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posted: 5/29/2019 5:30 AM

Naperville college, chamber launching new community for entrepreneurs

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Innovators with an "entrepreneurial itch" soon could find a way to scratch it through a series of programs sponsored by North Central College and the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce.

The two institutions have collaborated to establish a Naperville chapter of a Google-backed innovation community called Startup Grind. The Naperville chapter is the second in Illinois, following an established chapter in Chicago, and it joins a network with more than 1.5 million members in 125 countries.

By hosting five speaker sessions and a party each year, Startup Grind chapters aim to inform and motivate innovators while helping them meet others who have unique experiences in entrepreneurship.

Nicki Anderson, president and CEO of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, said Startup Grind will differ from coworking spaces or other entrepreneurship support services because it will focus on community, conversations and connections. The backing of Google for Startups encourages organizers to "think differently" about how to spur creativity and create a comfortable environment.

"It's not an incubator -- it's not an accelerator," Anderson said about the new speaker series. "It's an opportunity for like-minded people to come together and have great conversations about the successes and challenges and journeys of entrepreneurs."

Since the Naperville chapter will be operated by the college as well as the chamber, organizers hope students, business operators and anyone with ideas will feel welcome to attend, network and learn.

"This is a great way to plug into that larger entrepreneurial community," said Karen Bartuch, executive director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at North Central College. "You really cannot do it alone."

The Naperville chapter's first event, called "Evolving Venture Capital to Meet the Needs of Today's Entrepreneurs," is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday in the college's Larrance Academic Center at 309 E. School St. Admission is $5. Speaker Nick Moran will kick off the new chapter's events by discussing how he founded New Stack Ventures, a firm he operates out of a coworking space at North Central to invest in early stages of company formation.

Bartuch and Anderson said they agreed Moran would be the perfect initial presenter because of his experiences within an established company as what Bartuch calls an "intrapreneur" and on his own with New Stack Ventures.

"He's super-candid and honest about the good, the bad and the ugly -- which is what we want," Bartuch said.

Startup Grind events are open to anyone, business experience or not. And they're designed to bring what Anderson calls the "traditional learners" of the chamber's membership together with the more diverse learners of North Central College. Bartuch said the organization likely will host its next event in August.