The Peoria NEXT Innovation Center is a landmark in many ways. Not only does the 50,000-square-foot building spruce up the neighborhood, but the activity inside holds promise for the entire community. Walk through the doors and enter a world where people of diverse backgrounds and interests come together; exchange, develop, test, and nurture entrepreneurial ideas; and eventually graduate into their own facilities.
Under the leadership of Nancy Wright MA ’86, who carries dual titles as executive director of the Innovation Center and of the Bradley Technology Commercialization Center (BTCC), the center is an incubator for technology-based businesses.
Wright comments, “Technology-based companies have a 75 percent failure rate without incubators like this. With incubators, they have an 80 percent success rate. Our definition of success is if a business has found its place in the marketplace, is generating revenues, and is providing technology-based employment.”
The center, funded with state, federal, and private financing, offers office space, conference rooms, meeting rooms, business office equipment, and equipped labs. Wright helps entrepreneurs find investors, build their businesses, and bring their ideas to fruition.
Wright says, “It’s important to assist these companies to meet established milestones and to create an environment where investors can see the research being done and evaluate the commercialization potential. Each technology may need anywhere from $750,000 to $4–$5 million during the first round of investment, going through fundraising rounds three or four times before the technology is fully commercialized. We help these companies find management team members, research partners, grants, and investment capital. These are high-risk ventures. They do not have a revenue stream, are not recognized in the marketplace, and do not fit the criteria for a traditional lending institution.”
Entrepreneurs are encouraged to consider Bradley students as interns. Shirley Dawdy, office manager for BTCC and the Innovation Center, comments, “This is a great opportunity for our students. They’ll learn so much by working with these tenants.” She notes that Katie Sowa ’08, an entrepreneurship major, works with her, Wright, and administrative assistant Deanna Denny. “She’s a perfect fit for this building and our mission.”
Also interning in the building is Emily Johnson ’07, an accounting and entrepreneurship major who works for InformMed. The company, the first tenant in the building, has created the pac2, a handheld software system that allows nurses to quickly calculate proper medication doses for their patients.
Discussing InformMed, co-founder and chief clinical officer Kathy Francis says, “Our goal is to provide a new standard for safe patient care. We have developed a performance support system that provides the tools nurses need to shield patients from medical errors. The pac2 recognizes unsafe doses that have made their way through the system and helps nurses quickly calculate safe doses and recall essential drug information.”
The pac2 is in the pilot stage at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center’s pediatrics intensive care unit. “Over the next quarter, we expect three to five more pilots. I believe the pac2 is going to change medicine and also save lives.”
Speaking of the Innovation Center, Francis comments, “Networking opportunities are one of the best aspects about being here. Knowledgeable people interested in making companies grow are walking through these halls every day.”