May 15, 2007

'Challenge Grants' awarded to three businesses

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. –The University Entrepreneurship Center, a Centralia-based partnership between Southern Illinois University Carbondale and the University of Illinois, recently awarded three Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Challenge Grants.

The grant recipients are American Benchmarks Inc. of Centralia, Bettendorf Stanford of Salem and EgoDigital Development Group Inc. of Woodlawn.

The award program provides funding to enable individual entrepreneurs or small businesses to obtain professional services for comprehensive business planning, evaluation of proposed new or expanding business, or for other accelerated support purposes.

"This diverse group of companies represents the future of our region," said Rick Bonsall, director of the University Entrepreneurship Center. "Their success is the region's success."

Bill Oberg of American Benchmarks Inc. said the grant is an excellent example of state-provided support for small businesses to help drive economic growth and for his company the assistance is a first step in developing new products. The company evolved in 2003 as a subsidiary of Bo's Sales Center, founded he previous year, due to the creation of a new specialized furniture line.

"This is a great opportunity," said Matt Stanford, vice president of Bettendorf Stanford.

The company is utilizing the funds to develop an effective marketing and advertising program to expand its market presence. Bettendorf Stanford, established in 1965, manufactures Microloy blade premier food slicing and bagging equipment for producers.

"We are very pleased to have received a Challenge Grant award from the University Entrepreneurship Center," said Jay Koch, chief executive officer for EgoDigital Development Group Inc. "As a diversified redevelopment company, continual growth and adaptation are core to our mission. The Challenge Grant funds will be extremely helpful in the development of new products and services. We look forward to working with the professionals at UEC during this process."

EcoDigital Development Group redevelops, adapts and revitalizes historical properties and materials in ecologically friendly and technologically advanced ways to stimulate economic and community growth.

"We will continue to search for innovative entrepreneurs and assist them in growing Illinois' economy," Bonsall added. Grant funds are still available, said Emily Carter, director of the Entrepreneurship Center at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Obtain online grant applications at under the heading "Challenge Grants". For more information, call 618/453-3805.