CHAMPAIGN – The U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) has awarded the University of Illinois a University Center Program grant to enhance regional economic development tools that will expand opportunity and create jobs.
The University of Illinois and its grant partners will receive $638,000 over the next five years to implement several initiatives providing East Central Illinois entrepreneurs opportunities for further education; access to business consultants; and free and low-cost office space.
The East Central Illinois University Center is a partnership between EnterpriseWorks (the incubator at the Research Park), the University of Illinois College of Business, Parkland College, the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation, Village of Rantoul and Rantoul Business Center, and Champaign County Regional Planning Commission.
“This grant is the result of close collaboration of the community and the university to work on building entrepreneurship in the region,” said Laura Frerichs, Director of Research Park. “This Center will build upon our region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and leverage the good foundation we have started.”
Said Cynthia Kehoe, Director for Information and Research Services at the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership at the University of Illinois College of Business, “We are excited to be able to continue to play a role in developing entrepreneurship in the central Illinois. Providing mentoring, training, networking, and grants is critical to the early development of startups.”
The East Central Illinois University Center will create a community incubator at the Rantoul Business Center. It will expand existing resources at EnterpriseWorks, the incubator at Research Park, making it more accessible to community entrepreneurs. Among the highlights:
- The Rantoul Business Center community incubator will nurture startups and grow existing businesses, offering free and low-cost space. Incubator clients will have access to EnterpriseWorks’ Entrepreneur-in-Residence services and other resources. Parkland College will teach a FastTrac course (a practical, hands-on business development program for entrepreneurs) there, and the SBDC small business counseling services will have regular office hours on site. Incubator clients will have access to a Student Entrepreneur Shared Services program for support on projects related to marketing, business development and IT. The Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership will offer assistance through its Illinois Launch program.
- EnterpriseWorks also will have a community incubator workspace for non-tech entrepreneurs. EnterpriseWorks will expand its existing Entrepreneur-in-Residence program to community entrepreneurs and will add an EIR to work with clients seeking federal Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer grants. A FastTrac course will be taught at EnterpriseWorks in partnership with the College of Business. The existing Student Entrepreneur Shared Services internship program that provides professional and technical services to entrepreneurs while enhancing student skills will be expanded and serve a wider client base, and will incorporate Parkland College students on the team.
- The College of Business will take the lead, with assistance from the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, in conducting an entrepreneurship assessment study to catalogue regional resources and identify areas for long-term, focused economic development efforts by regional partners.
The East Central Illinois University Center will serve an area of 2,900 square miles that includes all or portions of 12 counties in central Illinois. This area includes rural areas seeking to diversify their economies due to declining key economic drivers in their communities. The University Center will benefit these communities and organizations by providing resources that can spur economic growth and entrepreneurship.