After Gov. Pritzker announced the release of $500 million in funding for the Illinois Innovation Network, Illinois State University began planning to create a startup business incubator in Bloomington-Normal.
ISU Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies John Baur said the incubator will be part of a larger IIN hub on campus.
“We expect to receive $3 million from the IIN which we will use to support the startup incubator and, eventually, establish a makerspace on campus,” Baur said.
According to Baur, the business incubator will provide resources and a professional environment for students, faculty and community members looking to start new businesses.
“Too many student startups have left for Chicago or other parts of Illinois where there is a better entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Baur said.
“The Bloomington-Normal area has a lot of advantages, including a low cost of living, that should make it a more attractive location for startups to grow into significant contributors to the local and state economies, and we’d like to see more of them stay here,” Baur continued.
Baur also said the new hub will open internship opportunities for students in graphic design, web support and social media.
“Having student-interns available as a shared resource would be valuable to the startups while also giving students real-world experiences,” Baur said. “We also hope that students and recent graduates will be employees — and owners — of some startups.”
Baur thinks the incubator will prosper at ISU and compared Bloomington-Normal to the Waterloo and Cedar Falls, Iowa, area where the University of Northern Iowa is located.
He said the John Deere headquarters in Waterloo downsized and left vacancies in the downtown area. Additionally, UNI has had a successful startup incubator for over 20 years.
“Startups from UNI, in collaboration with private investors, have created new businesses and new coworking sites that are revitalizing Waterloo’s downtown. We think something similar can eventually happen in Bloomington and Normal.”
The project is currently in the planning phase, according to Baur.
“We are currently developing the focus area for our Hub, but we expect it to be centered around sustainability, broadly defined to include ecological sustainability, social sustainability and economic sustainability,” Baur said. “The goal is to focus ISU and the region on ways to create a more sustainable society.”
Project leaders hope to officially launch the IIN hub at the beginning of next fall. Baur said the incubator will open in summer or fall 2021 and leaders will spend the next six to 12 months developing the application process.
“I expect that applications will be reviewed by an advisory board that includes experienced entrepreneurs and business owners,” Baur said. “We hope to have the Incubator fully occupied when it opens, so we will need to start accepting applications late this year or early 2021.”