Photo of Northeastern students working on a project with a laptop computer and notebooks

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Northeastern Illinois University will receive $2.5 million from the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN) to establish sites for the University’s Business Innovation and Growth (BIG) Center.

This is part of the $37.3 million Gov. J.B. Pritzer released to launch facilities for five hubs of the IIN, which was created to accelerate job creation and economic growth through groundbreaking education, research and discovery. The funding is made possible by the bipartisan Rebuild Illinois Capital program, with state investments matched dollar-for-dollar through university, private and philanthropic funding sources.

"Rebuild Illinois isn't just about modernizing our roads and bridges—it's about building a future for generations to come that is economically prosperous with the promise of opportunity at every turn," Pritzker said in a press release. "That's why we are distributing more than $37 million to first-rate educational institutions throughout our state to create facilities that will prepare our students for the jobs of today and tomorrow. From researching water resources at NIU's Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability to addressing food deserts and agricultural challenges at SIUC's Illinois Food, Entrepreneurship, Research, and Manufacturing hub, young Illinoisans will have the opportunity to shape our future by coming up with cutting-edge solutions to our 21st century problems—all while furthering our state's status as a national hub for all things research and innovation."

IIN funding will be used to renovate part of Northeastern’s Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies (CCICS) and the parking office on the Main Campus, transforming both into BIG Center sites for students, alumni and community members. College of Business and Technology (CBT) Dean Michael Bedell said the BIG Center has been operating out of the CBT for years. Having a space outside of the college is a dream come true.

“I couldn’t be more delighted that the BIG Center will finally have a home,” Bedell said. “We have students coming out of our business classes with viable business ideas. However, they don’t always have the resources to take their ideas to the next level. With official spaces dedicated for the BIG Center, students and community members will be able to utilize office spaces and meeting rooms and connect with incubators all over the city to start or grow businesses.”

Bedell also said that BIG Center programming will also continue to take place at El Centro.

Jessica Mueller, executive director of adult education, advancement and business innovation for the CBT, is leading the renovation projects for the BIG Center at CCICS and the Main Campus. 

"We are excited to have a space and place for future founders and small business owners to dream, build up new ideas and hone existing operations that will not only benefit their own livelihoods, but our NEIU community and the local, city, state and national entrepreneurial ecosystem.” Mueller said. 

Bedell also said, given Northeastern’s student population, and the populations of the neighborhoods in which Northeastern is located, he hopes the BIG Center becomes a means to collaborate and celebrate all that these communities have to offer. 

“Northeastern tends to have a very nontraditional student population, with a lot of adult learners,” Bedell said. “Some of our students grew up in a family business and already have a high level of understanding about how to run a business. In those cases, the BIG Center can be a resource to help their business expand through workshops, like how to effectively leverage social media for example. At CCICS, Bronzeville wants businesses to stay in the area and get additional resources for the business owners in the community. The BIG Center can help the community achieve those goals. CCICS and the Bronzeville community have always been a great partner for the BIG Center and we’re excited to see that partnership grow.” 

The BIG Center is now taking applicants for a new cohort of entrepreneurs. The Become Your Own Boss: Business Planning Course is set to begin in late January 2023.