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Evanston firm wins state innovation award

Downtown Evanston-based Tula Foods has one of two top awards in the statewide 2009 Innovate Illinois competition that drew entries from 130 companies.

Tula won $30,000 to help commercialize its product, Better Whey of Life, a line of protein-enhanced foods.

Tula’s founder and president, Daphne Mazarakis, did her undergraduate work at Northwestern University, and spent eight years with Kraft Foods managing several of their largest product lines.

In 2007, Mazarakis, a Chicago resident, chose The Technology Innovation Center, commonly called the Incubator, in downtown Evanston as the place to start Tula Foods.

TIC is a not-for-profit incubator dedicated to supporting the growth of very early stage technology-based businesses. It is an extremely entrepreneurial business environment that fosters collaboration and sharing among young companies, while respecting the independence and self-reliance that motivates them.

"Being a member of the TIC has given me opportunities that I would not ordinarily have had. The TIC is plugged in to opportunities for entrepreneurs. That has given me exposure, which in turn has resulted in some unexpected, very positive PR," said Mazarakis. "Additionally, we are able to commiserate with other entrepreneurs."

TIC provides flexible, cost-effective leases in a high-tech business environment that offers existing infrastructure including high-speed broadband internet and Northwestern University’s fiber optic internet connection. Day-to-day necessities from office supplies to a phone system, fax line and copy machine are provided for shared use. Tenants of TIC have available to them a network of in-house and external consultants, who assist in areas such as financing, law and other specific business issues. In addition, access to the community of like-minded entrepreneurs within TIC is an invaluable asset in growing a new business.

"Tula Foods is one of our strongest companies," said Chuck Happ, Chairman of the Technology Innovation Center. "Daphne is a brilliant marketer and a creative and persistent business woman. Her brand is already becoming a household name. We are all proud of her award."

In March 2009, Business Week Magazine named Evanston one of the 50 best small cities in the U.S. for startup businesses based on factors including workforce education level, existence of thriving local businesses, availability of venture capital, and proximity of a major university.

"We are very fortunate to have this type of facility," said Downtown Evanston Executive Director Carolyn Dellutri. "TIC is ideally located within steps of one of our main parking garages and both the Metra and CTA train stations."

When asked about her plans for the award money, Mazarakis said, "We are refining both our formulation and package. You will see a new and improved version of our product in 2010. We are using the funds to work on our R&D innovation."

"I plan to stay in Evanston," she added. "We have already made our first office ‘expansion’ earlier this year within the TIC."

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