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March 13, 2003

Blagojevich promotes proposal to give business owners the chance to build, grow innovative companies
Governor continues his push—unveiled in State of the State speech—for creation of six Entrepreneurship Centers

CHICAGO -- Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich continued on Thursday to promote an innovative proposal to spark economic activity and create jobs in Illinois, one day after unveiling the plan to lawmakers during his first State of the State speech.

Speaking at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)-- one of a half-dozen sites where Blagojevich plans to quickly establish new Entrepreneurship Centers-- the governor discussed further his plans to provide training, tools and resources to Illinois entrepreneurs.

In addition to UIC, the first round of Entrepreneurship Centers will be located at five other locations, including UIC as well as Rock Valley College in Rockford, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Western Illinois University in Macomb and at Southern Illinois University campuses in Carbondale and Edwardsville.

The first of the centers could be operational in two months, he said, and twenty centers could be in place within two years.

“There are countless entrepreneurs across the state with good ideas who just need a chance to show what they can do,” he said, explaining the purpose of the centers.

The governor’s plan to develop the Entrepreneurship Centers is a key element of his “Illinois Opportunity Fund,” the mechanism that Blagojevich envisions to attract private investment and venture capital to the state.

The centers would have the flexibility to draw on public and private sector resources, in addition to expertise available through universities and colleges, to help entrepreneurs obtain:

  • recruiting services to locate operational management talent;

  • legal resources including patent, trade and other intellectual property expertise;

  • expert accounting and financial services; and

  • access to equity investors and other sources of investment capital including participating venture capital funds in the Illinois Opportunity Fund.

People looking to expand or create businesses would also be eligible to benefit from 400 business planning and development assistance grants worth $5,000 each.

The Illinois Opportunity Fund would be a “fund of funds” that would raise almost $200 million from private sector investors. The funds will be managed by private sector experts and will invest in a diverse cross section of existing venture capital funds that commit to investing in Illinois based companies.

Illinois has largely lacked access to such investments—and such funding is especially rare in downstate communities. In 2002, Illinois received less than 1 percent of all venture investment in the United States, with less than 1 percent of that meager amount invested outside of the Chicago metropolitan area.

The governor said that the Illinois Opportunity Fund “will help jumpstart industries and focus on new technologies that have the potential to not only put people back to work, but to create the sort of jobs that will attract young people to our state.”

The Illinois Opportunity Fund is based on a successful model piloted in Oklahoma, and subsequently implemented in several states, including Iowa and Arkansas.

The state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) would be assigned to develop the program and the centers. Jack Lavin, who has been selected by the governor to head the department, joined Blagojevich at the event on Thursday.

During his State of the State address, Blagojevich pledged that the Illinois Opportunity Fund can help to ensure that “there will be no more missed business opportunities,” citing the fact that although the Web browser was developed at the University of Illinois in the early 1990s, other states benefited more from the economic activity associated with the Internet.

He referred to nanotechnology-- the manipulation of matter at the atomic level—as an area in which Illinois is currently a national leader, and a field that he said he would target for expansion.

The establishment of the Entrepreneurship Centers at UIC and other sites could build upon the successes already posted by the University of Illinois in serving as a valuable engine for research and development needed for high-tech businesses. More than 35 such businesses are currently under development through the University’s new start-up services entity, called “IllinoisVENTURES.”

Through the university’s current program, financing and consulting are being provided to companies that market—among other items-- biohazard and chemical weapon detection equipment; revolutionary power sources for consumer products; and groundbreaking drugs for the treatment of cancer, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

The university also helped bring about more than 430 new disclosures and 260 patent filings in fiscal years 2001 and 2002.

Scheduled to join Blagojevich and Lavin on Thursday morning were University of Illinois president James Stukel; UIC Chancellor Sylvia Manning; Lawrence Eppley, chairman of the university’s board of trustees; and Gary Conkright, CEO, SmartSignal.

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