The seed for the Charlotte Research Institute was planted in early 1998 when the Charlotte Chamber retained ICF Kaiser's Economic Strategy Group to talk with business and civic leaders to define issues and initiatives critical to the region's future. One of the most prominent initiatives identified was the acceleration of UNC Charlotte's development as a top-tier research university. To achieve this, it was proposed that the University create a dedicated public/private research institute on campus, which would complement and stimulate the economic growth of the region.

The Charlotte office of McKinsey & Company conducted a pro-bono, 12-month feasibility study and strongly concluded that such an initiative should be undertaken. The report recommended that the University establish an institute that simultaneously would accelerate UNC Charlotte's development as a research university and stimulate entrepreneurship and economic growth in the Charlotte region. It further recommended that the University carefully select focused research areas that possess the greatest potential for success.

Heeding these recommendations, UNC Charlotte established the Charlotte Institute for Technology Innovation (now the Charlotte Research Institute) in December 2000. In March 2006, CRI moved into its new home—The Graduate Engineering Research Building—on the CRI Campus.  This building, the second to open on the CRI Campus, houses the Center for Optoelectronics and Optical Communications, the Department of Physics and Optical Science, and the Charlotte Research Institute offices.


Today Charlotte Research Institute manages all activities of the campus and continues to operate with the primary focus to arrange University-Business partnerships, and is especially organized to provide access to the science and technology resources that are available at UNC Charlotte.   From this new high-tech location, CRI continues to expand and support UNC Charlotte applied research centers in science and engineering.