UIUC Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
Entrepreneurship at Illinois is not unique to a specific college nor is it restricted to one demographic of the university. There are, however, still many strong resources available for student entrepreneurs scattered throughout UIUC’s campus. This document will go over as many of these resources as possible and explain their purpose and place in the entrepreneurship ecosystem at UIUC. By the way, I do not take full credit for all of this work.
School Led Resources
The Hoeft Technology and Management Minor is a cross-disciplinary minor hosted by both the Gies College of Business and the Grainger College of Engineering. The two-year-long minor supports education and coursework from both fields and enables selected students to build core leadership and problem-solving skills that are not taught in the traditional curriculum. Students also get the opportunity to make connections with business leaders across the world and build partnerships with the program’s corporate affiliations.
Centers and Communities
IDEA Lab is a large workspace in the Grainger Engineering Library at UIUC dedicated to entrepreneurs. Students must apply to have access, but they must be involved in entrepreneurship at UIUC to be accepted and allowed to use the resources such as AR/VR tech, 3D-printing services, and exclusive collaboration rooms.
IllinoisVentures is a 3rd party organization that partners with the University of Illinois system in a variety of ways. They work with startups of all maturity levels and offer proof-of-concept grants, seed funding, and venture capital. They have contacted Founders for a potential partnership as well, but no meaningful connection has been made at this time.
The Innovation Living Learning Community is a living community that is located in one of the dorms on campus. All freshmen who are interested in entrepreneurship may apply to live in this community among other similarly-minded students. They are also made aware of all of the entrepreneurship opportunities on campus.
Research Park is a large, technology-focused organization on campus. It hosts many of the career fairs on campus and is the catalyst for many of the corporate connections that UIUC has. Research Park has its own office building that contains several large corporate partners such as State Farm and AGCO, most of which use this space to hire interns from UIUC. They also offer some opportunities for entrepreneurs at UIUC.
TEC is a major entrepreneurship organization at UIUC. Their overall goal is to promote and expand entrepreneurship at UIUC through their plethora of opportunities. Some of these include SocialFuse, I-Corps, as well as several official credited courses (these opportunities are discussed in more detail later on in this document).
EIR offers free consulting services to students who are new or prospective entrepreneurs in the technology space.
The Health Maker Lab at Illinois is a network of labs so students and scientists can collaborate and build new solutions for global health challenges through a variety of prototyping equipment and labs. Resources include multi-jet 3D printers, industrial robots that can perform pipetting and thermo-cycling tasks, and equipment to test nanoscale technologies on the atomic level. The lab also hosts an annual startup competition to fund top ideas in the health-science space.
Accelerators and Programs
iVenture is UIUC’s most intensive startup accelerator and is associated with the Gies College of Business. Its program runs for an entire year, and the students of startups that are accepted are required to take a 3-credit hour class specifically dedicated to iVenture for the Summer, Fall, and Spring semesters after being accepted. This class’s purpose is to teach the startups all of the essential skills they need to grow into a full company. The curriculum includes topics like how to choose mentors, how to divide equity, how to choose a good advisory board, just to name a few. The class also places a heavy emphasis on accountability, growth and collaboration with the other startups.
They will also have access to a plethora of resources including early-stage financial support, a fully equipped co-working space, workshops and office hours, and many top-level coaches and mentors.
The I-Start Accelerator is a startup accelerator for mature, UIUC startups in the technology space. It is run by Research Park and is specifically designed to help those technology startups who need help with formally becoming a company. Their services and workshops include topics such as legal obligations and services, business planning, small business innovation research (SBIR) assistance, and financial and payroll services. Startups who apply and are accepted are also required to be tenants of the EntrepriseWorks incubator.
The Silicon Valley Entrepreneurship Workshop is a week-long technology-entrepreneurship workshop that runs every Winter break. It is hosted by TEC, and it’s target demographic are students who are passionate about entrepreneurship in the technology space. Students who apply and are accepted are sent to Silicon Valley to learn about technology entrepreneurship, innovation, and leadership. They will hear from, network with, and be mentored by corporate leaders in the technology space, venture capitalists, as well as prominent UIUC alumni. The cost for this trip is $650 per student.
The Discovery Accelerator Institute is a recently announced $200 million joint venture between UIUC’s Grainger College of Engineering and IBM looking to fund research focused on cloud, AI, and quantum computing to start building the next generation of deep-tech companies. The accelerator hopes to bring together industry and academia by allowing IBM engineers to work alongside UIUC faculty and student researchers. The accelerator is set to launch in Fall 2021.
I-Corps is a 6 week-long entrepreneurship program that runs twice every semester. It is hosted by TEC, and its target demographic is early-stage startups. I-Corps is a program that is specifically designed to help startups with customer discovery. Workshop topics include validating market size, value propositions, and customer segments of their innovations, among others. Teams who apply and are accepted are given a $2,000 grant to cover travel and prototyping costs. At the end of the program, all teams are given the opportunity to apply for the National I-Corps program where they will receive $50,000 in grant funding as well as take part in a rigorous 7-week program.
