Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Spotlight: Champaign-Urbana, IL

Champaign-Urbana, IL

Just south of Chicago, Champaign-Urbana is fostering a growing community of entrepreneurs and innovators.

Champaign-Urbana, IL is a metropolitan area located about 130 miles south of Chicago. Although it’s technically made up of two cities, they are generally referred to collectively as a single identity. To that point, Champaign-Urbana was listed in Verizon’s 2018 rankings of the most innovative metropolitan areas in the United States, coming in at 47th overall.

On the other hand, both cities appeared separately on Wallethub’s 2019 rankings of the best small cities to start a business: Champaign at 553 and Urbana at 598. Despite their low final rankings, however, Champaign did finish 69th overall in the “Access to Resources” category, suggesting a relatively robust collection of resources for the city’s size. Additionally, Champaign ranked second in Silicon Prairie News’ “State of the Silicon Prairie” report for 2018.

Based on these rankings, FundingSage has reviewed the resources that make up Champaign-Urbana’s entrepreneurial ecosystem:

Entrepreneurial Meetups:

Based down the road in Bloomington, IL, Central Illinois REI is an organization that supports real estate investors throughout Central Illinois, including Champaign and Urbana.

Not explicitly aimed at entrepreneurs, the Champaign-Urbana Data Science User Group is dedicated to improving business, networking and learning through data science.

Startup Chambana is a networking group dedicated to supporting startups and entrepreneurship in the Champaign-Urbana metropolitan area.


Regular Entrepreneurial Events:

The Champaign County Chamber of Commerce hosts regular events, many of which center around supporting small business and entrepreneurship.

Innovation Celebration is an annual awards ceremony and conference celebrating entrepreneurship in Champaign and the surrounding area.

2019 marks 25 years of Reflections | Projections, an annual technology conference hosted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Research Park at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign hosts a variety of regular events, including conferences, networking events, educational opportunities and more.


Startup Competitions:

Students at the University of Illinois can compete for over $250,000 in cash prizes and in-kind services in the school’s Cozad New Venture Challenge.

Not a traditional startup competition, the Illinois Innovation Prize is $20,000 awarded annually to a student innovator making a positive change in the world.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Research Park organizes a number of business plan competitions for area entrepreneurs.


Co-working Spaces:

[co][lab] is a co-working space that places a particular emphasis on community and learning through experience.

Collider Cowork offers both shared and private office space with a variety of amenities available, as well as hosting regular events for members.

Lodgic Everyday Community is an all-in-one space that includes co-working and office space as well as dining options and childcare services.

With a variety of membership levels and a wide array of amenities, SHAREspace is a professional co-working space in downtown Champaign.



The Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab is a workshop that offers the tools and equipment necessary for small-scale rapid prototyping.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s MakerLab provides a number of 3D printing, design and scanning tools to students and faculty.

Founded in 2017, the Imagine Lab is a small makerspace located in the Champaign County Public Library.

Makerspace Urbana provides its members with access to a wide variety of tools and equipment and offers several membership plans.



A program of the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation, the Bridge Incubator provides a number of resources to develop small businesses.

In addition to other incubation services, the University of Illinois’ Business Park hosts the EnterpriseWorks Incubator. It’s known as one of the best-regarded technology incubators in the country.

Launch at the Library is a program that supports area small business by providing development services.

Champaign is home to one location of the Small Business Development Center. The center runs programs around the country to support small businesses.



Parkland College’s CobraVenture is a program that helps develop student startups and provides them with up to $3,000 in seed money.

A program of the University of Illinois’ Research Park, the I-Start Accelerator provides University-affiliated technology startups with a year of development services and funding.

Students at the University of Illinois’ flagship campus in Urbana-Champaign can work with the highly-ranked iVenture Accelerator to help grow their businesses.



Located down the road from Champaign-Urbana, Danville Area Community College is home to a branch of the Small Business Development Center.

Parkland College may not offer entrepreneurship as a course, but students can participate in the school’s Parkland Entrepreneurial Network.

The University of Illinois provides its students with a wide variety of entrepreneurial education and resources, both inside and outside of the classroom.


Angel Groups/VCs:

Based all the way in Peoria, Central IL Angels invests throughout the entire region of Central Illinois, including the Champaign-Urbana area.

First Leaf Capital is a team that invests in startups and makes loans to small business owners in the area.

The Illinois Growth and Innovation Fund (ILGIF) works to attract, support, and retain technology companies in the state of Illinois.

IllinoisVENTURES invests in promising technology companies throughout the state.

Sierra Ventures has locations in Chicago, Champaign, and San Diego that invest in tech startups throughout the Midwest and West Coast.

A program of the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation, Urbana-Champaign Angel Network’s goal is to develop the county’s economy.


Entrepreneurial Newsletter Coverage:

Based in Champaign, Central Illinois Business Magazine offers a free one-year subscription to those interested.

A newsletter for those who are interested in business news in both the Champaign-Urbana area and Illinois as a whole.

The Illinois Business Journal offers a subscription as well as an email newsletter with the biggest headlines.


Are you familiar with the entrepreneurial ecosystem infrastructure in Champaign – Urbana?  If so, let us know via a comment below and we will add it to the article. 

Interested in Ecosystem Spotlights of other cities in the USA?

Chicago, IL, Lexington, KY, South Bend, IN

Quinn Pilkey

Quinn is a journalism major at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He also serves as a freelance author for Hashtag Basketball where he writes about the NBA's Charlotte Hornets and at FundingSage where he researches and writes about entrepreneurial ecosystems.