JOLIET – Laura Munoz and Princess Clemente were just starting their business when the University of St. Francis started accepting applications for its incubator program.
When Munoz, a junior at USF, heard about the incubator program during an entrepreneurship course, she thought their business, Student Speakers LLC, could use the help.
“For us as a business, now we have a place to meet that’s not at home or in school,” Munoz said. “It really helps us out.”
She and Clemente use the incubator space several times a week to develop a business aimed at helping students develop public speaking skills.
“For me to say ‘I’m a business owner’ is kind of scary,” said Clemente, a graduate student. “I’m just trying to acquire as much knowledge as possible.”
The Business Incubator is a program under the University of St. Francis College of Business and Health Administration that helps entrepreneurs grow through the start-up process. It’s in the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center in downtown Joliet.
The program itself is young, with the college completing a soft opening last year.
Christopher Clott, dean of the college of business, said he’s hoping a grand opening of the incubator in March or April will show people its value to Joliet-area business.
“We saw this as a catalyst for business growth and development,” Clott said.
The incubator has four inaugural businesses. And now the focus is on getting more to sign up.
“Hopefully within the next year we have eight to 10 businesses that have gone through the incubator, with at least two to three taking off,” Clott said.
Using the incubator
The 900-square-foot, multipurpose incubator space contains several movable tables, couches, chairs, white boards, canvassed inspirational quotes and a Keurig coffee machine.
Start-ups get desk space at the incubator, access to high-speed wireless Internet, phone service, wireless printing and copying and use of a fax machine.
“We have space now so we can bring customers,” said Yuri Gallegos, president of Quasar Design, another inaugural business. “But the most important thing is the guidance with our mentor.”
Businesses like Quasar Design get access to advice from university faculty, business professionals and other entrepreneurs in the incubator.
Businesses do have to pay a negotiable monthly fee of $150, according to Bonnie Covelli, a director of the program.
Not every business that applies is accepted into the program. They go through interviews and are accepted if members of a selection committee think they are promising.
Clott said the university is working with the Joliet Junior College Small Business Development Center to identify businesses and ideas that have potential to succeed.
The center is where Gallegos and his wife, Portia Gallegos, found out about the incubator.
“It has helped us focus,” Portia Gallegos said. A mentor showed how they were charging too little and losing out on an opportunity to make money, she said.
Hub of business
Clott said that another goal of the incubator program is to increase the economic profile of downtown Joliet.
While the city tries to figure out what downtown Joliet should look like in the future, Clott said the incubator could become a “hub of business.”
“The identity of downtown Joliet isn’t as strong as what it could be,” Clott said. “It’s not probably going to be a place of the next Google. But I think one day it will grow into its own part of the city.”
To learn more about the University of St. Francis incubator program or for an application, visit www.stfrancis.edu/incubator, or contact Christopher Clott at 815-740-3452 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Bonnie Covelli at email@example.com