PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Tim Killeen, President of the University of Illinois System is wrapping up the final leg of his Leadership State Tour.

With three universities and three regional campuses including one in Peoria, Killeen is making his rounds to see how the University System can help improve different issues such as workforce development, rural health care, and broadband digital access.

The purpose of Thursday’s stop in Peoria focused on Greater Peoria’s entrepreneurship ecosystem and exploring ways that entrepreneurs and institutions of higher learning can connect.

“We learn a lot. We learn a lot. And we kind of understand what our role is and how we can do an even better job in impacting the state in positive ways,” said President Killeen.

Panelists included local entrepreneurs and local university leadership talking about challenges, successes, and partnership opportunities including the Illinois Innovation Network which includes all state public universities.

“Each hub builds an economic presence in its region that is tailored to that region’s need,” said Killeen. “The hubs are not competing one against each other but they’re creating regional powerhouses.”

Christell Frausto, owner of TequilaRia was a panelist. She started her wine and spirits business in 2020 and is preparing to open up a restaurant by the end of this year. Frausto started working with Bradley University’s Turner Center for Entrepreneurship as a client and now serves on the center’s advisory board.

“The work that we’ve done is so rewarding but how do we get the message out further? So people that wouldn’t normally come through the doors of the university knowing that there’s free resources there they can feel comfortable and build that trust,” said Frausto.

One of President Killeen’s takeaways is for Illinois to tap into its marketable assets such as affordability and “Midwestern Nice,” as Chad Udell, co-founder of SparkLearn mentioned.

“Let’s try not to be like others. Let’s be authentically ourselves in our setting and just build it out,” said Killeen.

Roundtable Participants