ISU plans to bring a new technology-focused incubator to Bloomington-Normal.
Developer Bush Construction announced last week that the Trail East building will make space for ISU’s startup incubator. ISU's Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies John Baur confirmed no decisions have been made about the location.
He said the university plans to create an incubator that offers space for students, faculty, and community members to develop ideas into a business and test their concepts.
So how would an ISU incubator fit into the existing economic development ecosystem in Bloomington-Normal?
“An analogy that I often like to use is (drywalling),” Baur said. “If I’m a drywaller and I wanted to start a drywalling business, the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is great with helping me develop how I turn my trade or my interest into a small business.
“What we’re talking about is, say there’s a student group or faculty that develops a high-tech type of technology (or a new type of drywall) that has a really high commercial potential, an incubator would allow that technology to be developed towards the market,” Baur added.
Baur said the university plans to have several potential partners in the incubator, including the Economic Development Council (EDC), Small Business Development Center at Illinois Wesleyan University, Heartland Community College, the Town of Normal, McLean County Chamber of Commerce, and ISU’s Center of Mathematics, Science, and Technology.
“We visited several other incubators and we were told that we need to make the incubator broader than just the College of Business,” Baur said. “The College of Business will be a major component and contributor, but we expect clients, students, and faculty from all over the university to be clients and participate.”
This isn’t ISU’s first attempt at small-business economic development. The Center for Emerging Entrepreneurs (CEE) was a virtual incubator that opened in 2011 but closed in 2013 when federal funding ran out. The Illinois Small Business Development Center in the College of Business opened in June 2005 to help entrepreneurs start a new business but closed in 2016 due to lack of state funding. Another SBDC has since opened at Illinois Wesleyan. Local leaders took the incubator plan to Washington, D.C., to gain funding on this month’s One Voice lobbying trip.
“I think where it goes next is that we continue to seek funding,” Baur said on GLT’s Sound Ideas. “We have some grants out there that we hope will turn into funding that will help us doing a nice job of developing the incubator.”
The incubator could take a year to two years to open after funding and a location is established.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to show that the Illinois Small Business Development Center at ISU closed in 2016, not in 2013.
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