August 26, 2010

Entry deadline nears for Innovate Illinois contest

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The statewide 2010 Innovate Illinois competition, offering $80,000 in prizes, is open to new and prospective businesses and Southern Illinois University Carbondale is the downstate host for the contest.

This marks the sixth year for the challenge, created to recognize high-growth Illinois businesses offering or planning to offer an innovative service or product. More than 100 businesses compete each year in one of the contest’s two divisions, with a top prize of $30,000 cash for the winners of each division and $10,000 prizes for each runner-up.

The early stage category is for companies with an idea for an innovative product, service or process that could have a lasting economic impact. The late stage category is for new companies that have recently created or implemented an innovative process, service or process that is already showing an economic impact in the state.

“The Innovate Illinois challenge allows our clients and successful Southern Illinois companies to compete head to head with companies from all over the state, demonstrating their intelligence and innovativeness,” said Robyn Laur Russell, director of business development and international trade. She noted that in 2008, client Clipius Technologies Inc., a Carbondale company led by former SIUC mechanical engineering professor Ajay Mahajan, brought home the $10,000 state runner-up prize in the early stage business category.

Now is the time to enter for 2010, as the entry deadline is Sept. 10. You can only submit applications for the competition online at

From the total pool of southern region applications submitted, the top eight entrants from each category will get notification on Oct. 1 that they will advance to the Southern Area Competition Oct. 12 in Carbondale. Eight early stage companies will make presentations in the morning and eight late stage companies will make afternoon presentations. Two winners from each semi-final category advance to the state competition.

Central and northern Illinois semi-finals will be Oct. 20 and Oct. 27, respectively. The six early stage and six late stage competition finalists will go to Chicago Dec. 16 where they’ll make seven-minute presentations before a judging panel representing entrepreneurship and investment organizations.

Since the challenge’s inception, 33 statewide winners have claimed $530,000 in cash and prizes while generating more than 500 new jobs, securing $20 million in financing and, in 2008 alone, generated in excess of $50 million in new revenues. The competitions produce winners in more way than one, Russell said. In addition to having the chance of winning cash prizes, the competitors all get to showcase their innovations for potential investors, mentors and customers and this could spark accelerated business growth.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, an affiliate of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, are the joint administrators for the Innovate Illinois Program.

For more information or assistance with the Innovate Illinois online application, contact Russell at 618/453-3805 or visit You can also learn more on the state website at