University Innovation Fellows

University Innovation Fellows: SIU’s newest University Innovation Fellows were honored at the 2021 Innovation and Entrepreneurship Showcase on Dec. 2.  Pictured back row, left to right, are: Lynn Andersen Lindberg, executive director of the SIU Research Park, Chancellor Austin Lane, and Salukis Gabriel Bonansinga, Nicholas Winkler, Nelson Fernandes, Prem Rana. Front row, left to right, are David Hernandez and Katherine Held. Fernandes and Rana were selected for the program during the 2019-2020 academic year. (Photo by Yenitza Melgoza)

December 07, 2021

Innovation, entrepreneurial spirit highlight 2021 showcase

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Creativity and development throughout the region were highlighted at the 2021 Innovation and Entrepreneurship Showcase at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center on Dec. 2.

The event recognized some of the university’s and region’s innovators and entrepreneurs, along with projects by student entrepreneurs.

Business plan winners announced

The inaugural Regions Bank Business Plan Competition was established to help advance small business development in Southern Illinois.  The 16 completed competition submissions featured a strong representation of technology-focused innovations, traditional business concepts and product development ideas, according to organizers

The winners, listed by place, their prize award, and brief descriptions of their business concepts, are:

  • 1st place – Brand Advocacy Group, Nathan Colombo, $5,000. Colombo founded the company, which is new to the SIU Research Park. His vision is to transform the region into a film, television and digital content production hub by producing small-scale media projects but with a large-scale media idea. By investing that revenue into world-class production facilities in Southern Illinois his goal is attracting national and global production activity.
  • 2nd place – Hot Hut Outdoors, Andrew Croxell, $3,000. Croxell conceived the Hot Hut Outdoors product and concept from his personal experience hiking the River-to-River Trail across Southern Illinois. Croxell worked to discover a scientific approach in creating a solution that addresses tent condensation and moisture accumulation after his own 15-hour battle with moisture penetration in his tent that required an emergency rescue call after eight days.
  • 3rd place – Energao, Yong Gao and Rong Jiang, $2,000. Gao and Jiang founded the company in 2016 with a focus on energy storage and research, which has resulted in two patent applications. They will use the award along with other funding resources to further develop their technology to help homeowners and communities build resilient, self-sufficient mini-grid and micro-grid systems.

Media advisory

Editors, reporters and news crews who would like more information or to interview representatives from the winning companies or from the SIU Research Park can contact Deborah Barnett at for details.

“The 2021 Regions Bank Business Plan Competition would not have been possible without the generous donation of $10,000 from Regions Bank through the SIU Foundation, in partnership with the SIU Research Park, the Business Incubator Programs and the Illinois Small Business Development Center at SIU,” said Deborah Barnett, SIU Research Park interim associate director and business incubator director. “The goal of the funding was to help advance small business development in Southern Illinois and the competition served as the catalyst for continuing to ignite the flame of innovation and entrepreneurship in the region. Although we were only able to award funding to the top three, it was a very close competition. We want to make it clear to all participants and others who have business concepts they want to move forward that we are here to help provide the guidance needed to move those ideas from concept to reality.”

Business advisement and services are available at no cost through the Illinois Small Business Development Center at SIU. Call 618-536-2424 or email for more information.

Judges for the business plan competition were:

University Innovation Fellows honored

SIU’s 2021 University Innovation Fellows were also recognized. The unique training program helps students to become more innovative, entrepreneurial and creative while also helping them learn how to foster those qualities in other students.

The four Salukis among just 251 students from 65 institutions of higher education in 15 countries selected for the honor are:

  • Gabriel Bonansinga, a junior computer science major with minor in computer science from Springfield, Illinois.
  • Katherine Held, a junior finance and pre-law major from Chatham, Illinois.
  • David Hernandez, a junior zoology major from Peters, Missouri.
  • Nicholas Winkler, a junior business management major from Bartlett, Tennessee.

Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design ( operates the University Innovation Fellows Program. The students, who were “pinned” by Chancellor Austin Lane, participate in six weeks of online training during which they analyze their campus ecosystems and search for places where they can help bring about change and then establish individualized projects to make it happen.

XRDA participants also recognized

The first group to participate in the Extended Reality Development Academy (XRDA) was also recognized. Utilizing funding from the Delta Regional Authority through the United Stated Department of Agriculture Rural Development program, XRDA was launched earlier this year to make virtual reality and related experiences more accessible in the region and to enhance the use of extended reality as a workforce development and training tool.

A training academy was established in May and the first group of participants has completed 12 weeks of training in virtual reality (VR) application development and created a final project to demonstrate their skills. Two participants opted to fund their own XR development companies as a result of the academy program. A second group will submit their final projects in the next few weeks and two more groups will participate in 2022.

Participants from the first group were:

Those participating in the second group are:

SIU inventors and innovators celebrated

The work of 12 SIU faculty and staff who have received patents during the last several years was also acknowledged.

The honorees were:

  • Naushad Ali, research professor emeritus, physics.
  • Ken Anderson, professor, geology.
  • Aldwin Anterola, associate professor, plant biology.
  • Peter Filip, professor, School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Materials Engineering.
  • Boyd Goodson, distinguished scholar, professor and acting associate dean, College of Agricultural, Life and Physical Sciences.
  • Gary Kinsel, professor and vice chancellor for research.
  • Chao Lu, associate professor, electrical, computer and biomedical engineering.
  • Khalid Meksem, professor, plant, soil and agricultural systems.
  • Derek Perry, paraprofessional, School of Earth Systems and Sustainability.
  • Kyle Plunkett, professor, vice chair and director of graduate study for the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Sciences.
  • Spyros Tragoudas, professor and director, School of Electrical, Computer and Biomedical Engineering.
  • Haibo Wang, professor and coordinator of the biomedical engineering program, School of Electrical, Computer and Biomedical Engineering.

SIU and the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce sponsored the showcase and business reception.

To learn more

For additional details about SIU’s Research Park and the many programs and services it provides, visit, call 618-536-4451 or email