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Simplifying Complexity

We need to expand our imagination about how a vision is created and executed through collaboration.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Empowering Customers & Cities landmark gathering in Chicago November 4-6 will explore how utilities are embracing change with new energy technology which, in turn, is creating opportunities for entrepreneurs to flourish – and universities and industry to collaborate. Caralynn Nowinski Collens, chief executive officer of UI Labs in Chicago, who will deliver a keynote address on these themes at the conference, recently responded in writing to questions submitted by The Energy Times. UI LABS is a Chicago research and commercialization collaborative that works with universities and industries to define and solve major challenges.

Energy Times:  What is possible when it comes to transformation of the energy sector – and how can change be achieved?


Caralynn Nowinski Collens

Collens:  We need to expand our imagination about how a vision is created and executed through collaboration.  Industrial innovation is challenged by the pace of emerging technologies and a collaborative approach may accelerate solutions to the most critical challenges in the energy sector.  The work we are doing at UI LABS is all about transforming entire industries through collaborative innovation.  Our City Digital lab is transforming the cities of today and tomorrow by leveraging digital technology in the built environment to enhance how we live, work and play.  Leading companies like Commonwealth Edison and Siemens are partnering with us to enable the way for large scale change in the energy sector.

Energy Times: One publication recently said UI Labs epitomizes the best ways to revitalize America's manufacturing base. Moving forward, what do you think will be your biggest challenge and opportunity?

Collens: With the rapid pace of advancements in big data, the Internet of Things, and supercomputing, the technical solutions may be getting closer, but the business models and human capital needs for market deployment are more complex and require new and complex relationships.  Therein lies the challenge in energy, manufacturing, infrastructure, and really all industries undergoing revitalization or transformation.  But that also points to the opportunity.  UI LABS was built on the recognition that the toughest societal challenges are too big for any one organization to solve on its own.  However, we believe that when great companies and great innovators come together, anything is possible.  Our mission at UI LABS is to provide the platform and the process to make it easier for the best players – the right players from university and industry – to work together to solve big problems and close the gap between innovation and commercialization.

Energy Times:  How do you effectively bring people together to accomplish transformational  goals?

Collens: We have accomplished so much in such a short time due to the leadership of our partners and a tremendously talented team. At UI LABS, our goal is to provide the platform and the process for collaboration.  We are disciplined, practical and results-driven, yet creative, entrepreneurial, and design-oriented.  We create the environment, ask tough questions, and move quickly to action.  We challenge ourselves and our partners to simplify an inherently complex process and set of relationships. 


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