By Laura Katauskas
A partnership bringing together the Des Plaines River Valley Enterprise Zone and Lewis University in a new endeavor to spark entrepreneurship is growing.
Introducing a new program, the Regional Alliance Business Incubator project, Lewis University hopes to encourage innovation and local entrepreneurs by assisting them in becoming stronger and healthier businesses.
The program will be a partnership with the Des Plaines River Valley Enterprise Zone, which includes Romeoville, Joliet, Rockdale, Lockport and Will County.
The Enterprise Zone Board recently approved the first phase of the program, which includes a feasibility study. Director of the Lowell Stahl Center for Entrepreneurship and Real Estate at Lewis University Kristin Burton explained the goals have been set for the feasibility study to accurately define the market opportunity and demand for a business incubator; define the services needed (programming and facilities) for the startup community; recommend a format and general operating procedures; and assess the incubators potential financial performance.
If the study yields favorable results, the Alliance Incubator will be housed at Lewis University’s Fitzpatrick House and be funded by the Enterprise Zone along with in-kind donations by the university.
By using a mix of educational workshops and the university’s existing intellectual, technological, and material resources, the Alliance Incubator aims to create a state of the art business program. STEM-related, product based, and information technology companies are at the heart of this initiative.
“We’re extremely excited that Lewis University is using their resources and educational expertise to make a direct impact on the county and an investment in our future,” said Romeoville Mayor John Noak. “The Alliance Incubator Program at Lewis will allow our area to become more competitive in capturing and creating the companies of the future.”
Burton said the incubator is designed to be open to a broad range of companies in the surrounding areas including STEM-related companies, product base companies, and information technology companies. More specifics will be determined after the feasibility study is concluded.
“We appreciate the Enterprise Zone’s assistance on this initiative that shows great potential for positive economic impact on the region. We look forward to working with innovative entrepreneurs through the Alliance Incubator, coordinated by our Lewis University Lowell Stahl Center for Entrepreneurship and Real Estate,” said Dr. David Livingston, president of Lewis University.
Once established, the five first-year tenants will receive mentoring and strategic coaching, networking opportunities, assistance with loan applications and venture capital presentations, potential small seed grants, business training offerings, and faculty expert support during the startup process. In exchange for these services, the tenants, either a sole proprietor or a business with a group of founders, will pay rent and have an expectation of locating their businesses within the Enterprise Zone boundaries. The program hopes to graduate these tenants after a two-year stay while accepting five new tenants each year.
“Will County is a great place to do business and the Regional Alliance Business Incubator program is another great partnership that should further the pipeline of entrepreneurs emerging right here in our community,” said Will County Executive Larry Walsh. “We have exceptional partners at Lewis University and the Village of Romeoville who we can work with to bring the knowledge and resources together to further economic development for our community.”
Burton explained there will be a core program that each incubator tenant will be required to attend using a best practice model from the International Business Innovation Association.
The program will typically be a two-year incubation period with strategic business coaching sessions, goals setting and milestone progress meetings, industry speakers, training workshops, and access to university resources such as the recording studio and maker labs.
Applications will be available in Fall 2017.