Wednesday, October 17, 2018

UIS names new director of economic development and innovation in an effort to spur local business growth

The University of Illinois Springfield has named Springfield-native Bruce Sommer as its new director of economic development and innovation. Sommer will serve as the lead facilitator in UIS’ efforts to spur local business growth in the Springfield area as a hub of the Discovery Partners Institute and the Illinois Innovation Network (DPI-IIN).

Sommer will work with local business and community partners, linking the region with the wide array of economic and educational resources and opportunities being created by the DPI-IIN within Illinois and beyond. Sommer will foster the development of local partnerships to create the capacity for Springfield to be a vital and sustainable hub in the statewide network.

“This hiring, coupled with the acquisition of Innovate Springfield and the announcement of Springfield as the first hub of the Discovery Partners Institute and the Illinois Innovation Network, reflects a serious and sustained commitment by the University of Illinois Springfield to advance the economic health and vitality of Springfield and the region through partnership with the state of Illinois, the city of Springfield, and local business leaders,” said Dennis Papini, UIS vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost.

Sommer has taught at UIS since 2010 as a visiting instructor in the Department of Management and has served as an executive-in-residence at the UIS Center for Entrepreneurship. He is the co-founder and chair of Innovate Springfield, a business and social incubator located in downtown Springfield that was recently acquired by the University of Illinois Springfield. Sommer is a co-founder and previously served as chair of the Sangamon CEO program, a year-long curriculum for high school seniors in Sangamon County that teaches them about entrepreneurship.

“I am looking forward to working with local business and community leaders to grow our economy by utilizing our incredible talent and new resources at UIS, as well as the Illinois Innovation Network and Discovery Partners Institute, to expand existing businesses and develop new ones,” said Sommer.

Formerly a startup entrepreneur and now an established business leader and investor, Sommer is currently a founder and managing partner of Springfield-based private equity firm NextGen Ventures, which invests in startups and mature companies. He is also a founder and managing partner at Hill-Hanover Group, a real estate investment firm based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Sommer earned his bachelor’s degree in public accounting from Illinois Wesleyan University and a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from the Whittemore School of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire. He also worked as a research associate at the Center for Venture Research and as a fellow/lecturer at the Whittemore School.

In August 2018, it was announced that Springfield would become the first hub of the statewide Discovery Partners Institute and the Illinois Innovation Network. The new initiative, led by the U of I System, was announced last fall and is being developed to accelerate statewide job creation and economic development through groundbreaking research and innovation.

As the network’s first hub, UIS will receive $1.5 million in funding over the next three years to expand programs supporting start-up businesses, entrepreneurs and innovation that promotes the public good.

DPI will be developed in Chicago and will bring together top faculty in agriculture, healthcare, computing and other critical fields from the U of I System and partner universities. Nearly 100 new researchers also will be added, and together they will connect with hundreds of businesses and thousands of students over time, as well as with entrepreneurs and venture capital firms.

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