Ask Shorr Packaging Chief Operating Officer and Northern Illinois University Accountancy alumnus Craig Funkhouser about his role in the economic development group Choose DuPage selecting NIU-Naperville as the home for the organization’s Rev3 Innovation Center, and he quickly cites the vision and work of president and CEO Greg Bedalov and the staff at NIU.
According to Funkhouser, it was a serendipitous conversation with NIU Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations April Arnold that started talks that ultimately led to a recent lease agreement for office space, conference space and open areas on the Naperville campus.
“It was just happenchance…I would say that all I did was organize a meeting and open up the eyes of people to say NIU has a spot that’s available in Naperville,” says Funkhouser, who recently ended a three year term as Choose DuPage’s private sector co-chair. “This really is Greg Bedalov’s vision, and while it’s taken us a while to get going, it’s coming to fruition here.”
The facility, which opened at the beginning of September, provides a space and support network for emerging companies to design, build and launch products. According to Choose DuPage, the space can accommodate more than 150 members, providing them shared common areas and computer labs, conference rooms, private offices, a shipping facility and a manufacturing lab with a 3-D printer. Participating companies will pay month-to-month to use the facility, with options for discounted fees for longer leases.
“We are thrilled to partner with Northern Illinois University to help make Rev3 an integral component of our long term strategy to cultivate, retain and attract businesses and entrepreneurs right here in DuPage County,” says Bedalov.
Innovation and economic development are shared priorities of both NIU and DuPage County. The U.S. Commerce Department, as part of its Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, named DuPage County one of 12 “manufacturing communities” around the country.This recognition allows the county to access $1.3 billion in federal grants and support from federal agencies on economic development strategies to attract and expand private investment in the manufacturing sector.
“NIU embraces research and innovation as core to our mission and critical to our region’s economic prosperity,” says NIU President Doug Baker, noting the university’s designation as an inaugural Association of Public and Land-grant Universities Innovation and Prosperity University.
“DuPage is home to nearly a million people, several universities, major Fortune 500 corporations, and a rich manufacturing base,” Bedalov adds. “Now is our opportunity to tap into our business community to guide the next generation of innovators.”
But it’s more than a boon to start-ups. The partnership at Rev3 means increased opportunities for students to engage in extracurricular, real-world learning opportunities.
“This will give NIU students a new opportunity to share ideas with creative and entrepreneurial people and use the relationships and knowledge they develop to jump start their own careers,” says Anne Kaplan, vice president for Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development. “It’s also a chance for NIU students and faculty to be involved in new business ventures from the beginning.”
“The opportunity to partner in the Rev3 initiative further embeds the university in regional development while giving our students greater access to internship and mentoring opportunities that engage them in learning and prepare them for career and life success,” adds President Baker.
Lesley Rigg, NIU’s vice president for Research and Innovation Partnerships, says her division is committed to fostering the innovation ecosystem, university-industry collaborations and making connections for staff and students.
“The partnership between Rev3 and NIU comes at an exciting time in science and technology research and development,” she says. “Illinois is a national and global innovation leader, and by continually creating new partnerships and processes that bring value to the region and beyond, NIU and Rev3 are poised to drive economic development, technological research, entrepreneurship and a dynamic manufacturing community.”
NIU views its facilities across northern Illinois as launching pads from which the university can work with its partners to initiate creative responses to the economic and instructional needs of the region. NIU-Naperville is a match for Rev3 because of its close proximity to the DuPage County entrepreneurs, innovators and partners that will naturally be attracted to Rev3.
“From what I understand, it is a goal of the university to have such a concept like this on campus at NIU, whether in DeKalb, Naperville or one of the other locations; I don’t think it really matters,” adds Funkhouser. “It fits nicely with what NIU wants to do, what Choose DuPage wants to do and really gives people—whether they’re experienced workers or right out of college—a place to go to every day and interact with other people.”
This interaction can really benefit students, says Funkhouser, whose experiences while a student at NIU in the late 1970s laid the foundation for his successful career.
“Here’s a facility with equipment and other people with similar drives and aspirations,” he adds. “It offers the chance for students to interact with these other people, use the equipment that’s provided and have the space available to go to work there; they can also use people such as a Dennis Barsema as a role model and set their goals to achieve something big like what Dennis has done throughout his career.”
Barsema–a prominent NIU Management alumnus and benefactor–has approximately 30 years of executive experience in telecommunications, software and optical networking. He has served on the board of directors of numerous venture capital funded companies, including Redback Networks, Blue Lane Technologies, Onetta, Azanda, Telenisus, Tahoe Networks and Stoke. Barsema is an instructor in the College of Business while also serving as a managing partner of Chicago’s first Social Enterprise Accelerator, Impact Engine.
“I attribute a lot of my success to the effort and hard work required in my studies at Northern. It put me in position to have a job like this,” Funkhouser says. “Northern, through its strong faculty, provides its students with the knowledge base to go out there and make something of their career. I just know the students at Northern have that work ethic, and if they can get through, they’ll have the ability to achieve their goals, just like I was able to in a short period upon graduation.”