Infrastructure Mapping project. A common problem for cities is that they don’t have real-time, digital access to complete and accurate data about the complicated set of pipes, wires, and cables under their feet. This is a challenge for city departments, utilities, construction companies, and of course citizens who need to be able to move about their cities easily. What we found in Chicago is that many groups were trying to solve this issue on their own, but were meeting barriers that they couldn’t overcome. We helped curate a project involving all the right players from government, private industry, and research institutions through City Digital and have already moved past some of the persistent roadblocks (pun intended) that stymied other efforts. We believe we can get to a solution that can be replicated in cities around the globe.

Question: What is one thing you want everyone to know about UI LABS that perhaps they do not know?

Caralynn: We are an innovation accelerator – our benefits for partners go far beyond our initial influx of government funding. In fact, we have a mandate to be financially sustainable after five years for the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII), and City Digital does not have matching government funding. We identify the most promising areas for investments in digital technology for manufacturing and smart cities and bring organizations together from large companies to two-person startups to National Laboratories who would not otherwise collaborate. Within our portfolio of projects, there will be game-changing new products and business processes that we will help our partners bring to market. We make the entire process better, easier, and cheaper – and we catalyze projects that would not happen at all without our influence. I like to call this “collaborative transformation.”

Question: What is your favorite quote?

Caralynn: “I regard it as the foremost task of education to insure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial, and above all, compassion.” – Kurt Hahn, founder of Outward Bound

Question: If there is one bit of advice that you can go back and tell younger Caralynn (or future entrepreneurs) that you have learned from experience over the years, what would it be?

Caralynn: My advice would be that having right team around you is of utmost importance. It’s better to have the right people than the right positions. I would also say hire people who are smarter than you – and don’t let that intimidate you.

Caralynn has amazing experiences to share and judging by her favorite quote a passion to pursue. You do not want to miss this keynote speaker at the upcoming Industry Night on March 10th! Don’t forget to register!


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