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Q&A: Stubbs Aims To Foster Growth In Roles With Peoria Next, SBDC

Bradley University

Mike Stubbs hopes to use his skills for fostering entrepreneurship to help strengthen the Peoria area’s economy.

Mike Stubbs
Mike Stubbs

Earlier this month, Stubbs was appointed to the joint roles of Director of the Peoria Next Innovation Center and the Director of Technology Commercialization at Bradley University’s Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

Stubbs recently spoke with WCBU reporter Joe Deacon about what he hopes to accomplish in the positions and Peoria’s potential for economic growth. This transcript of the conversation has been lightly edited for brevity, clarity, and length.

Joe Deacon: What drew your interest in leading the Peoria Next Innovation Center and working with the Illinois Small Business Development Center?

Mike Stubbs: I’m originally from Peoria, and I have been working in different innovative fields prior to taking these new positions; I was working at FTI Consulting in Chicago for 8½ years in their intellectual property practice. I wanted to get into a new position that brought together my skill sets (and) allowed me to kind of promote and assist the community that I grew up in: So, returning to Peoria, assisting companies here, and really identifying, evaluating, and pursuing innovative ideas and technologies to then create businesses to promote the community.

So as a Peoria native, how will your connection to the city and the area benefit you in these duties? And, how long has it been since you’ve been away and what’s it like to be back?

Stubbs: I graduated high school here from Richwoods, and then I went to the University of Illinois for five years, got a master’s (degree) in accounting and got a CPA. Then I started at Deloitte (Financial Advisory Services) in Chicago, was there for almost five years, and then was at FTI Consulting. So I was in Chicago for 10 years, I lived in Bloomington for about 4 years, and now we’re moving back to Peoria. It’s a big return.

As far as the benefits of being a Peoria native, it’s great. There are a lot of different organizations here that work together in an innovation space. So having familiarity with some of the people and those organizations has kind of got me a little bit of a head start than I would have been not knowing the area in that community. So obviously, Bradley University and everything Bradley brings to the community; I was familiar with Peoria Next Innovation Center and some of the companies here that have graduated from the center and promoted jobs in the area, like Natural Fiber Welding and now recently VirtuSense.

But in addition to that, knowing how OSF (HealthCare) and Caterpillar and all of the different larger entities as well as the supporting entities kind of fit together in the big puzzle, and feeling that there’s a big push for innovation, as far as kind of the motivation and all of the different energy going toward innovation is really great. So I was kind of familiar with that, the starting of Distillery Labs and the support from the Greater Peoria EDC and the Peoria Innovation Allianceand different organizations that can get together and make Peoria a great place for entrepreneurship to thrive.

What roles do you see Peoria Next and the SBDC having in strengthening the Peoria economy and fostering the innovation, and how do you intend to help those roles?

Stubbs: You know, there’s really a shared mission between the Illinois SBDC at Bradley University as well as Peoria Next in that they promote business startup and growth. So from the programs at the SBDC, from a Director of Technology Commercialization perspective, I assist companies with innovative ideas in figuring out how to commercialize those innovative products and services to get them to customers and the communities. That then dovetails into Peoria Next Innovation Center, where we have spaces and resources for those startup companies and those researchers and as entrepreneurs to take those ideas and really work on them and perfect them, with the support and resources we have here, into creating products and companies that are viable, that then graduate into the community and create jobs and grow the local economy.

So will this be a kind of a thing where you’re fostering startups here from Peoria? Or will you also be trying to attract new business from outside Peoria to come here? Or kind of a combination of both?

Stubbs: Definitely a combination of both. We’d love to make sure that any great ideas that are coming from Peoria stay in Peoria, and know that they have a home here, and assistance here with all the different resources we have. But in addition to that, as far as Director of Technology Commercialization with the Illinois SBDC housed at Bradley University, there aren’t too many directors of technology commercialization within the state that work with the SBDC. So currently, I’m working with different clients that are not only in the area, but outside of the area of Peoria, Illinois.

So what qualities about Peoria? Can you emphasize, or what is it about the market that would help foster this innovation then?

Stubbs: So as far as Peoria, obviously people look to the central location and being able to distribute kind of nationally from an easy central area. But in addition to that, it’s the strong kind of intellectual capital that we have here, from the different universities as well as the different companies that foster innovation have shown that they have been leaders in product development. So there’s old examples of that that had been here for decades, as well as new examples of that that are launching currently.

And so where do you see these programs fitting in within say, 5-10 years? Or where do you see the market developing in Peoria and what’s your vision of the future of the city?

Stubbs: Yeah, so the vision of the future of the city is continue an upward trend. Obviously, we have different technologies that fit in different areas: healthcare and OSF’s innovations is huge; manufacturing is huge. There’s Natural Fiber Welding, which has created a product that then they have their yarn product as well as the synthetic leather that go into different applications, whether it’s actual apparel, or shoes, or cars or that sort of thing, based on their recent funding.

So in relation to that, it’s hard to kind of predict what specific technology is going to be the main focus within Peoria in 5 or 10 years. Clearly, manufacturing will still be here, the healthcare will still be a leader in that as well. But it seems like there is momentum for companies that are starting up in Peoria and staying in Peoria that show that this is a really great place to thrive.

Even from an e-commerce perspective with Bump Boxes, they’ve shown great success there. So those are really grown internally from Peoria, as far as the talent and the ideas and the support for those companies. So it’s hard to then predict where the next great idea is going to come from, but it’s fostering those companies that are here to maintain their excellence and help them grow, and then finding what’s the next niche.

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.