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posted: 4/14/2017 1:00 AM

Will County, Lewis U, look to hatch a new business incubator

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  • The Fitzpatrick House on the campus of Lewis University in Romeoville will be the site of the planned Will County business incubator.

    The Fitzpatrick House on the campus of Lewis University in Romeoville will be the site of the planned Will County business incubator.
    courtesy of Lewis University

  • Kristin Burton

    Kristin Burton

 
 

Plans are cooking for a new business incubator which would bring the promise of development and growth to Will County area startups.

Through a partnership between the Des Plaines River Valley Enterprise Zone and Lewis University in Romeoville, the proposed Regional Alliance Business Incubator would be housed on the Lewis University campus and would tap the resources of the college and local business support organizations.

The proposed incubator would join a few others that have sprouted up in the suburbs over the past few years, like the Rev3 Innovation Center in Naperville and the Elgin Technology Center. But the approach the Will County group is taking differs somewhat from how they others are focused, according to Kristin Burton, director of the Lowell Stahl Center for Entrepreneurship and Real Estate at Lewis University.

Where most other incubators are targeting the suburban technology or manufacturing industries, Burton said they will study the local business landscape first to see where interests and opportunities lie. That will be done through a feasibility study, which is expected to start this month and be handled by a third party.

"We have light manufacturing all the way down to the hair dressers, so there's a plethora of different businesses that are in the Will County area," said Burton, who is coordinating the incubator project. "The feasibility study will look at all of those -- what is there now, what are the opportunities -- and help us form who we are going to attract and go after."

Another difference is that the incubator will focus on "graduating" new businesses through a structured two-year training and mentoring program.

"It's not going to be a space where I go into my office and shut the door and work on my business," Burton said. "We're going to have a full program with an assigned mentor, a series of workshops, and milestones that each entrepreneur will have to reach before they graduate."

To do that, the incubator will tap into Lewis University's faculty and student base, as well as resources from its various schools and the Entrepreneur Center, to provide the training and tools for startups.

"The university has a lot of good resources that an entrepreneur may be able to take advantage of," Burton said. "For example, if a company needs to use lab space, can work with the labs in our School of Arts and Sciences. We also have a video production studio on campus and students or faculty can help create videos for their websites."

In addition, Burton said she has worked with organizations like Fox Valley SCORE and the College of DuPage's Small Business Development Center, which can also provide help or support.

The incubator, once established, will be housed at Lewis' Fitzpatrick House, which has been converted into an office building,

The initial plans is to accept five new businesses into the program that would operate out of the facility until they graduate out in two years, with the hopes they would locate in the enterprise zone communities, which include Romeoville, Joliet, Rockdale, Lockport and Will County.

And while the incubator will limit itself to five business, Burton said they door was open to allow select entrepreneurs to "virtually" be a part of the program.

"If you're further away and can't get in every day, we still want to be able to serve that company," she said.

Burton hopes that the first entrepreneurs will be on board by September. Local businesspeople who have an interest in the incubator should contact Burton via email at burtonkr@lewis.edu.