The Coleman Entrepreneurship Center (CEC) has fostered innovation at DePaul and among the Chicago business community since it began in 2003. Working closely with faculty from DePaul's nationally ranked academic program in entrepreneurship, the center has everything to help students and alumni cultivate, explore and launch new businesses. What it didn't have was a central place to house its leading-edge programming. Until now.
In April, the CEC unveiled a new center, a new director and a newly invigorated strategic plan. Bruce Leech, the CEC's new executive director, says the center's new space, located on the seventh floor of DePaul Center on the university's Loop Campus, is the perfect hub for the innovation ecosystem cultivated by the CEC.
"When I joined the center eight years ago (as an advisory board member) we were in a small office the size of a closet on the eighth floor," says Leech (MBA '81). (Read more about Leech and the CEC here.)
"This is the first time we have nearly 4,000 square feet, and we're not renting out someone's conference room or sharing office space," says Leech. "This is our stake in the ground and we're so excited to bring students, faculty and businesses together in this new space."
Designing a New Entrepreneurship Experience
With its name emblazoned in gold lettering above the door, the new Coleman Entrepreneurship Center has the flavor of a modern startup.
Inside is an expansive, highly adaptable space that can be converted easily from an intimate, co-working space for student entrepreneurs to an 80-seat event room complete with big-screen projector or a classroom for business students. The center's tables and chairs are all on wheels, and whiteboards for brainstorming line the walls.
With the new space. Leech says the CEC wants to foster a more collaborative, cross-disciplinary approach to entrepreneurship, inviting students throughout DePaul to come and work together in the new space.
"We'd like to connect students from across campus and across the Chicago community," Leech says. "We have students from the College of Computing and Digital Media who are desperately trying to get more information about starting their own businesses.
"What if we could connect a CDM student with a finance student and with a marketing student, and they come together here at the center to work on their business ideas? That's the vision I have for our future."
Ensuring DePaul's Entrepreneurship Future
Walk around the facility and the vibe is nimble and futuristic. Abigail Ingram, the CEC's new assistant director, says the center's new digs are more than just modern furniture and slick conference rooms with the latest in technical communication.
Founded with a grant from the Coleman Foundation, a Chicago-based organization that supports entrepreneurial education, the center offers DePaul students and alumni seminars, workshops and links to resources for starting and growing new ventures. The CEC also hosts an annual startup competition called "Launch DePaul," and has a startup internship program that pairs students with newly founded Chicago businesses. The CEC had more than 102 guest speakers and more than 2,000 people participating in its programming in its last fiscal year.
"The Coleman Entrepreneurship Center and DePaul's academic entrepreneurship program have been working really well for more than a decade," says Ingram. "Now we have all these elements that are really successful together in one space."
Both Leech and Ingram say the new space isn't meant to replace or hinder efforts of established business incubators that have popped up in Chicago in recent years including 1871 and Blue1647. Instead the CEC's space is a bridge for students and alumni to the thriving startup community in Chicago.
'We're not reinventing the wheel," says Leech. "This is just a space where students can nurture their business ideas and try them out before unleashing them in the 'real world.' It's experiential and offers them a safe space to innovate while minimizing their risk."
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