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Congressman Randy Hultgren

Representing the 14th District of ILLINOIS

Hultgren marks 'Startup Day' with stories of innovation at NIU Naperville

Aug 1, 2017
In The News

Daily Herald

First comes the startup. Then comes the investment and the long hours of work in someone's garage. Then comes the next big thing and -- bam! -- instant success.

So goes the narrative around the ideal startup story for the entrepreneur of the technology age.

But reality follows a different track.

So as the nation celebrated Startup Day Across America on Tuesday, one suburban congressman, whose family started a funeral home in the 1970s, spent the morning learning about how today's innovative new businesses truly come to be.

U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren is one of nine leaders of the fourth annual Startup Day Across America, which encouraged members of Congress to learn about the challenges startups face so they can better represent their needs.

A lot of startups result from education, or what Northern Illinois Universityofficials called "learning 2.0" when they met with Hultgren, a Plano Republican, Tuesday at the school's Naperville campus.

"It's real-world learning of how to start a business," said Vicki Slomka, senior vice president of global human resources for Ideal Industries in Sycamore.

University officials detailed the benefits of an "intrapreneurship" program that allows creative and technically talented students to develop a new business idea while employed as an intern at Ideal Industries. And they talked up the services of a university-operated manufacturing center in Rockford that's helping entrepreneurs from across the suburbs develop prototypes and engineering documents for their future products.

Hultgren said universities, businesses and government need to support more real-world education to train all students to be resourceful.

"We've got to be a nation that innovates and discovers," Hultgren said.

That way, he said, those entering the labor force will be more prepared and less afraid to go "all-in" for their ideas, as his parents did when they established Hultgren Funeral Home in Wheaton.

His parents sold everything -- even their cars and house -- and moved the family into a home above the funeral parlor when they launched their business.

"It's absolutely small startups -- someone with an idea in their garage," Hultgren said. "That's where the bulk of job creation has been, is and will be."

Northern Illinois students Malik Hughes, an industrial management major, and Dennis Grekousis, a mechanical engineering major, told Hultgren of their experience as "intrapreneurs" with Ideal Industries, where they are developing a product to assist in the electrical industry that's still in the early stages.

So far, they've conducted market research to determine if their idea could be a viable product and "understand if there's a value of what you're creating," Grekousis said.

They've pitched it to the directors of Ideal -- a nerve-wracking experience, Hughes said -- and now have hit a bit of a wall, technology-wise. But even this setback is proving to be another learning experience.

"It takes more than a good idea for a nice product," Grekousis said, "to build a business."