Elmhurst University opens new innovation center, wins regional pitch contest

Two women capture $5,000 first prize

Elmhurst students (from left) Aaliya Khaja and Miftha Syed recently won first place at the Big Idea Pitch Contest, hosted by Innovation DuPage and College of DuPage.

Elmhurst University recently celebrated entrepreneurship by cutting the ribbon on its new E-celerator Innovation Space and applauding two students whose idea took first prize in the competitive Big Idea startup pitch contest at the College of DuPage.

Campus leaders gathered in May for the grand opening of the E-celerator, a dedicated physical space in the A.C. Buehler Library where students can explore their entrepreneurial aspirations, according to a news release. A room furnished with moveable tables and seating, the space is an important part of the university’s efforts to foster successful student entrepreneurship by providing knowledge, resources and mentorship.

“This is a great opportunity to celebrate the spirit of innovation that’s thriving here at Elmhurst and we’re very proud to see that spirit finding a wonderful new home,” Elmhurst University President Troy VanAken said in the release.

He thanked a number of groups and organizations for their support of entrepreneurship at Elmhurst University:

  • The PNC Foundation, which has awarded $30,000 annual grants for the past four years
  • Innovation DuPage, a business incubator/accelerator that has partnered with the university to help navigate the launch of the E-celerator and provide ideas for programming
  • The A.C. Buehler Library, which provided the space for the E-celerator
  • The Elmhurst University Innovation Committee, which awarded a grant that helped cover renovation costs for the new space

“Our long-term vision was to create and champion an entrepreneurial spirit at Elmhurst University and its surrounding communities,” Martin Gahbauer, executive director of the Weigand Center for Professional Excellence, said in the release. “The funds allowed us to bring to life the vision we had for the space. It is now a dynamic and creative place that encourages inventiveness and innovation.”

During the grand opening, one of the E-celerator’s biggest success stories was spotlighted. Patrick Yanahan, the E-celerator’s entrepreneur in residence, announced seniors Miftha Syed of Lombard and Aaliya Khaja of Addison had beaten almost 40 other applicants to win the $5,000 first prize at the Big Idea Pitch Contest hosted by Innovation DuPage and the College of DuPage.

Their winning pitch was for their app Instapark, which uses geolocation to help college and university commuters find open parking spots on campus and solves the problem of having to circle lots in search of a spot. Their unique solution also demonstrated the ability to provide revenue-sharing advertising from local businesses to users of the app. In addition to the prize money, Syed and Khaja received a six-month membership in Innovation DuPage and access to expert and mentoring resources to help them refine their idea.

“It’s such an exciting time for innovation and entrepreneurship at Elmhurst,” Yanahan said. “I couldn’t be prouder of our students and how they’re making the most of these new opportunities and resources.”

Attendees at the grand opening for the E-celerator Innovation Space include (from left) Martin Gahbauer, executive director of the Weigand Center for Professional Excellence; Entrepreneur in Residence Patrick Yanahan; student Jessica Pavliukovecas; and Elmhurst University. President Troy D. VanAken.
Shaw Local News Network

Shaw Local News Network

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