NIU-Rockford celebrates 20 years of education, engagement

Rena Cotsones
Rena Cotsones

Since its grand opening in 1995, the NIU-Rockford Education Center at 8500 E. State St. has welcomed hundreds of thousands of students, clients and community members for classes, meetings, community gatherings and special events.

As part of its 20th anniversary celebration today, the university launched the NIU EIGERlab Coworking Space in what was formerly the center’s library.

“This celebration comes at an exciting time for NIU and our longstanding engagement efforts in the Rockford area,” said NIU President Doug Baker. “Over the course of the last year, we have put a number of initiatives into place to help expand the region’s innovation capacity, enhance opportunities and support for aspiring entrepreneurs and start-ups, and develop the engineering and high-tech workforce.”

EIGERlab, the well-known Rockford business incubator/accelerator, was acquired by NIU from the Rockford Area Economic Development Council in December 2014. The NIU EIGERlab continues to serve the region with business acceleration and product development services, along with the new coworking space at NIU-Rockford.

“In this space, we are continuing the EIGERlab tradition and expanding it by building an energetic ecosystem of solopreneuers,  early-stage product-based growth companies and existing private business owners,” says Dan Cataldi, executive director of NIU EIGERlab. “Entrepreneurs can access business coaching, mentors, investor networks and anything else needed to accelerate the commercialization of their business ideas.”

Visitors to the NIU EIGERlab Coworking Space find a comfortable, professional space with people of all ages working on laptops, having spontaneous conversations with like-minded individuals and meeting with business partners and mentors. In operation since July 1, the coworking space has nine members.

NIU-RockfordNicole Sdao is president of FundraisingCommittee.net, a Freeport-based startup that helps boost fundraising and operational effectiveness of nonprofits, has been an NIU EIGERlab client for one year.

“I was honored to receive the Dale Falconer Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award presented at NIU EIGERlab’s 2015 FastPitch Competition,” Sdao says. “Receiving this award has allowed me to utilize the coworking space and meet with both NIU EIGERlab and the Small Business Development Center’s business development teams.These interactions have helped me grow my business more quickly than what would have occurred without the powerhouse of these teams’ knowledge and networks.”

The NIU EIGERlab Center for Product Development (C4PD), now located at 5529 Zenith Parkway, continues to serve the region with leading-edge business, engineering and product management support services. In addition to offering functional additive manufacturing and 3D printing capabilities, NIU EIGERlab soon will introduce certificate courses for 3D printer technicians.

Marcus Smith is the co-owner of the Rockford-based startup Restoration Tool, a company specializing in the creation of innovative water and fire restoration tools.

A C4PD client for two years, Smith says “a successful invention is much more than a good idea; it requires components of product development, marketing, financing and legal planning. NIU EIGERlab helped us pull these different aspects together and design a comprehensive road map to profitability.”

“NIU EIGERlab provides a unique collection of equipment, skills and connections that is accelerating the university’s progress in developing the northern Illinois innovation ecosystem,” says Rena Cotsones, associate vice president of Engagement and Innovation Partnerships and head of the NIU Office for Regional Engagement-Rockford. “The NIU EIGERlab team will be key players in the DMDII Rockford Chapter, and there is much more to come.”

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