Special Segment: Business Boost

March 8, 2010 8:49:47 PM PST
The Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center is kicking off a new program to mentor local entrepreneurs. The program is designed to create or save 2,000 jobs.

In 2004, Greg O'Neill and Ken Miller opened up the specialty cheese and wine shop Pastoral in Lakeview.

"We're at a crossroads with our business right now," said O'Neill.

After expanding to shops in the Loop and at the Chicago French Market, Pastoral's co-owners are trying to figure out their next step.

"There's a great opportunity for us to take something that we've shown to Chicagoland and really expand it," said Miller.

Pastoral is part of a new stimulus funded mentoring program called the Cluster Acceleration Program or CAP. Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center president David Weinstein says the grant will be used to help local businesses with high-growth potentials make more money and hire more people.

"We have found that they need the certain types of advisors and mentors to help them navigate around the blind turns that entrepreneurs face running their businesses," said Weinstein.

Wheaton Warrenville South High School junior Erica Filarski is using Captain U, a local company in the CAP program to help her with the college soccer recruiting process.

"I think it's giving a lot of people a lot more opportunity than they had because before, you had to be the top player on the top club to get noticed," said Filarski.

"What we're trying to do is kind of disabuse a lot of the misconceptions that people have about how the whole recruiting process works by showing them a better way," said Avi Stopper, CEO, Captain U.

Started at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Captain U creates online profiles so athletes can interact with college coaches.

In addition to Captain U and Pastoral, the eight businesses in the new program range from healthcare to alternative energy to Internet companies and are expanding into new and growing industries.

"We make videogames to research how to make money with videogames," said Joshua Hernandez, CEO, Tap Me Games.

The co-founders of one of the CAP companies, Tap Me Games, created a racecar driver-like sponsorship system for players and a platform for embedding ads in their mobile games.

"Now with mobile devices in everyone's pocket, everyone's connected all the time. So mobile is a part of life now," said Jason Moore, co-founder, Tap Me Games.

Through the program's mentoring, Tap Me Games plans to grow and hire people right here in Chicago.

"President Obama put it best when he said the entrepreneurs are going to drive the economy and drive these new job creations, and they're investing towards that," said Hernandez.

The CEC program is designed to help these businesses become ten million dollar companies over five years. Next year, 20 businesses statewide will be involved.

  • Captain U (IT- New Media) - www.captainu.com
  • Ecomobil (Alternative Energy) - www.ecomobil.us
  • Evive Health (IT - Health Care) - www.evivehealth.com
  • In Context Solutions (IT- New Media) - www.incontextsolutions.net
  • MANA Food Bar (Consumer Products) - www.manafoodbar.com
  • Pastoral (Consumer Products) - www.pastoralartisan.com
  • ProOnGo (IT- Financial Services) - www.ProOnGo.com
  • Tap Me Games (It- New Media) - www.tapme.net