September 24, 2020

SIU’s virtual Innova-ship program begins in October

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — It’s a six-week commitment of less than two hours a week and it could change your life, according to organizers.

A new session of Innova-ship, a no-cost training program that helps people take their creative concepts and innovations to the next level, starts next month at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Research Park. Registration is underway.

The accelerated online program helps bridge the gap between innovation and commercialization. The free training sessions will be from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Thursdays, Oct. 8 through Nov. 12. SIU students, faculty and staff are welcome to participate along with anyone from the region who has an interest in entrepreneurship or an interesting concept they wish to pursue.

“We find that a lot of people have great ideas and potential inventions, but aren’t sure how to take that next step,” Deborah Barnett, SIU Research Park associate director and program facilitator, said. “Whether it’s an idea for a new device, product, app, or other business idea, our goal is to help people move from the idea stage to commercialization or implementation.”

Grant funded

The research park received a $50,000 award from the Small Business Administration’s Growth Accelerator Fund Competition last fall to fund the comprehensive program. SIU is one of just 60 recipients chosen from across the country.

“Participants will learn how to bridge the gap between innovation and commercialization and they will have access to ongoing advisement and consultation as well as information about how to apply to Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer funding programs,” Barnett said.

Topics covered during the six-week training include:

  • Developing ideas and concepts.
  • Defining target markets, conducting market research and then entering and capturing the market.
  • Testing the business model.
  • Planning for financial success.
  • Creating a pitch presentation.
  • Exploring financing options (including SBIR/STTR funding) and identifying potential investors

The program is geared toward those who are focused in the “STEAM” areas of science, technology, engineering, agriculture, and math. But people with viable concepts of any kind are welcome to participate.

Successful and popular

The Innova-ship program was originally created as an on-site, in-person program. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, part of the spring session and all of the summer session switched to an online format that Barnett said worked out very well.

The online presentation drew a diverse group of participants comprised of about one-third graduate students, along with undergraduate students, faculty and community members. Among them are a Saluki graduate student who participated virtually after returning home to the east coast when classes moved online in the spring. Also completing the program were a pair of Carbondale natives who recently graduated from upstate universities and now plan to return to their hometown to start a new business.

The 39 people who finished training in 2020 exceeded the number organizers estimated when applying for the grant. The virtual presentations reduced travel expenses for guest speakers and other costs, allowing funding to stretch to add a third session, Barnett said.

“COVID-19 has presented some interesting challenges, but we have also witnessed a spike in innovative ideas as people think about how to do things differently.  We continue to receive strong interest and look forward to an exciting fall cohort,” she said. “We have never held three programs of this type in a single year.”

Sundry ideas

Barnett noted participants brought their own unique ideas that spanned multiple disciplines, passions and interest areas. Childhood literacy, social equity, affordable housing, product development to assist older adults with mobility issues and technology applications to help address unemployment challenges were just some of the issues that participants sought to address. Others focused on more traditional business concepts such as a bed and breakfast, a family bookstore or shared retail space.

Raymund Narag, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at SIU, is very active in global justice reform. He participated this summer in the hopes it would help him advance his work.

“I learned a lot from this short training program,” Narag said. “It gave me an idea on how to proceed with a business concept and, at the same time, maximize my advocacy and research interests. I learned how to package my trainings, how to find and entice participants and how to convince the participants to support my advocacy.”

Enhancing diversity

In addition to supporting the development of entrepreneurship and innovation, another goal of the SBA Growth Accelerator programs, as noted in a recent report by the National Women’s Business Council, is increasing awareness of SBIR/STTR funding opportunities for women and other underrepresented populations. Barnett said nearly half of the 39 Innova-ship participants are women and more than half indicated that they are Black, Hispanic, Latino or Asian.

“We are very pleased with the diversity of innovative ideas represented in this year’s Innova-ship programs, but even more pleased with the diversity among participants as they represent various ethnicities, ages, backgrounds and passions,” Barnett said.

Research Park programs offer additional services

The research park provides a variety of facilities and services that can serve as the launch pad for innovation in the region. Southern Illinois. The staff has successfully offered individualized technical assistance, technology entrepreneurship services and other innovation-focused activities, according to Lynn Andersen Lindberg, SIU Research Park executive director.

Apply now

For more information or to apply to participate in the fall session of Innova-ship, visit or contact Barnett at or 618/453-3849.