Business accelerators become hot ideas

This is an interesting time to own a small business, especially a start-up.

• Naperville's North Central College is roughly 18 months into ConVerge, a college-created business accelerator intended to blend North Central's strengths - students, business coaches and mentors, and workshops with Naperville Chamber of Commerce connections, co-working space and a tie with West Suburban Angels into resources for small businesses.

• Last month five northwest suburbs - Elk Grove Village, Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates, Rolling Meadows and Schaumburg - introduced Next Level Northwest, a collaborative accelerator effort created to provide coaching, planning and training to local businesses seeking help.

• The most ambitious undertaking may be Innovation DuPage, an as-yet unborn business accelerator that hopes for a January soft opening.

To some extent, suburban business accelerators are hot. Most discussions are based on 1871, a Chicago accelerator supported by the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center that, the CEC website says, "runs and operates the workspace, develops programming, organizes events and ensures the culture" that will support entrepreneurs and their ideas.

Seriously involved in Innovation DuPage at the moment are College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, which has long experience in the small business community; the Village of Glen Ellyn, which is considering co-working space available with its police department's move; DuPage Impact LLC, an investor organization well aware that small businesses, especially start-ups, need funds; Choose DuPage, a public-private organization that seeks to attract and retain businesses in DuPage County; and Rev3, which describes itself as "a diverse community of freelancers, entrepreneurs and small business tech startups.

Lisle-based Benedictine University and Elmhurst College apparently are considering joining the program.

That's a lot of pieces. Bringing them together falls largely - though not exclusively - on Joseph Cassidy, dean of continuing education at COD. He explains Innovation DuPage this way:

"We need more entrepreneurs who can be agile, flexible, creative and keep pace with an increasingly complex world where technology is a growing part of every industry, where industries are merging, and where yesteryears' business solutions will not work.

"We need to further the entrepreneurial ecosystem by partnering across the public and private sectors, where corporations, education, government and investors work together to support innovation."

The way to strengthen the ecosystem, Cassidy says, is to "connect start-up and young companies with the business knowledge of experienced, successful entrepreneurs, faculty and industry mentors and even connect these companies with venture capital."

Although Benedictine University hasn't yet committed to Innovation DuPage, Sandra Gill, dean of the university's Daniel L. Goodwin College of Business, is ready.

"We're a partner in the exploratory stage," Gill says. "In my opinion, (Innovation DuPage) is a game changer for DuPage County. It's the type of workforce development for the 21st century that is well envisioned and long overdue."

There is, Gill says, the opportunity for Benedictine "to connect our students with talented leadership in DuPage, potentially beneficial connections between Benedictine students, staff and alumni and the entrepreneurial community" through Innovation DuPage.

• © 2017 Kendall Communications Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter. Write him at Listen to Jim's Business Owners' Pod Talk at

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