Thursday, July 02, 2020

Collaboration Success

The moment the Illinois “stay at home” order went into effect on March 21, the wheels were turning in Bruce Sommer’s head. Sommer, UIS’ Director of Economic Development and Innovation knew businesses would have questions on how to handle the temporary shutdown, so he gathered a team of experts to field those questions online.

“In the beginning, there were so many questions and so many things going on,” Sommer said. “People were concerned, so our first webinars were about the relief programs for businesses, how to take your business online and the economic impact of a shutdown. No one was providing them that information.”

Sommer used his own personal Zoom account for the first free webinar which limited his capacity to 100 attendees. Those spots filled within the first minute. The next week he used a UIS Zoom account, and attendance surpassed 100.

Since that time, Sommer and his rotating team of experts have hosted nearly 1,500 attendees with weekly webinars on business, education, health and the economy. Some topics came about as suggestions from frequent flier attendees.

“The amazing thing is that, for many of the panelists, I’ve asked them to participate on very short notice and no one has turned me down. We typically have five panelists each week. The collective collaboration around this has been my greatest reward,” Sommer said.

The weekly webinars are a collaboration between the UIS Office of Economic Development and Innovation, Innovate Springfield, and the UIS colleges of Business and Management and Public Affairs and Administration. Community partners include The Community Health Round Table, SIU School of Medicine, local businesses and state and local government officials.

“When I moved back to Springfield, people in social impact circles within the community felt like UIS was an underutilized resource,” Sommer said. “Through these webinars, we have inserted UIS into the conversations. We have incredible researchers and teachers and the community is craving that leadership."

Sommer said the success of the webinars is directly attributable to the layers of knowledge around the Springfield community and UIS campus. That is what Innovate Springfield, the first hub in the Illinois Innovation Network is about, bringing local resources and collaboration together. 

“People came together in a time of crisis,” Sommer said. “It’s a great example of IIN’s goal of working collaboratively at all times.”

Moving forward, webinars will alternate between a business and health focus. Older webinars can be accessed on the UIS Academic Affairs website.