Elmhurst U. Opens Innovation Center, Wins Regional Pitch Contest

June 5, 2023 | by the Office of Marketing and Communications

Four people standing in front of neon sign reading ELMHURST E-CELERATORElmhurst University recently celebrated the spirit—and practice—of entrepreneurship by cutting the ribbon on the new E-celerator Innovation Space and applauding two students whose idea took first prize in the competitive Big Idea startup pitch contest held at 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 meet and explore their entrepreneurial aspirations. A bright, airy 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 them with the necessary 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,” said Elmhurst University President Troy D. VanAken.

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

  • The PNC Foundation, which has awarded $30,000 annual grants to Elmhurst for the past four years. The grants have been critical to the launch and continued success of the E-celerator initiative.
  • 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 U. Innovation Committee, which awarded a grant that helped to cover the renovation costs for the new space.

President VanAken also recognized the leadership provided by Martin Gahbauer, executive director of the Weigand Center for Professional Excellence; and Patrick Yanahan ’94, MBA ’10, the E-celerator’s entrepreneur in residence.

“Our long-term vision was to create and champion an entrepreneurial spirit at Elmhurst University and its surrounding communities,” Gahbauer said. “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 event, one of the E-celerator’s most recent—and among its biggest—success stories also enjoyed some time in the spotlight. Yanahan announced that rising seniors Miftha Syed, of Lombard, and Aaliya Khaja, of Addison, had beaten nearly 40 other applicants to win the $5,000 first prize at the Big Idea Pitch Contest, a competition 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 “universal” problem of having to circle parking lots in search of a spot. Their unique solution also demonstrated the ability to provide revenue-sharing advertising from local businesses to the users of the app, which won over the panel of judges. In addition to the 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.”

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