RANTOUL — The Rantoul Business Incubator will have its grand opening Thursday at the Rantoul Business Center, 601 S. Century Blvd.
The event will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., with tours, demonstrations and refreshments.
The incubator, which will offer free office space and services to businesses, is an affiliate of the EnterpriseWorks incubator in the University of Illinois Research Park in Champaign.
Besides providing office space, the Rantoul incubator will offer free on-site business consulting from the Small Business Development Center, which is expected to have a consultant there one day a week.
The center's director, Greg Gonda, said he's still working on details of the arrangement.
The incubator is also likely to use resources developed at EnterpriseWorks to help startup businesses, said Laura Frerichs, director of the UI Research Park.
The Rantoul incubator will occupy two suites encompassing 2,500 square feet just to the right of the main entrance of the Rantoul Business Center, she said.
Companies that locate there have access to a conference room and a bay area with shipping and receiving facilities, she said.
The space is expected to be large enough to accommodate four companies at the outset, but more space may be made available if there's demand, Frerichs said.
Two companies are in the process of applying as tenants, and more are welcome to apply, Frerichs said.
"We're looking for companies with sound growth potential and a logical reason to be in Rantoul," she said.
Prospective tenants can find an application on the Web at http://www.researchpark.illinois.edu, in the section concerning resources for entrepreneurs and the East Central Illinois University Center.
The center is a collaboration of groups including EnterpriseWorks, the UI College of Business, Parkland College, the Champaign County Economic Development Corp., the village of Rantoul, the Rantoul Business Center and the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission.
The launch of the Rantoul incubator was one of several elements made possible by a $683,125 grant last September from the Economic Development Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The five-year grant enables founders of small businesses to take cour- ses, get advice from experienced en- trepreneurs and work alongside other small firms at both EnterpriseWorks and the Rantoul Business Center.
Businesses at the Rantoul incubator can make use of EnterpriseWorks' entrepreneur-in-residence program, which teams experienced entrepreneurs with fledgling businesses.
Tenants can also tap into the student entrepreneur shared-services program, in which students provide services — such as website development, market research or data analysis — for companies.
Mark Kesler of Parkland College is expected to begin teaching FastTrac sessions — developed by the Kansas City, Mo.-based Kauffman Foundation — at the business center this fall. It's hoped some class members will be interested in taking space at the incubator, Frerichs said.
Space for the incubator was donated by the village of Rantoul.