With a population of over 115,000, Springfield, Illinois is a city in transition—transition from an often overlooked state capital to a buzzing center of innovation.
For Innovate Springfield, this means a chief focus on understanding and taking steps to close the achievement gap for individuals who are less advantaged in Springfield. They hope that innovation and entrepreneurship can serve as economic equalizers in otherwise inequitable communities like their own. “Innovation should be a right, not a privilege,” shared Sarah Beth Ayers, Innovate Springfield’s Business Incubation Program Coordinator. To help close the gap, they run an innovation hub with a coworking space discounted for students and collaborate with the Illinois University Incubator Network (IUIN) and their associated Small Business Assistance Program to provide business plan review, logo design, website design, and a host of free resources to members of Innovate Springfield.
Innovate Springfield learned about the CO.STARTERS Core program and its impact in communities across the nation through a partner organization in Peoria, Illinois. Since then, it has proudly been the host organization to a diverse range of participants—half of which are women and people of color. This is reflective of Innovate Springfield’s iron conviction that entrepreneurship should be open to all people of any background, not just those who are socially or financially advantaged. “Entrepreneurs are not born—they are cultivated,” maintained Sarah Beth.
Innovate Springfield has been in the entrepreneurial support field for a while, but CO.STARTERS has been a real game-changer for Springfield. Sarah Beth continued, “CO.STARTERS has been great for us to meet our community where it is. We were running our own program before, and members who found the old program frustrating had their lightbulbs go off when they went through CO.STARTERS.” Among those bright individuals’ ventures are a bouldering cafe, taproom and bottle shop, life coach, college preparation coach, and an ice cream store.
Innovate Springfield looks forward to a host of upcoming projects, including an ICORPS series for bigger tech and high-growth research companies, a series on financial literacy for women, a community-wide advisory growth panel, an annual Innovation Awards event, and a larger-scale storytelling event discussing the spectrum of startup financing.