The Illinois Innovation Prize is a $20,000 grant given by TEC to a create and passionate student with a startup geared towards social change. Nominees of the prize are also eligible to apply for the Fiddler Innovation Fellowship, a $10,000 grant given by Jerry Fiddler and Melissa Alden.
Cozad is a new startup development program that runs every Spring semester. Its target demographic is new to intermediate-level startups who are looking for more resources and help to build their companies; it is hosted by TEC. Throughout the duration of Cozad, startups will take part in mentoring and workshops that will teach them the necessary skills to grow and maintain their startups, but they will also be responsible for keeping up with all deliverables and attendance to stay in Cozad. A startup showcase is presented at the end of Cozad, and a panel of judges will choose a winner from the participants who will receive $25,000 in funding. There are a plethora of other prizes (totaling $250,000 in 2019) as well.
The Health Make-a-Thon is an annual startup pitch competition sponsored by Carle Illinois College of Medicine’s Health Maker Lab. Students, citizen scientists, and anyone in the state of Illinois are encouraged to apply with their best idea for improving human health. Upon submission of an idea, a panel of UIUC faculty and industry professionals select finalists from the large pool of applicants and select a smaller pool of finalists. The finalists are then invited to pitch live to the panel (the public can listen in as well) and a handful of winners receive $10,000 worth of Health Maker Lab technology resources to turn their winning idea into a physical prototype. On top of the technology resources, winners are also given mentorship and help from highly-trained experts from each of the Health Maker Lab sub-labs.
SocialFuse is a startup networking event that takes place 2–3 times per semester. It is run by Founders and TEC. Startups get a chance to give a 2 minute pitch to an audience of other entrepreneurs, as well as students who are potentially interested in joining. These pitches often contain a summary of the startup, a timeline of their progress and future goals, and their current needs (oftentimes software devs). After pitches, food is provided and the entrepreneurs and students get a chance to converse and network with each other.
EntreCorps is a startup consulting organization and is associated with the Gies College of Business. It primarily focuses on developing the technical skills of entrepreneurship, which EntreCorps splits into three categories: Marketing strategy, financial analysis, and digital design. It should accept startups ranging from all different maturity levels, but early-stage startups will probably get the most value.
Founders was created in response to the lack of a central entrepreneurship organization at UIUC that people can point to, and as such, one of Founders’s goals is to become this organization.
Unlike other organizations and resources on campus, Founders’s focus is less on creating a new resource or service for startups, and more on consolidating the already existing resources so entrepreneurs have easier access to them.
With that being said, Founders does still have its own pipeline for student entrepreneurs that starts with “Discovery” and then goes into “Microgrants”. Discovery is for early-stage entrepreneurs who already have an idea and team, but do not have a product. Here, they will be designated to a Discovery Analyst, a member of Founders, who will mentor them throughout their journey and offer them the resources that Founders has compiled. Once a startup has matured, it can progress into Microgrants. Here they are given the opportunity to give mock pitches to the Founders Microgrants Panel, and if they meet a certain standard, they can also receive a “microgrant” from Founders itself, usually between 300–500 dollars.
Founders also hosts two flagship events every Fall, 54 and Forge. More details about the event can be found in the events section.
Zero2One is an organization created to unite all students at UIUC to build and start ventures centered around social good and impact. The organization helps students find co-founders to build out their ideas, mentorship on the development process, and also boasts demo days to pitch products. Zero2One hosts a two-month summer incubator where students participate in a one-month ideation bootcamp, and another one-month build sprint to rapidly develop a prototype or MVP of their idea before the end of the summer. Although the organization, and its incubator, are still very new, it is accredited by UIUC’s entrepreneurship hub and many faculty members and has also hosted teams of students that have gone on to raise funding from venture capital firms.
Events and Competitions
54 is a weekend-long event hosted by Founders at UIUC. It’s target demographic is new entrepreneurs or people interested in entrepreneurship as a concept, and it is usually held in early to mid October. This event starts with a pitch deck, where anyone attending gets a chance to pitch an idea for a startup to the crowd, with the restriction that these ideas are brand new and no major progress has been made by the presenter on this idea. They then gather a team of interested students, and work with mentors and coaches to hash out a business model and pitch deck, which they will present on the final day. The winning startup of 54 is decided by a panel of judges, and it will receive a microgrant from Founders.
Forge is a weekend-long pitch competition and networking event hosted by Founders in Chicago. Its target demographic is mature startups in the midwest, and it is held in early November. Startups who participate receive mentoring from specifically assigned industry leaders and hear from a hand-curated group of speakers. After developing a strong pitch with their mentors, each startup will go through two rounds of judging before a winner is chosen in the final round. Throughout the entire event, students will have the opportunity to converse with recruiters, other entrepreneurs, mentors, speakers, judges, and any other people that may be a valuable connection.
Startup Bootcamp is a two-month-long program hosted by Founders at UIUC. It’s target demographic is students who want to learn the skills to develop their own startup. Throughout the two months, they will participate in workshops, speaker series, and other opportunities curated by Founders to teach the foundational skills of entrepreneurship. Participants who take part in Startup Bootcamp are highly encouraged to attend 54 (discussed in the Events section), which takes place about a month into Startup Bootcamp, to apply the skills that they’ve learned thus far.