A Publication of WTVP

Small Business Advocate of the Year

Fostering collaboration, changing the narrative, building an ecosystem

by Peoria Magazine |
Jake Hamann

As cofounder of Startup Peoria, Jake Hamann helped lead regional efforts to develop and grow the entrepreneurial startup community in Greater Peoria—connecting entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to the tools and resources needed to launch successful businesses. Meanwhile, as president and CEO of OneFire, he was responsible for the innovation agency’s overall strategy and direction. But tragedy struck his family soon after the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council took over operations of Startup Peoria—and Hamann lost his first wife after a nine-month battle with cancer.

Fast forward to early 2019. After a brief stint in the Dallas, Texas area and employment with a Peoria-based startup, Hamann returned to his passion of ecosystem building with the launch of the Peoria Innovation Alliance. At a time when the area was reeling from the loss of Caterpillar’s headquarters, the serial entrepreneur came back on the scene, seeking to renew the region’s innovative spirit and “change the narrative” to one of inclusion, optimism and progress by empowering the next round of innovators, entrepreneurs and startups.

Jake Hamann

As executive director of the Alliance, Hamann works in collaboration with a wide range of individuals, organizations and institutions dedicated to connecting entrepreneurial efforts across the community. “Our goal is to maintain visibility, tear down silos, and be the glue that binds the various components of the ecosystem together,” he explains. Facilitated by a diverse board of directors, the Alliance has played a key role in numerous initiatives over the past year, including the creation of a downtown Innovation District and the initial planning and branding of Distillery Labs, the world-class innovation and entrepreneurial center under development in downtown Peoria.

From education and advocacy to support services and storytelling, the Peoria Innovation Alliance continues to expand its programmatic offerings. “We are currently helping lead discussions and launch initiatives around economic recovery efforts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hamann adds. Through this network of collaborators, the Alliance has helped to bring innovation, entrepreneurship and startup activity back to the forefront—a staunch advocate for small business during unprecedented times. PM