Plenty of available talent, assistance, and a favorable location make Champaign one of the best places in the country to launch a startup business.
While launching a business is certainly no small feat, finding a place that checks all the boxes — like having an accessible location, ample employment potential and plenty of community support — makes getting a business off the ground much, much easier.
For the most important details about launching a business in Champaign County, Livability spoke with Laura Bleill at the University of Illinois Research Park and Carly McCrory-McKay of the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation to explain all the reasons why it’s the best place to do so.
Whatever you need, you can find it here.
“Because of our geography, we’re kind of an oasis in a cornfield,” Bleill says, noting that it doesn’t take more than 15 minutes to get anywhere in or around town, and navigation is easy. “And it’s somewhat defined; you can find resources and like-minded people.”
Champaign–Urbana has all the essentials — from grocery stores and hospitals to local government — plus unanticipated but highly beneficial resources from the likes of the University of Illinois Research Park and the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation.
Location, location, location.
“There’s a lot of connectivity to the Chicago community,” Bleill says. “More connectivity than you’d imagine. We’re the flagship university for the entire state of Illinois, and even smaller cities like Peoria, Decatur, and Bloomington are easy to get to. And whether they’re university-related or not, they’re all entrepreneurship hubs.”
The affordability is pretty enticing.
“Having an affordable yet high quality of life with a lot of amenities is valuable,” says Bleill.
But in addition to being an extremely affordable place to live, the business resources available are also budget-friendly.
“The rates of being attached to [the Research Park] incubator are incredibly affordable, especially if you need clean lab space, hard tech, or anything a company could never replicate on its own.”
The student talent available is also pretty advantageous for startups.
“A lot of startups that might not be able to hire a full-time staff can leverage a grad student who’s had experience in a private sector but is also not looking for full-time work,” says Bleill.
There are plenty of prospective employees.
Unsurprisingly, the university churns out hundreds of ambitious students, grads and young professionals every year.
“There’s a lot of talent here, especially student talent,” says Bleill. “There are very active groups here looking to mentor, from the nonprofit sector to our Emerging Community Leaders program. We also have our Chambana Welcome Crew, which helps people new to the area navigate resources and find community and work opportunities.”
Company retention rates are high.
Because many large companies are focused on converting student talent through internship models that exist year-round, the student workers gain tons of experience and settle in with the companies they grow to love.
“The companies here love this because the students educate the full-time folks just like full-timers mentor students,” says Bleill. “It’s an exchange of ideas that’s really beneficial.”
Champaign has an array of support and incubator programs.
According to Bleill, the Research Park is host to tons of programs and events throughout the year — over 200, in fact — that focus on entrepreneurship, business accelerators and more.
“There are a lot of student-focused entrepreneurship opportunities on campus and accelerators like the iVenture Accelerator or the Illinois AgTech Accelerator,” she says. “We also have other resources for microbusinesses, like Illinois Small Business Development Center at Champaign County EDC, offering no-cost business advising and educational opportunities, and Business Elevator, which is specifically focused on BIPOC companies. Our library also has a ton of resources for businesses and people looking to launch.”
Appealing tax and/or startup incentives are available.
“In addition to programs at the state level, each local unit of government has its own offerings,” says Carly McCrory-McKay. There are also programs like the City of Champaign Diversity Advancement Program (CDAP), which encourages City departments, contractors, and other vendors doing business with the City to increase the amount of goods and services provided by local businesses owned by minorities, women, and other socially and economically disadvantaged groups.
Moreover, the City of Urbana recently launched its Commercial Signage Grant Program, which provides funds to businesses for the improvement of commercial signage.
McCrory-McKay says many other, more traditional incentives exist but that Champaign often looks to double the impact of what’s available at the state level.
There’s plenty to do when you’re not working, too.
“One of the things that’s a little underrated here is the cultural, religious and ethnic diversity — and it’s diversity in every sense of the word,” says Bleill.
There’s an impressive culinary scene in Champaign, plus a lot of outdoor adventure to be had.
“It also never hurts when the Illinois athletic teams are doing well; being able to walk to sports and cultural events is great.”
The people are generally just wonderful.
“There is a super supportive community here,” says Bleill. “Regardless of industry, this is a place where people are interested in connecting with new people, and it’s easy to move here and become well-integrated into the community.”
Specifically referring to business support, McCrory-McKay says that’s well integrated, too. “All the partners that interact, small and large, work together incredibly frequently. In addition to low barriers to entry, there’s a high spirit of collaboration you don’t see elsewhere.”
This article was sponsored by Visit Champaign County.