Downtown Springfield business incubator joins UIS, becomes first hub of Illinois Innovation Network
SPRINGFIELD – Innovate Springfield, a downtown Springfield innovation and business incubator, has become part of the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) under an agreement aimed at expanding economic growth, entrepreneurship opportunities and social progress in the capital city, Chancellor Susan Koch announced today.
In joining UIS, Innovate Springfield, founded in 2014 by the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln, also becomes the first hub of the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN). The new initiative, led by the U of I System, was announced last fall and is being developed to accelerate statewide job creation and economic development through groundbreaking research and innovation.
As the network’s first hub, Innovate Springfield will receive $1.5 million in funding over the next three years to expand programs supporting start-up businesses, entrepreneurs and innovation that promotes the public good.
Funding grew from a U of I System offer to match any local funding provided to create the Springfield hub. The city of Springfield, Land of Lincoln Economic Development Corporation, and the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln agreed to contribute a combined $250,000 annually over the next three years. With the system’s match, the agreement will provide a total annual investment of $500,000.
Koch said joining UIS and IIN will amplify Innovate Springfield’s efforts to bring new businesses and high-impact social programs to central Illinois. The incubator will be able to partner with UIS faculty and students, as well as with IIN hubs that will ultimately include the U of I’s universities in Urbana-Champaign and Chicago, other downstate sites and the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI), a new Chicago-based institute that will be the cornerstone of the network.
At the same time, she said, UIS students and faculty will benefit from new learning and research opportunities that will be available through Innovate Springfield and IIN.
“As the first statewide hub of the new Illinois Innovation Network, UIS faculty, students and local companies will work side-by-side and with experts across the state to develop solutions, promote entrepreneurship and empower inventors of the future,” Koch said. “It’s an ideal combination for all entities involved in this partnership.”
U of I President Tim Killeen said adding Springfield as the first hub builds on momentum that includes $500 million in state capital funding to develop the new innovation enterprise and new partnerships with corporations and universities around the world.
“Innovation is the key to progress and prosperity in our new, knowledge-based economy,” Killeen said. “These initiatives reflect our commitment to put our world-class scholarship to work for people here in Springfield, across our state and beyond.”
Koch had been working to bring Innovate Springfield to her campus before IIN and DPI were announced, seeking to give UIS a presence in downtown Springfield and expand access to university resources that would help the incubator reinvigorate the community.
As part of UIS, Innovate Springfield offices will continue to be located downtown at 15 South Old State Capitol Plaza, operating under UIS’s Center for State Policy and Leadership and the Center for Entrepreneurship. After IIN and DPI were announced, talks expanded to include making Innovate Springfield the network’s first hub and providing seed money to ramp up operations.
Koch said the Springfield incubator will play a unique role in the new, statewide innovation network that the U of I System will lead. Along with entrepreneurship and business creation, which also will be a focus of other hubs, the UIS incubator will continue to emphasize collaboration and innovation that serves the common good by using technology for social causes such as protecting the environment or expanding opportunities for the underprivileged.
Innovate Springfield is a catalyst for entrepreneurial activity in social innovation and business development in central Illinois. The incubator’s Business Incubation Program, which began in 2016, currently supports the development and acceleration of companies being led by 44 members in various stages of their startups by offering access to high-quality programming, business advisors, mentorship, and 24/7 access to 7,000+ square feet of low-cost office amenities in downtown Springfield.
Through implementation of locally responsive priorities including the Sangamon Success report, Innovate Springfield’s Social Innovation Program supports local programs in aligning with research evidence to improve educational attainment and acquisition of the skills needed by a 21st century workforce.
“Our rapid growth over the past two years is a testament to the critical mass forming around innovation in the region,” said Katie Davison, executive director of Innovate Springfield.
Davison will continue as director of Innovate Springfield and said she believes her organization’s new partnership with UIS will enhance resources that will advance its flagship programs, Business Incubation and Social Innovation.
“Becoming a university-led incubator will tremendously strengthen our region’s innovation ecosystem through UIS’s local, statewide, and global networks and resources,” she said.
The Community Foundation’s initial investment in the non-profit incubator spurred the support of other local funders including the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce’s Strategic Leadership Council and a number of private donors. From the beginning, the Community Foundation viewed founding Innovate Springfield as a means of creating systems-level change for Springfield by supporting both human capital and economic development.
Starting a combined business and social innovation incubator, Innovate Springfield took a new, holistic approach to community and economic development, something that’s never been done before.
“The Community Foundation was uniquely positioned to approach economic development in an entirely new way, one that has an exponential impact,” said John Stremsterfer, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln. “UIS was a partner from the very beginning, and we are confident that this innovative approach to economic development will flourish as Innovate Springfield transitions to become a UIS-led incubator.”
“The City has strongly supported Innovate Springfield, which has been a catalyst for stimulating entrepreneurial growth and innovation in the Springfield business community,” said Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder. “The new partnership with the University of Illinois brings an added dimension of resources, possibilities and opportunities to expand the role and effectiveness of the innovation center. With the University of Illinois designating Innovate Springfield as the first hub of the Illinois Innovation Network and locating it in downtown Springfield, this will create a transformational economic environment for Springfield’s future.”
“Business innovation and incubation are proven energy drivers for investment in any community. The tremendous opportunity presented by combining Innovate Springfield with the UIS/IIN made it an easy call to support this initiative as one of our new EDC’s first investments, said Hy Bunn, board chair of the Land of Lincoln Economic Development Corporation.
“This is the DPI model – the one we will follow in Champaign, Peoria, Chicago and all over the state to empower the inventors of the future,” said Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. “With U of I System in the lead, we can create a Cal Tech-Stanford / MIT-Harvard style connection between students, faculty, research, enterprise development and investment capital that will power unprecedented economic growth … with one big difference. With all its campuses, partnerships and, most important, its renowned faculty, the U of I initiative can far surpass the output of Silicon Valley and I-5.”
“Not only is this a step toward UIS having a more significant presence downtown – something local officials have discussed for years – it is the first of many incredible things to come for the capital city as a result of this project,” state Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) said. “I am pleased to have had role in making this a reality, and I look forward to watching the exciting changes that are about to unfold in Springfield.”
Plans for IIN and DPI were announced in October by Gov. Rauner. Work is underway on an implementation plan that will establish a timetable for opening and other details of the enterprise, where world-class researchers will work side-by-side with students and businesses to foster next-generation innovation and workforce development.
DPI will be developed in Chicago and will bring together top faculty in agriculture, healthcare, computing and other critical fields from the U of I System and partner universities. Nearly 100 new researchers also will be added, and together they will connect with hundreds of businesses and thousands of students over time, as well as with entrepreneurs and venture capital firms.
Their research and educational collaborations will address real-world challenges, promoting the kind of breakthrough discoveries that create new products and companies. Those innovations will fuel economic growth, while also providing hands-on experiences for students and nurturing a skilled workforce for the city and state.
The institute will be the centerpiece of IIN, a virtually connected statewide enterprise allowing DPI staff to work with university and business partners in Springfield and other regions across the state on research and education initiatives that help launch new companies and lift communities.