Katie Davison is returning to Northern Illinois University, this time as director of state relations. “I was there for almost 14 years prior to Innovate Springfield,” said Davison, who has served as executive director of the social innovation and business incubator, located at 15 S. Old State Capitol Plaza, since its founding in 2016.

In 2018, Innovate Springfield became part of University of Illinois Springfield under an agreement aimed at expanding economic growth and entrepreneurship opportunities. The new initiative, led by the U of I System, made Innovate Springfield the first hub of the Illinois Innovation Network and resulted in additional funding to expand programs supporting start-up businesses.

Davison said that membership has grown significantly, even during the pandemic. “In our economic impact data for 2020, members more than doubled their gross revenue for the year,” she said. Davison also noted that Innovate Springfield has seen an increase in applications for Co.Starters, a 10-week program that equips entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into action, a trend she attributes to the pandemic due to people losing jobs or deciding to change careers.

“People are really wanting to try something new,” said Davison. “They’ve done a lot of reflecting on what they really want, and this provides a safe opportunity to test some of that out.”

Davison is now preparing to embark on her own new venture; her last day with Innovate Springfield is April 21. “I’m really excited for the opportunity (with NIU) and it’s a good point for me to transition,” she said. “It provides an opportunity for the university to think structurally and organizationally Innovate Springfield looks like at UIS.”

Davison also noted that since NIU is a public university, she will most likely continue to work closely with UIS, as the public universities plan to collaborate on the Illinois Innovation Network. She plans to continue to live in Springfield.

“I’m leaving it in a good place, and I’m really proud of that,” she said. “I feel confident that Innovate Springfield is only going to continue to grow from here, and that’s really exciting for me.”