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Startup businesses are incubating on Peoria's West Bluff

Bradley University

The Peoria NEXT Innovation Center along West Main Street is the birthplace of more than one local startup success story.

The 48,000 square foot Bradley University business incubator was founded 15 years ago this August.

Michael Stubbs is executive director of Peoria NEXT.

"The idea is, you provide startups and entrepreneurs and businesses lower than market rates for rent for space. And then those rates increase every year to then incentivize those businesses to then launch out in the community and bring new businesses in," he said.

That rented space includes not only standard office space; but also commercial wet labs, or research laboratories. It's the only space of its type available within a 90-mile radius, Stubbs said, noting comparable facilities in Chicago cost about four times as much.

Peoria NEXT has provided a venue for startups like Veloxity Labs. It was also a launching pad for now-graduated businesses like Natural Fiber Welding, which closed on an $85 million Series B funding round this past spring.

"You can do it here; it's proven that this happening," Stubbs says of successful startups happening locally. "Peoria doesn't do a great job of highlighting their success stories and really celebrating those companies. And so that's what we're really trying to do, is get more exposure to those companies and the great things that are happening."

Bridget Booker is behind one of those success stories. An ironworker by trade, Booker is founder of the union contractor Reign Construction.

"I think that's the beauty of Peoria NEXT. It's a hub. Being able to have that networking system and those resources. Peoria NEXT has a great offering of those resources," she said.

Booker said the diversity of startups co-working under one roof at Peoria NEXT is one of its strengths.

"The possibilities are endless. The labs, the technology," she said. "I'm seeing people grow. That has been great. But yes, I think that's the beauty of it is anything can come out of Peoria NEXT."

Peoria NEXT is hosting an open house on Aug. 3 to celebrate its 15th anniversary.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.