June 16, 2020

Registration is open for SIU’s Innova-ship online program

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Great business ideas and innovative thinking are intrinsic to Southern Illinois University Carbondale and the surrounding region, and SIU wants to help people take their creative concepts to the next level.

The Innova-ship program, offered at no cost by the SIU Research Park, is designed to help people advance their ideas for products, services or programs toward commercialization. Beginning June 25, innovative thinkers can participate virtually in a four-week training program, geared especially toward those who are focusing on the “STEAM” areas of science, technology, engineering, agriculture, math and business. In addition, people who have any viable concepts outside of those areas are also welcome to participate.

Comprehensive, shortened program

The accelerated program is completely online and bridges the gap between innovation and commercialization. The training sessions start June 25 and are held each Thursday through July 23 and on Tuesday June 30 and July 21. The sessions are from noon to 1:30 p.m. Topics covered will include:

  • Developing ideas and testing business models.
  • Defining target markets, conducting market research then entering and capturing the market.
  • Building a team.
  • Protecting intellectual property.
  • Developing a pitch presentation.
  • Exploring financing options and identifying potential investors.
  • Planning for financial success.

Funded by a grant

Program funding is through a grant from the Small Business Administration's Growth Accelerator Fund Competition.  The SIU Research Park is one of just 60 award recipients nationwide selected to provide support for STEAM-related innovations, entrepreneurs, and startups, potentially enabling participants to apply for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) funding. Program participants will have access to consultation, along with information on the SBIR/STTR funding programs and how to apply.

Sign up now

There is no cost to participate in the program but space is limited. Those interested in participating can find the application online.

Additional information is available at researchpark.siu.edu/ or by contacting Barnett at dbarnett@siu.edu.

Spring session drew much interest

The spring 2020 Innova-ship initiative, created as a nine-week in-person training program, drew a diverse group including community members along with SIU faculty, staff, and undergraduate and graduate students. The training moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic but 10 participants completed the session and four expressed interest in seeking SBIR funding for their projects. 

Moving ideas forward

As a former epidemic intelligence service officer for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state epidemiologist for Missouri and South Dakota, Sarah Patrick has ample experience and knowledge pertaining to public health.

Patrick, an assistant professor of public health and doctoral program director for the School of Human Sciences at SIU, saw a need for a class focusing on innovation and entrepreneurship for people who are working in public health or who are master’s and doctoral students.

Innova-ship was able to connect Patrick’s expertise, plans and goals with the vocabulary, tools and skill sets to increase innovation and entrepreneurial thinking in other fields. The program also gave her the opportunity to work alongside others who were developing their ideas and introduced Patrick to successful entrepreneurs.

“While in the cohort, I was working on COVID-19 response in a national workgroup, reviewing technology and apps to help public health with quarantine and isolation follow-up. I found myself in a conference call with the former innovation officer for IBM – not the usual contact most people in public health practice meet,” Patrick recalls. “Thanks to Innova-ship, I was more confident and competent discussing the roll-out of such technology with him. I came to the next Innova-ship class all excited that I was able to apply what we were learning as we were learning it!”

Providing business know-how

Jamie and Shannon Green purchased a historic property on Murphysboro’s Walnut Street with a plan in mind. During the training, Jamie Green said she received invaluable information and guidance on how to move forward with their concept for creating The Mercantile on Main, a shared retail space. Retailers will pay a monthly fee for the retail space to cover rent, utilities and marketing assistance and then keep 100% of their sales proceeds.

“The class was so comprehensive and helpful,” Jamie Green said. “It helps you think of what you need to do and in what order. There are so many things that enter in when you get involved in starting a business and all of the classes were so good.”

The marketing instruction proved especially helpful, as Green learned the importance of effectively “selling” her business – to retail clients as well as to customers – and techniques to aid with marketing. She found the staff and classmates encouraging and motivating and said it was exciting to be part of a group where people were sharing feedback, “thinking outside the box” and where “the common goal is to be successful.”

Interest remains strong

The Illinois Small Business Development Center and Business Incubator programs are continuing to get requests for assistance with starting new businesses, according to Deborah Barnett, associate director of the Research Park and director of Business Incubator Programs.

"COVID-19 has caused people to think differently, and we've noticed a lot of creativity and innovation rising up in the region as a result,” Barnett said. “This is a perfect time to bring those innovative ideas to life and learn about ways to help fund those ideas through SBIR."