Some Evanston aldermen signaled Monday that they’re reluctant to continue providing money for the Technology Innovation Center unless it can show improved results.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said the center, headquartered at 820 Davis St., isn’t generating enough new businesses that grow in the community.

Too many of the business incubator’s tenants, she said, either aren’t growing, or move out of Evanston as soon as they emerge from the incubator.

Burrus voted against the staff plan to provide $25,000 to the center for operations in the first quarter of this year.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said she would vote for the grant, but that she hopes the city will wean the center from the need for city support soon.

She also expressed concern about the results achieved by the center, and said she’d seen one recently in Scottsdale, Ariz., that appears to be much more successful.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said he agreed with Grover and wants the council to review the center’s performance in six months.

The funding extension ultimately was approved on a 7-1 vote.

The non-profit Technology Innovation Center was established in 1986 by Northwestern University and the city, but NU has not provided financial support to it in recent years.

It has come under criticism in the past for having a board dominated by the landlord who owns the buildings in which the center operates.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Evanston and Innovation

    I cannot speak to the 'problems' that are suppose to exist with the Incubator but I do know that at least past tenants say the Evanston taxes and rents have forced them to move after their time there.

    If Evanston is ever to move beyond being a bedroom community [with high taxes and crime few would associate with a 'bedroom' community] something has to change.  We have already got rid of so many businesses that to talk about 'shopping' in Evanston is a joke.  Manufacturing and non-retail [if you can even call it that] are all but gone.

    With NU and a number of highly educated professionals Evanston should be able to produce and keep those in technology, science and business [Kellogg specializations].  Maybe not become another Slicon Valley but certainly much more than it is.  Instead they get on the train every day and go from [or pass through Evanston] to those kinds of businesses, technology, etc. jobs in Chicago and other suburbs.  If not for NU and NU resources [and trains going through Evanston] keeping them here, many/most would move elsewhere.

    As it is we don't use NU but instead wait until they start to work at companies in Chicago and pay those companies 2-3 or more the fees to put these recent NU grads to work on the projects. [If anyone thinks senior people do the work other than reviewing the final draft, they are fooling themselves]. 

    Whether it is the Incubator as is or whatever you want to call it, we need more not less !


  2. I absolutely agree

    I absolutely agree with "anonymous"…Evanston needs more innovation, not less. 

    Evanston's loss of businesses is real. Evanston needs a plan which grows, attracts,  and entices businesses to stay. 

    Perhaps the ownership of the "Incubator" plant should not be the same entity which supports the "incubator," as that appears to be a conflict of interests. 

    What Evanston then should do is to examine the process that apparently seems to work in other places and duplicate that here. And, in part, give up  this goofy town/gown conflict and earnestly court the resources that NU has. 


  3. Another potential disaster in the making?

    As a business owner who is an activist in the Illinois entrepreneurial community, I appreciate initiatives designed to help new businesses get off the ground. 

    But how typical that this particular venture is yet another "thing" in Evanston that NU had its fingerprints on at one time, and for which it now no longer provides funding.  So the city is left holding the proverbial bag of needed financial support. 

    Interesting, though, that NU has managed to get itself prominently placed on the TIC website.  No such comparable shout-out for the City of Evanston, which is actually providing funding dollars. 

    I hope the TIC survives, thrives, and creates success for the fledgling businesses, their owners, and the city, too.  But I have to ask:  Where is the intestinal fortitude among city fathers/mothers to hold "deadbeat dad" NU responsible for continuing to support this entity it has spawned?

  4. Technology in Evanston

    I co-host the annual CMS Expo Learning & Business Conference there in Evanston. We bring in approximately 300-350 people annually to the city from around the world for a one-of-a-kind technology / business conference. I wanted to take a few moments to reply on this string…

    I don't live in Evanston (I live in Crystal Lake), but I know how hard it is sometimes to hold a mirror up to your own city, and not wince a little bit about its flaws. Sometimes, just like we do with our own selves, we magnify those flaws. So, for what it's worth…our conference attendees love Evanston, and so do we. The City Council, Downtown, Chamber of Commerce and the Technology Innovation Center all have been very hospitable to us at CMS Expo. I frankly think Evanston is the perfect place to hold small to mid-sized technology conferences.  You've got a gem there, something to build on.

