From left, TalentESO's Kayode Balogun, Deepak Dhankher, and Corey Honegger.
CENTER'S NEW HOME WILL SHIFT IDEAS TO REALITY
TalentESO is among a growing number of University of Illinois Springfield Innovation Center success stories.
The Springfield-based start-up offers streamlined IT support so companies can focus on growth not tech.
Without the center’s incubator, Innovate Springfield, TalentESO CEO Deepak Dhankher may have given up on his big idea.
“Innovate Springfield gave me the connections I needed. The incubator ecosystem sets you up with other entrepreneurs and sets you up for success,” he said.
In 2022, the UIS Innovation Center purchased space to create its new home thanks to funding from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration. The $37.3 million supports several of the University of Illinois System’s Illinois Innovation Network (IIN) initiatives. IIN’s 15 hubs, including the Springfield center, work to speed up economic growth across the state.
In addition to housing Innovate Springfield, the center will feature technology labs and maker spaces, new workforce and professional education initiatives, and collaborative space for advancing social progress.
Collaboration was key for Dhankher, who first partnered with Kirk Kellus.
“Kirk had a software idea for managing his union’s membership, and I had an engineer interested in building apps,” he said. “That’s the kind of unfulfilled need TalentESO helps resolve. Together, we figured it out. That’s how new businesses grow.”
Just ask Debbie Mukherjea, who uses her inquisitive nature to improve healthcare. Innovate Springfield is helping her launch Novear Therapeutics. The start-up not only slows the progression of hearing loss but also restores it using a two-drug combination.
“We want to help people who lost their hearing because of damage from noise or treatments like chemotherapy. There’s nothing out there like this for them,” she said.
Innovate Springfield provided Mukherjea a space to work, as well as grant writing and pitching expertise.
“I’m a scientist. I didn't realize I had an entrepreneurial gene,” she said.
A quarter of Innovate Springfield’s nearly 100 members are UIS students, faculty and staff. They use the facility for classes and community programs, as well as meetings with external partners.
Cory Honneger, TalentESO COO, touts the can-do energy at the UIS Innovation Center.
“In these highly concentrated communities, one person introduces you to another. Then it just keeps adding up,” he said. “There’s nothing better than someone telling you they don’t think their idea is possible, but you know it is. And you know you can help them.”
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