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NORMAL — The idea of a business incubator at Illinois State University is getting a boost from the institution joining a statewide network aimed at entrepreneurship, research and workforce development.

ISU and Eastern Illinois University were among nine new “hubs” to join the Illinois Innovation Network on Wednesday. The network, led by the University of Illinois System, was launched in August with hubs at U of I institutions and Discovery Partners Institute in downtown Chicago. It now has 15 hubs.

“By joining the Illinois Innovation Network, Illinois State University is able to play an even bigger role in promoting technological development and economic growth in this state,” said President Larry Dietz.

Speaking at a news conference in Springfield on Wednesday, Dietz said, “Our proposed hub would establish a maker space, an entrepreneurial educational center, a startup incubator and access to specialized facilities on the ISU and Heartland Community College campuses to support startups that need things like high performance computing capability or scientific resources.”

The idea is for the hubs to use the strengths of universities and communities to work, in collaboration with Discovery Partners Institute, to foster research innovation that promotes progress and economic growth.

With Wednesday's additions, the network now includes all of the state's public universities. Each hub also has public and private partners from its region.

Eric Jome, ISU's director of media relations, said a business incubator has been under discussion at ISU for a couple of years.

“Being part of this statewide network is a good idea because it connects us more with other universities and enables us to share resources with the entire state,” said Jome. “This is an excellent opportunity to partner with the U of I and partner with other universities on economic development.”

He said ISU will be partnering on the project with the Economic Development Council, McLean County Chamber of Commerce, Heartland, the town of Normal, the Small Business Development Center at Illinois Wesleyan University and ISU's Center for Mathematics, Science and Technology.

EIU will be joining with Lake Land College and community partners to create the East-Central Illinois Hub. Expansion of the existing Center for Clean Energy and Research Education on the EIU campus will be among its initiatives.

Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota

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Education Reporter

Education Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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