    We are returning for the 4th year to Evanston this year, based on feedback from our own attendees, many of whom come from out-of-country.

    The prices are extremely competitive, the quality of time spent in Evanston is outstanding, the environment is beautiful, the taxes (despite the above commenter) are far less than hotels in Chicago, New York, or SF;  the Mayor, City Council, Downtown, Chamber at Tech Innovtion Center are all extremely positive and hospitable, meeting with us several times in person to help us coordinate our event.

    Oh, and the food and service at the Orrington is marvelous. That doesn't hurt, when touting the City to other tech companies, conferences, etc.   Summed up, you've got a pretty alluring unique selling proposition there; one that's rather difficult to beat.


    John Coonen
    Co-host, CMS Expo Learning & Business Conference


    1. Evanston and Startups

      The Chicago Trib has an article '65 local startups move into 1871 in Mart'



      Evanston should be poised to offer the space [look at all the empty buildings] and hungry inventors [NU, young well educated people] to foster a number of new start-up, esp. in technology.

      In Chicago the two schools with engineering schools–UIC and IIT–are not in the class with NU and Evanston should have a living working enviornent preferable to Chicago.

      I'm not suggesting the Council pour money into firms 'it thinks will succeed'—no the Council just needs to get out of the way of new business coming.  Smart individuals will make their own success if the government does not get in their way—and stays out of their way when they mature.  As it is many start-ups start in Evanston but get pushed out by rents, taxes and the government hounding them.

      Surely if any help is needed, these types of companies deserve it more than wine bars, waffle houses, awnings, fences for resturants, etc..   And surely Evanston needs the jobs and revenue.  Would NU come to Evanston again—oh that's right NU really built Evanston in to what it could be—unfortunately not what it is.

      BTW I'm not with NU.  Just wanting Evanston to get out of the rut it is in.

      1. 1871 and NU

        Not sure if you perhaps thought it was not, but NU is one of the university partners of 1871, according to Crain's and the 1871 site.  (Scroll down to partners to find the Kellogg logo.)

      1. Keeping startups

        It's not a question of why can't we get them to start here, we do.  The TIC actually does a great job of getting the start ups established here.  When the alderpeople blame the TIC for the lack of expansion or the moving out of Evanston their criticisms are extremely misplaced to the point of cluelessness.

        If the Economic Development Committee had any wits about them they would conduct exit interviews with those who have left.  As a small business owner who has known many of the people who have left it all comes down to one issue. They all love what we offer, great transportation, stores to run errands, lots of restaurants for the employees during lunch, NU and it's talent pool.   It's the cost of occupancy, which is very expensive because of commercial real estate taxes here, simple as that. 

        Same reason so many large companies leave Cook County and locate their business parks along the interstates in Lake County.  Remember, corporations don't really use the benefits of those tax dollars like a resident, so why would you pay buckets more in taxes for nothing in return.

        The alderpeople and other bureaucrats dictate the r.e. tax rates, not the TIC, and if the startups leave because of higher rental rates, then who is really to blame for that, TIC?  So these aldeerpeople making accusations that the TIC isn't "performing" need to look in the mirror and get a clue. 

        Eventually same thing will happen with CoLab, the newly funded startup hub, because the real underlying fundamental reason has still not been addressed.

  5. If you can’t eat or drink it, it’s not for us

    Apparently, Evanston's focus is on eatiung and drinking establishments and not growth concerns. I've no "beef" with restaurants but they don't tend to grow like other concerns and if they do, they merely expand to other towns.

    $25K to the TIC seems like a far better investment with very small risk than the very risky other bets (wine bar, waffle house, etc) we're wont to make.

    Get over your NU fears, Council, and try to see into a future that isn't fried or poured.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *