USF to Create New Small Business Accelerator through $500,000 Federal Grant

Congressman Bill Foster

Joliet, Ill. – For over eight years, the University of St. Francis (USF) Business Incubator has supported the economic development of the Will County region by fostering new business development. Now through a $500,000 U.S. Small Business Administration FY23 Congressional Community Project Grant supported by U.S. Congressman Bill Foster (D-Ill.), Joliet’s university will create a new USF Small Business Accelerator (fully funded by the grant) to specifically benefit small businesses in underserved categories in its ongoing efforts to build the region’s business landscape.

“The USF Small Business Accelerator will provide equity-free accelerator funds and mentorship to businesses and entrepreneurs in underserved categories to promote economic development and job creation, build mentorship relationships in a formal manner to promote future informal mentoring and possible future business partnerships, and integrate senior executives as mentors for entrepreneurs and infuse entrepreneurial thinking into co-curricular activities to promote future economic development,” said Bonnie Covelli, Ed.D., associate professor in the USF College of Business and Health Administration and funding request author.

Covelli added that the USF Small Business Accelerator, which will primarily be located in the USF Business Incubator area on the University’s St. Bonaventure Campus in downtown Joliet, will also provide members with a variety of benefits, including funding, mentorship, training, access to a regional business incubator, and networking opportunities, as well as curricular and co-curricular programming for founders to expand their business knowledge.

According to Shannon Brown, Ph.D., dean of the USF College of Business and Health Administration, USF sees this new project positively impacting the community, as well.

“While this project’s focus is on benefitting small businesses in underserved categories, it will also create positive outcomes for the community, including community-based programming, a speaker series on the resources and benefits available to businesses and entrepreneurs in the region, an offering of support to current and future small businesses in the region, and access to digital and wood shop maker-space equipment relevant to business needs,” Brown said.

Brown added that USF students will also benefit from the new project.

“The Small Business Accelerator encourages entrepreneurial economic development in the region and supports the diverse demographics of our area and our student body. Over 50% of our student body now reports as non-white, and the census data on the demographics in Joliet, Illinois and Will County, Illinois demonstrates growing diversity. USF has also recently been recognized as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), which is defined as a not-for-profit institution of higher learning with a full-time equivalent (FTE) undergraduate student enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic. Therefore, it is important to note that this project will also create experiential learning opportunities for USF students by supporting a student entrepreneurship lab where students learn operations and conduct research in the field of entrepreneurship, business development, regional economic growth, small business finances, marketing, and downtown development (with preference given to students in underserved categories) and integrate student-based learning opportunities with active business development to promote lab-based learning,” she said.

The USF Small Business Accelerator program will work in collaboration with the USF Business Incubator program, and when Accelerator funds are depleted, the USF Business Incubator will continue to support member companies in a sustainable model.

“Locally, the USF Business Incubator has served a majority of startups that fall into the categories of minority-owned (72%), women-owned or co-owned (50%), veteran-owned (one current member) and has a proven track record of serving the initial needs of startups. The businesses that leave the Incubator program take various paths, including: (1) they expand and lease their own office space; (2) they learn their business model is not viable; (3) they cannot raise the capital needed to scale up; (4) they enter accelerator programs outside the area. This proposal hopes to fill the gaps created by lack of funding and the need for an accelerator,” Covelli said.

Brown added that the support of Congressman Foster was instrumental in making the USF Small Business Accelerator possible.

“The University of St. Francis is grateful to the support of Congressman Foster not only for his investment in USF, but in the Joliet region. This project has the potential to create tremendous, positive impact in the region’s business landscape, so his support demonstrates the promise he, too, sees in this opportunity,” she said.

For more information on the USF Small Business Accelerator or to apply for funding, please email or visit Interested parties may also contact Bonnie Covelli, Ed.D., at or 815-740-5071 with questions.

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The University of St. Francis, in Joliet, Ill., serves close to 4,000 students nationwide and offers undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs in the arts and sciences, business, education, nursing and social work. There are over 53,000 USF alumni across the globe. For information, call 800-735-7500 or visit

University of St. Francis: Bigger thinking. Brighter purpose.

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