In the next few months the Peoria area will reach a milestone in its efforts to become a major player in the field of technology commercialization. That may seem inconsequential to some, but it will truly change the way we do business in central Illinois. As a member of Peoria NEXT, a cooperative of business, education and community organizations, the Heartland Partnership will announce the official opening of the Peoria NEXT Innovation Center.
For those of you who have seen the building, located on Main Street in Renaissance Park, you may have wondered what purpose it will serve. The Innovation Center is a “technology incubator,” an inexpensive yet high-tech facility in which young companies can grow and thrive. By creating an incubator complex that numerous companies can share, we can offer tools like wet labs, dry labs, shared business services and a technologically advanced communications network, allowing these young startups access to resources only established companies have had in the past.
Because Peoria NEXT does not have a full-time staff, the Heartland Partnership helps by meeting the day-to-day staffing needs throughout our various organizational resources. Recently, Bradley University signed an agreement to manage the Innovation Center, with Nancy Wright, director of Bradley University HITEC, named as its executive director. The staff of Bradley University HITEC will be located at the Innovation Center, managing the facility and providing technology commercialization counseling and business development. This team has been providing these services since its founding in the fall of 2002. To date, over 450 independent entrepreneurial ventures have been evaluated in this “virtual incubator” environment.
Unfortunately, many young companies falter each year because they do not have the resources to succeed in today’s highly competitive market. But studies have shown that companies which operate in an incubator have approximately an 85 percent success rate compared to a 25 percent success rate for companies without a strong commercialization mentorship. Multiple venues have been established to allow for business critique and capital leveraging for these technology based start-up companies and the Innovation Center will host and centralize these activities.
None of these efforts will be successful in the long term if we don’t nurture the entrepreneurs of tomorrow and create an environment of innovation for our future engineers and scientists. With the help of many local groups, Peoria NEXT has also founded numerous Centers for Excellence. These groups will be directed by members of the community who will drive research in specific areas of technology commercialization. The Peoria NEXT Center for Excellence in Robotics was recently awarded a multimillion dollar Department of Defense grant to fund its research.
Throughout this process local institutions and organizations have been important partners and collaborators. This has allowed the groundwork for these initiatives that will determine the long-term viability of our economy. The road ahead will not be without obstacles, but creating a Peoria where our children can become the engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs of tomorrow is a goal worthy of our greatest effort. IBI