October 18-20 | Tucson, AZ

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University of Illinois and alumni collaborate on launch of Illini Angel network — Illini Angels

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October 18-20, 2023 / Tucson, AZ
The annual summit for research institution gap fund and accelerator programs, including proof of concept programs, startup accelerators, and university venture funds

The Story

Illinois Ventures – the U of I System’s venture capital arm – and a group of leading alumni from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign announced the formation of Illini Angels today.

It will support early-stage companies that have founders or leadership who are connected to the U of I System family – faculty, alumni, or students from any of the three universities, as well as companies that license university technology. That support will include seed funding, advice, and mentorship. The angel network plans to focus on innovative companies that leverage the University of Illinois at Urbanan-Champaign’s expertise in fields like engineering, computer science, healthcare, ag tech, and energy.

“There’s been such pent-up demand for this idea. Illinois entrepreneurs, faculty, and staff are regularly approached by alumni who would like to invest in or engage with our university startups. They know that great opportunities are born there every day,” said Nancy Sullivan, CEO and managing director of Illinois Ventures.

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is the number three public university for raising capital, according to PitchBook. Its alumni have started nearly 550 companies that have raised more than $21 billion.

“No place has the power to change the world like the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. And no institution has the scale and breadth of excellence to do it in so many different ways. Our alumni, our faculty, our students whether close to home, across the country or around the globe are leaders and innovators in every field imaginable. We are grateful that such an incredible group of alumni are stepping forward as Illini Angels to back other members of the Illinois family. And we can’t wait to see the great companies that come out of this new organization,” said the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Chancellor Robert J. Jones.

Places like the financial services company Affirm, cancer-focused biotech company Revolution Medicines, location tracker Jiobit, and e-commerce leader ShipBob have all grown out of the Illini entrepreneurial ecosystem in recent years.

“Lots of great companies have come from Illinois grads and faculty members, and such great research and ideas come out of the student body. We needed a visible, formal group of people affiliated with the university to help seed these ideas during their early days and add operational expertise as mentors. So we’re building one,” said Craig Vodnik. Vodnik is a graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Grainger College of Engineering and a founder of Cleverbridge, an international e-commerce and billing company.

According to Ivy Walker, “We’ll be tapping our global network, identifying the next generation of transformational ideas, and giving them the capital they need to get going and thrive.” Walker is founder of two Chicago-based startups, AskCoda and Helios Digital Learning. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s College of Applied Health Sciences.

Paul Couston is a great example of those ideas that Walker described. He founded his first company, Optivolt Labs, while an engineering student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He is now a co-founder and CEO of Ascent Integrated Tech. Ascent offers a platform for integrating incident response information and improving the safety of firefighters, special forces, and SWAT officers.

“Raising capital is hard, especially in the early stages. Illini Angels simplifies the angel investing process and lets founders focus on building. Successful Illini financed both of my ventures, and their network reach is incredibly helpful when starting a new venture. I’m excited for what Illini Angels will do for the next generation of Illinios entrepreneurs,” Couston said.

Illini Angels will hold its inaugural meeting this spring and consider an initial round of prospective portfolio companies.

Illini Angels is open to members and prospective portfolio companies. For details on the network, membership requirements, and information for startups, see: www.illini-angels.com.


Full story: University of Illinois and alumni collaborate on launch of Illini Angel network — Illini Angels


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