Grant to warm e-biz incubator

Illinois hopes to boost ecommerce firms by funding a development program at a local college

Illinois is granting a local community college $150,000 to boost e-commerce development.

The money is part of the governor's five-year $12 billion Illinois FIRST (www.state.il.us/state/ilfirst) grant program to rebuild, repair and upgrade Illinois' critical infrastructure. The grant is going to Lincoln Trail College (www.iecc.cc.il.us/ltc), which will use the money to develop its e-Commerce Incubator program, a planned facility where high-technology entrepreneurs and small-business owners can develop their ideas.

Prospective participants in the program must submit a business plan to a committee of college professors who decide which plans have the most promise. Successful applicants get to use the incubator as office space, where they pay reduced rent and receive guidance from college faculty.

"The main reason for getting this going is to create jobs," said John Arabatgis, president of Lincoln Trail College. "Our graduates can't find suitable jobs, so they're leaving the area. We are trying to attract high-tech entrepreneurs to the area as a means to expand our economic base and stop the exodus."

The idea of an e-commerce incubator was formed in 1999 by local business and community leaders in conjunction with the college. Last year, a local medical facility donated a building to serve as the location, while the college and a local nonprofit organization kicked in seed money to hire an adviser and consultants to get planning under way.

According to Arabatgis, the Illinois FIRST grant money will be used for computers, phones and copiers.

Participants will undergo periodic evaluations by the college to see how the business is progressing and what can be done to help. "This will be a nurturing environment," Arabatgis said. "Just because a business is failing, it doesn't mean it's time to shut them down, but instead ask what we can do to help them."

Arabatgis also said that by fostering high-tech entrepreneurship, he hopes the incubator will help coax telecommunications companies to expand broadband access to Crawford County.

The site has space to hold 12 operations, Arabatgist said. So far, three entrepreneurs have expressed interest. The college hopes to have it up and running by the end of 2001.

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