Founder & Executive Director
As a startup, business incubation and economic development expert, with a past career in venture capital, Wall Street investment banking, 20 years as a Silicon Valley consultant to companies including Apple and Yahoo!, an incubator tenant, angel investor and founder of 7 businesses and 13 nonprofits, Carol knows firsthand the issues surrounding new and emerging organizations plus their potential as job creation engines. The organizations she's founded have included corporations, partnerships and sole proprietorships, and many attracted outside funding. With an NYU MBA in Finance, she’s also been a member of 40+ economic development task forces, committees, planning teams and initiatives that strengthen communities, create jobs and diversify economies (and was founder and leader of many of them).
Many heartfelt thanks to the dozens of innovation hub leaders sending us ideas, contacts and support and helping us serve the state's entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem. Chief among them are our Advisory Board members:
Sana Sells (Chicago)
With a love for the arts, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, Lisa Canning has been a main street entrepreneur since age 17. She has been educating about Regulation Title III crowdfunding since 2015 and helping entrepreneurs find the resources they need to succeed for over 30 years. Recognized for innovation in education by the USASBE and The White House, her most recent project, Sana Sells, helps female and underserved startup founders whose businesses are on the cusp of investment but lack the communication strategy, new sales and channels to market needed to build the momentum needed to secure funding. To learn more about Lisa, go to IAEOU.me/.
TechNexus Venture Collaborative (Chicago)
With a background in startups and venture funding, Emily Carl is passionate about entrepreneurs creating meaningful and impactful change. As the Community Manager at TechNexus which houses 25+ portfolio companies and over 350 Chicago entrepreneurs, she leads efforts to develop relationships between ventures, enterprises, and portfolio companies; oversees marketing and communications of the TechNexus incubator, co-working and event spaces; and executes community programs for TechNexus companies. Blending elements of venture development, venture investing, and corporate innovation strategy, she helps accelerate venture growth and guides corporations to harness new sources of innovation. Previous to TechNexus, Emily was responsible for spearheading the creation, organization, and management of several projects on sales, marketing, and customer success teams for venture-funded startups across the Midwest. In addition to fostering entrepreneurship and innovation in the Midwest, Emily believes in the healing power of travel.
Minority Business Development Center Office Incubator (Peoria)
Denise Moore is an entrepreneur, community advocate, radio pioneer and elected City of Peoria Illinois Council member. Elected in 2013 and 2017 to represent Peoria's eclectic First District which includes the downtown, warehouse district, South Side and North Valley, in addition to serving as Councilwoman, she is on the board of Peoria’s Downtown Development Council, PCCEO (Peoria’s Community Action Agency). She was also appointed to the statewide Minority Economic Development Council and State of Illinois Small Business Development Center Advisory Board. Following years as a serial entrepreneur, she founded the Black Business Alliance in Bloomington/Normal in 1997, a 501c3 nonprofit organization with the goal of providing educational assistance to aspiring minority entrepreneurs, and WXRJ 94.9 LP FM radio, Bloomington’s first and only African-American radio station. In 2014, she expanded the alliance by starting a Peoria chapter, Peoria’s WPNV 106.3 LP FM radio station, the Minority Business Development Center and Business Incubator and an online Minority Business Directory focusing on ethnic minorities, women and veterans. She is President/CEO. Denise was named a “Woman of Influence” by Peoria’s iBi magazine, a “Business Pioneer'” by Marketeer magazine and won the Woman Making Modern History Award from AfraVictoria Magazine. In 2016, she and her husband received the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award for their radio station programming in the areas of Public Affairs, Community Education and Empowerment, and in 2017 Denise received the Great Partner Award from the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council along with the Love In Action Award for Community Service from the Commonplace organization. In 2018, Denise was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by former President Barack Obama. She earned a BS in business administration from Illinois State University.
Ms. Tech (Chicago)
As its founding president since 2014, Nicole Yeary leads Ms.Tech, a Chicago-based company focused on helping women start and scale technology and tech-enabled companies. She also advises and guides the next generation of startup companies through a partnership between Ms.Tech and 1871 as the co-facilitator of WiSTEM, a curriculum-based program that connects women to capital, community and technology resources. Among her recent awards, after less than a year Ms.Tech was recognized in Crain's Guide to Networking as one of “Six Great Tech Groups, practically guaranteed to commune with the scene's best and brightest!,” she was recognized as one of Chicago’s “Top 100 Innovators” by Tribune, designated as a “Prominent Woman in Tech” by the Illinois Technology Association, named in “35 Under 35 Making an Impact, among the 100 Most Inspirational Women” by Today's Chicago Woman, received the 2017 YWCA Promise Leadership Award, was a MAFA Masters Honoree as an “Industry Entrepreneur Emerging Leader,” recognized as a 2016 Women Tech Leader by Chicago Woman Magazine and listed in Huffington Post’s “Women in Tech.” Besides serving on various advisory boards, Nicole is a sponsoring member of the United Nations UN Women, Social Enterprise Alliance, Internet Society and OpenID.
Rev3 Innovation Center in DuPage County (Naperville)
Nic Zito is at the intersection of Public Policy + Entrepreneurship. Recently honored as a top 20 business professional under age 40, he is CEO of Rev3 Innovation Center, a tech coworking space. He is an Entrepreneurial Excellence Award winner, in college he founded a fitness nutrition company and more recently started a digital marketing agency to teach high school students tangible business skills. After working in Washington D.C. at the United States Senate during the 2012 election, he now stimulates countywide economic development for 39 cities. He serves on the boards of DuPage PADS for homelessness causes and the International Business Innovation Association, the Orlando-based professional association for innovation hubs everywhere. Nic graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he studied consumer economics and specialized in public policy and law. Passionate about fostering civic involvement for millennials, he recently won his first election and serves as Trustee for Wayne Township, Illinois, representing 6 cities. Read more and connect with him at
The Illinois Business Innovation Association **Super Stars**
A very special thanks goes to these good friends and fans who have been hugely instrumental in our becoming a leading catalyst for Illinois entrepreneurship and innovation:
Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
Office of the Governor, Bruce Rauner