CHAMPAIGN, Ill., (WCIA) — Research Park at the University of Illinois wants to make sure its companies and students can continue to grow and build their start-up businesses not just in Central Illinois, but around the world.
To see more success, Tim Parkinson, Senior Director with Illinois Ventures, helped launch a new program at U of I this week. It’s called Illini Angels. They’re connecting Illinois grads with other Illini starting their own businesses.
Many companies start in Research Park at Enterprise Works. It’s where Illinois students have spaces and resources to start companies.
Now, this program will be another resource in their back pockets.
“We’ve been approached over the years a number of times by individual investors who have asked ‘how can we invest in some of the companies that are part of this ecosystem?'” Parkinson said.
Now, he has an answer with Illini Angels.
“What we’re trying to do is put together a network of high net worth alumni that are interested in making investments in companies that are spinning out of the university,” he added.
Steve Miller with Origin Ventures is one of those Illinois grads who wants to help.
He’s one of the 40 angels signed up so far.
“I will be exposed to a number of opportunities to invest in very early-stage companies,” Miller said.
Companies like DeepWalk, an app that U of I grad Brandon Yates created. The phone’s camera scans sidewalk systems in nearby cities like Danville and Peoria. It makes sure they’re ADA-compliant.
“Then it generates all the reports that cities need to meet the regulations and then also go and fix sidewalks on an annual basis,” Yates said.
When creating DeepWalk, he said he had a lot of resources, but nothing like Angels.
“We had to go and build our network, which was heavily the University of Illinois, but we had to go and build that network by ourselves,” he said.
Yates said it could’ve been different, and the creation process could’ve been a lot faster if they had even more connections with a network.
Parkinson said this is only the beginning for new business owners.
“A lot of those jobs that are going to be created are going to be created here in Illinois as opposed to somewhere else because we’ve made it possible for them to raise money,” Parkinson said.
Miller said the connections between angels and entrepreneurs will expand outside of the state too.
“Not only for their own success, but also the jobs that they create, the economic impact it has on our state and country,” Miller added.
He said other schools have similar programs as well, but this one is a little different. They’re focusing on keeping it close to the university and only including those with Illinois ties. Miller said that’s because he wants them to be involved with what’s going on on campus, and see everything that students are working on.
Their first meeting will be virtual on March 28th, and they’ll meet quarterly after that.
If you’re interested in being an “angel” and supporting entrepreneurs, you can sign up online.