Celebrating 10 years of startup incubation at EnterpriseWorks

As EnterpriseWorks approaches its 10th anniversary Friday, Research Park celebrates with graduate companies, current startups and future entrepreneurs.

EnterpriseWorks is a technology venture incubator. Its construction was funded by the state of Illinois in 2003 as part of an overall technology and economic development initiative the state was leading, said Scott Pickard, former director of Research Park.

“Its mission is to help start up and support technology-based companies and have them graduate and become viable, sustainable companies that are actually selling a product in the marketplace and making an impact,” Pickard said. “And in the process, those companies create high quality and technical management jobs.”

EnterpriseWorks’ 141 startup incubator graduate companies provide services ranging from biotechnology to engineering to consultation. Currently, 38 companies operate within EnterpriseWorks.

EDEN PARK ILLUMINATION

James Gary Eden, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Sung-Jin Park, professor of micro and nanotechnology, dedicated their company to commercializing a new form of lighting that is thin and flat, based on microplasma technology developed at the University.

Founded in 2007, Eden Park Illumination followed a “pathway similar to a number of other companies that are formed here in the Champaign-Urbana area,” Eden said.

After graduating more than a year later, the company moved to its current, larger facility in northern Champaign, 903 N. Country Fair Drive, where it has 23 employees and a full assembly line for the lamps it produces — something it couldn’t accommodate at its EnterpriseWorks facility.

Of all the services EnterpriseWorks offered, Eden said the proximity to the campus and to other companies was an advantage that could not have been overlooked.

“There is a simple proximity to other companies who are attempting to do professionally the same things we are,” Eden said. “But a number of them are more advanced, so we can benefit from their experiences.”

An example of this “experience sharing” is EnterpriseWorks’ series of lectures where individuals are invited to speak to the companies regarding topics such as financing or serial entrepreneurship.

Eden Park Illumination lamps have been exhibited at the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas for the past two years.

SOLARBRIDGE TECHNOLOGIES

Co-founded by electrical and computer engineering professors Patrick Chapman and Philip Krein, SolarBridge Technologies develops solar power conversion hardware for rooftop solar panels.

The company, originally named SmartSpark Energy Systems, began as a startup in the EnterpriseWorks incubator in 2004, before graduating from the incubator and moving to another space in the Research Park. SolarBridge continued to grow until the company relocated to Austin, Texas, where it continues to operate.

A company that started with one employee now employs about 72 people and has sold more than 20,000 units that are now in the field producing solar energy, Krein said.

“SolarBridge builds electronic hardware, and we originally built them for certain kinds of customers,” Krein said. “The kinds of customers we sell to have changed, the requirements have changed, but, in the end, we’re still building electronic hardware.”

Krein said EnterpriseWorks’ flexible space helped advance the company because of how easy a company could move in to a little space before gradually growing.

“It gave us the flexibility to grow without committing to something that wasn’t really suitable either right away or later,” he said.

EP PURIFICATION, INC.

Eden and Park also founded another startup company at EnterpriseWorks in 2010 called EP Purification, Inc.

This company uses the same microplasma technology as Eden Park Illumination, instead using it to make small ozone generators for the purpose of disinfecting and purifying water.

“EnterpriseWorks has provided the same space as Illumination … allowing us to manufacture generators on a small scale,” Eden said. “It’s not a huge space, but it’s plenty to do what we need to do.”

SERIONIX, INC.

Serionix, Inc. is a startup environmental material company designing high-performance material to remove toxic chemicals from drinking water and the air. The company was recently awarded a contract with the Army to build an air filtration system to remove toxic chemicals from the air in certain facilities.

One EnterpriseWorks resource Serionix takes advantage of is Research Park’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence program, which employs local experienced technology entrepreneurs to provide monthly consultation to startup companies and prospective technology founders.

“We were able to meet with a number of people in the program to consult and advise us on business strategies and the legal aspects of business,” said James Langer, president and co-founder of Serionix.

Langer, who started the company while he was a graduate student, said EnterpriseWorks made the whole process of jumping out of the academic research environment and into the business world easier.

“It was a soft landing for us,” he said.

The company began in spring of 2011 and will graduate from the EnterpriseWorks incubator in 3 to 4 years.

Jacqui can be reached at [email protected]