DuPage County entities are joining forces to encourage the development of innovative technologies and to make sure that once firms using those new technologies are established, that they locate within DuPage County’s borders and employ DuPage residents.
Innovation DuPage, a business incubator and accelerator initiative, is the result of a collaboration between the College of DuPage (COD), the Choose DuPage Economic Development Alliance and the Village of Glen Ellyn. And now that the initiative is underway, many others are joining in including Chamber630, Elmhurst College, Benedictine University, Northern Illinois University, DuPage Impact LLC (a private investor group), Argonne, FermiLab and potentially, additional municipalities.
“Choose DuPage initiated something similar called REV3 in early 2016 and earned a state grant for the co-working space. But the grant was stalled and we couldn’t fulfill that dream,” said John Carpenter, president/CEO of Choose DuPage. “So I started a conversation with COD’s Dr. Rondeau in late 2016 and we decided to collaborate.”
The purpose of the initiative is to find, train, develop, support and invest in start-up and emerging for-profit companies that provide products and services with a social impact and encourage job creation in DuPage County. Participants hope to stimulate innovation throughout the county and foster a local entrepreneurism.
“Innovation DuPage will support economic growth and job creation in DuPage County and beyond,” Dr. Ann Rondeau, President of College of DuPage, said on a YouTube video announcing the initiative.
“Strengthening existing businesses, and helping new ones form, ultimately benefits DuPage County and its residents,” she added at a recent Investors Night. “Working together, we are confident Innovation DuPage will have tremendous impact on local business.”
COD has a history of working with local businesses through the establishment of the Business and Professional Institute (now Business Solution) in 1979 and the Center for Workforce Development (now the Center for Entrepreneurship) in 1984.
“Innovation DuPage will allow us to extend our offerings to a larger audience, working together with our partners to leverage existing resources for startups and developing businesses,” added Joe Cassidy, Dean of Continuing Education at College of DuPage. “This is an exciting project and one which we eagerly anticipate sharing.”
The new initiative held its first accelerator program this spring for representatives of ten companies that have been in business at least two years and are ready for further growth. The next group will begin in August.
“We are offering a program that is similar to a mini-MBA for companies that are ready to grow, be acquired, sold or to go public and we had a great mix of companies including a technology company, a clothing company and several service providers,” Cassidy said. “The cohort reports learning critical best practices from the experts while gaining inspiration from other entrepreneurs. They met two evenings a week for three hours so that they could remain very involved in their businesses and we connected them with corporate mentors, as well.
“Small businesspeople need to get outside their day-to-day routines and environments if they want to advance their companies and gain access to additional capital,” he added.
Once it opens in a portion of the Glen Ellyn Civic Center along the train line, the Incubator portion of Innovation DuPage will provide space where innovators in various fields can drop in to work both independently and collaboratively, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The 8,200-square-foot center will house an open co-working space, along with COD’s Center for Entrepreneurship. The project is expected to be complete by the end of the year.
In addition to offering work spaces, Innovation DuPage plans to offer workshops, talks and even hack-a-thons to encourage collaboration because Cassidy says the board understand how lonely and isolating it can be to be an entrepreneur. The facility will also offer Wi-Fi, printing and research tools, as well as a 30-person classroom, small conference rooms, event space and even podcast/videocast facilities.
The college’s modern manufacturing equipment will be available on the nearby COD campus to give members of Innovation DuPage the ability to prototype their ideas and realize their dreams, Carpenter said.
“Innovation DuPage is about economic development throughout the county. We want businesses throughout DuPage to thrive. But we understand that innovators cannot operate in isolated silos.”
Woodridge resident and trustee Michael Krucek is actively watching the progress of Innovation DuPage, trying to see how Woodridge might participate and become more tech-friendly. He hopes that his community will become the second municipality to actively participate in the initiative.
“The world is changing; technology is speeding up; and that will inevitably effect our community’s tax revenues since there will probably be fewer brick and mortar stores,” Krucek said. “But tech companies will need a place to work so maybe we can re-purpose some of our buildings and attract the types of businesses that will provide jobs in the future.”
For additional information about Innovation DuPage, visit www.innovationdupage.org.